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Chinese translation

By Hilary Picken | February 28, 2019 | Languages

Chinese translation (1)

With a population of 1.43 billion, China is the most populous nation on earth. India is a close second with 1.37 billion. Both are way ahead of the chasing pack which includes the USA at 329 million, Indonesia at 270 million and Pakistan at 216 million.

Developments in manufacturing infrastructure plus trends in globalisation (and a little boost from Amazon Prime) have fired China up the economic charts. With GDP of US$13.4 trillion, China is the world’s second largest economy, behind the USA’s US$22 trillion.

Overall, China accounts for one fifth of the world’s population and one sixth of the world’s wealth, so it’s probably a country and a community we should get to know better. However, that’s easier said than done. Here are just a few reasons why.


1. The writing system

Translating into Chinese has never been easy. For starters, Chinese is written using characters rather than letters which represent logograms or characters, traditionally arranged in vertical columns, read from top to bottom and right to left across the columns. This will impact the size and lay-out of every platform upon which your text appears.


2. Chinese translation? Sure. Which one?

There is no single version of Chinese. Very simplistically:

Official language of … Spoken Written
Mainland China Mandarin Simplified characters
Taiwan Mandarin Traditional characters
Hong Kong Cantonese Traditional characters
Singapore Mandarin Simplified characters

There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese speakers, many of which won’t understand each other so it’s important to choose the right variant.


3. Size matters

On most occasions, translating from English into a European language will require more space. German texts for example are often 20% larger than their English source. With Chinese, it’s the other way around. Chinese can take up to 30% less space in a document. Something to bear in mind for PowerPoint presentations, graphics, websites and flyers.


4. Tone is everything

The same set of characters can mean very different things; the key is in the tone. One character set can mean scold, rough, horse or mother, depending on the tonal inflection. It’s unlikely you’d try to attract your mother’s attention by calling her a horse. Not more than once, anyway!


5. Yes or no? Not always

Whilst Chinese does have a direct equivalent of yes and no, in less formal dialogue, like face-to-face interviews, they’re best avoided. Questions are more commonly answered with a verb pattern, e.g. in response to “do you watch television?” the answer would translate as “I watch television” or “I don’t watch television” rather than a simple yes or no. For more formal texts, the Chinese equivalent of “yes” and “no” should be fine.