Our guide for translating Traditional Chinese

China has an abundant history and is considered one of the world’s four biggest ancient civilizations. Its language is known as the oldest and the most spoken around the globe. Which Chinese you should choose all comes down to geography. If you target Mainland China, Singapore, or Malaysia markets, Simplified Characters is the go-to. If you want to expand to Taiwan or Hong Kong, you will want to go for Traditional Characters. 

I. The importance of Traditional Chinese Translations

Traditional Chinese is the written script that is currently used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. There are two official varieties: one for Hong Kong SAR and one for Taiwan. The differences between them are more subtle than those between Simplified and Traditional Chinese. They differ mainly in pronunciation. When it comes to translation, you can rest assured that they are both referred to as “Traditional Chinese”.

Chinglish is the phenomenon that occurs when the Chinese way of thinking interferes with a proper translation into English. No doubt, variations manifesting between these two languages and the pattern of thought play a key role in transposing the meaning of the mother tongue. Add to that cultural understanding, grammatical rules, subject-verb construction, and the abundance of idioms

III. 4 tips for translating Traditional Chinese

1. Prepare yourself to decipher a lot of idioms

The way of thinking of the Chinese language and English language is almost opposite to each other. Chinese people prefer indirect expressions, so they use a lot of idioms or ‘chengyu’ with metaphoric images on daily basis, even the youth.

For example, 一刀两断, literally means one knife cuts two segments, it is used as a firm resolution to break off a relationship. This chengyu is equivalent to ‘a clean break’ in English. But unfortunately, the meaning of many ‘chengyu’ can seem incomprehensible. For instance, 一人得道,鸡犬升天, literally when a man achieves the Dao, his poultry and dogs rise to Heaven. ‘Dao’ cannot directly be translated to English because it was originally an ancient Chinese school of philosophy but it also can be used to express varied ideas such as career success, spiritual enlightenment, etc.

2. Be aware of sentence construction

For the Chinese language, you may come across two types of sentences: simple and complex. The first one consists of subject, predicate which isn’t always a verb as we see in English and object.

Another type is a complex sentence which is the combination of simple ones. In terms of linguistic matters, a Chinese translator is required to have a good command of sentence patterns in order to deliver a proper result.

3. Character placement may vary

Chinese tricky point lies in the direction of writing, right to left, left to right, or up and down. There is no official rule for it, so this means that the translators may have a much tough time, especially when they come across a Mandarin text paired with a linear type of writing.

4. Context, context, context

The first reason is that there is no singular or plural form in Chinese. On top of that, it lacks verb conjugation to demonstrate tenses. The only way to figure it out is by getting the context. For example, with “I run”, the same word in Chinese will be used no matter you are running, have run miles already, or will run in the future.

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 Traditional Chinese, give us a call today!

Fun facts about Traditional Chinese language:

  • Chinese is the only extant pictographic language.
  • There’s no word that literally means “yes” in Chinese
  • Chinese has no articles, verb inflections, or plurals
  • Chinese has 1,000s of 4-character idioms and people still use them a lot on a daily basis