This is a guest post by Ed Langley written on behalf of Codex Global Translation Services.

Challenges in Chinese Translation: Achieving the Best Results

Chinese is widely considered one of the hardest languages to translate, presenting significant challenges even for native speakers and requiring extensive experience in order to ensure the accuracy of the translation. When translating Chinese documents into English, the intricacies of the Chinese language can cause misunderstandings and inaccuracies if the translator is not well qualified and highly experienced. Here are some of the most important challenges in translating Chinese documents.

Chinese consists of many distinct dialects

While most linguists recognise seven distinct Chinese dialects, numerous local variations also exist and may create difficulties for less experienced translators. These dialects are generally quite dissimilar from each other and require specialised knowledge on the part of the translator in order to achieve an accurate, reliable translation of the material. Not all Chinese translators are capable of translating all dialects; in fact, most concentrate their efforts on two or three of the seven accepted dialects. Standard Chinese is generally considered a variant of Mandarin and is the most common dialect used in mainland China, followed closely by Cantonese and its related dialects. While there are only two basic written forms of Chinese in common use, the various dialects often influence word choices and meanings and should be taken into consideration during translation work.

Written Chinese uses characters, not letters

Because the written form of the Chinese language is very old, it employs characters known as hanzi rather than letters or a standard alphabet. Each character represents a word or concept and typically serves multiple purposes, making accurate translation dependent on context and connotation as well as the literal meaning of the written characters. Additionally, there are two written systems in common use in China. The traditional system dates back two millennia to the time of the Han Dynasty, while the Simplified Chinese system was introduced in 1954 in order to provide greater opportunities for literacy to the public at large. Accurate translations depend on an extensive knowledge of both the context of the document and the connotations of the word choices present in the material to be translated.

Sentence structure is radically different in Chinese

In English, verb tense indicates the time of the events described. This is not the case in Chinese, where adverbs and contextual material serve that purpose. As a result, determining the proper tense for a particular passage can be difficult when translating materials from Chinese to English.

In order to ensure the most accurate translations of important documents, it is essential to obtain the services of professional, experienced translators with a strong background in the Chinese language. Generally, it is advisable to work with a professional translation firm since they are more likely to employ translators, expert in the various dialects and written systems of the Chinese language and can thus produce far more accurate and reliable results.