Our guide for translating Simplified Chinese

China tops the global charts with the largest population and the second fastest-growing economy. As a result, the Chinese language has become one of the most powerful languages of all. But when it comes to ‘Chinese’, there are several distinct Chinese languages, 3 major ones are: 

  • Traditional Chinese for Taiwan
  • Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong SAR
  • Simplified Chinese for mainland China

In terms of market size and market value, mainland China significantly outranks the others. It’s safe to say that you need translation capabilities in Simplified Chinese to maximize your profit in Chinese-speaking communities.

I. The importance of Simplified Chinese Translations

In 1949, a new government was established, called The People’s Republic of China. Along with many reformations, an initiative in public education was put in place. Its mission was to simplify the traditional complex writing system so that the majority of the Chinese population who were illiterate could learn easily. Since then, it has become China’s standard writing system.

Mandarin Chinese often called Putonghua is the most popular Chinese dialect. It is the most widely used language in the world with over 800 million native Mandarin speakers. Mandarin is so common that one out of five people around the globe speaks this language.

III. 4 tips for translating Simplified Chinese

1. Chinese is a heavily metaphoric language

China has a rich culture full of legends, folk tales, and literary legacy. Chinese people adore their traditions and use a lot of idioms and metaphors. In addition, good manners and politeness have always been highly appreciated throughout history. The result is that Chinese people are not as familiar with expressing themselves in a straight-to-the-point way as the Western, instead, they prefer using metaphorical images.

A professional translator, therefore, must enrich themselves with not only vocabulary and grammar but they also should dive deep into Chinese culture because changing the metaphorical image causes a detachment from the original, especially in the case of a literary text is definitely a bad choice.

A loose translation eliminating the metaphoric element could be a decent choice in non-literary texts where the imagery used isn’t crucial, such as in tourism documents.

In a novel, we may want to preserve the author’s style, allowing the culture to shine through rather than “adapting” the text too much; for a travel guide, we can go an easy way and prioritize the functional equivalent and simply say things as we say them in English.

2. There are no tenses in Chinese

In the Chinese language, there are no different words for describing past, past perfect, present, or future tenses. For things happening in the past, they simply add a 了(le). 

Although this simplifies the Chinese grammar significantly, the Chinese text might appear to be too ‘vague’ as compared to its fellow English. As a result, there’s an enormous ambiguity to compensate for when translating. 

3. It’s harder to find proper names in Chinese

In most languages with the Latin alphabet, names are written with capital letters. In Chinese, however, there’s no such thing. On top of that, Chinese people love their metaphorical images and use them to name their children to express their parents’ hope and blessing. It may cause translators a serious headache. 

Here is a useful trick: Oftentimes, some characters that don’t have meaningful connections among themselves can probably be a name. This trick isn’t perfect all the time. Therefore, the only way to be a good translator is through years of learning the culture.

4. In Chinese, one word can serve as a verb, adjective, and even a noun

The Chinese language is not only lacking in tenses, Chinese words also have nothing called an exclusive grammatical role which means the same word can be anything from a verb, adjective, noun to even adverb.

For instance, 好 can appear as an adjective in 好吃 (hǎochī) is delicious or literally good (to eat), but in an expression such as 好贵啊 (hǎo guì a!) it instead plays an adverb and means “so much”, “a lot” (oh, it costs so much!)

In another phrase like 我做好了 (wǒ zuòhǎo le) means an action is complete (“I finished”), 好 becomes a part of a verb. It can also be part of a noun, like in 爱好 (àihào), hobby, 好处 (hǎochu), advantage, etc.

Each Chinese character can convey many meanings, some of which can even be opposite to each other and serve multiple grammatical functions. That’s why it takes the experts such a long time to master this particular language.

Choosing the right amount of cultural sensitivity of a language can optimize translation quality without the risk of making the message sound offensive or unfaithful to its original version. Therefore, mastering both cultures and language specifics is first and foremost for a professional translator to deliver wonderful results.

If you need to translate into Simplified Chinese, give us a call today!

Fun facts about Simplified Chinese language:

  • The first Chinese Language Day was held on 12 November 2010.
  • Chinese became an official UN language in 1946.
  • Science has proven that Chinese speakers use both temporal lobes of the brain at the same time.
  • Chinese has the most similar sounding words