Saturday, January 28th is the start of the Chinese New Year - and 2017 is the year of the Rooster.
The Chinese language is as diverse as its history and its people. Spoken by over 1.2 billion people worldwide, Chinese has two distinctive writing systems and hundreds of dialects. As a language service provider (LSP), we are often asked questions about the Chinese language, especially when it comes to translating marketing, financial, and business materials. In this blog post, we provide answers to the most commonly asked questions we receive. We hope this helps you to better understand the intricacies of the Chinese language and how to effectively manage your Chinese translation and interpreting needs.
When needing a written translation, shouldn’t I just ask for Chinese or Mandarin Chinese? There are actually two written forms of Chinese, Simplified and Traditional, so asking for just Chinese or for Mandarin Chinese, which refers to a spoken dialect, would not provide enough information to determine the appropriate written version of Chinese needed. So, it would be important to understand and clarify who your target audience is and work with your language services provider (LSP) to determine which version of written Chinese is best: Simplified or Traditional.
Have there always been two versions of written Chinese? The two versions of written Chinese came about in the 1950’s when, to improve China’s literacy rate, the government “simplified” the shape of many of its “traditional” characters to make learning to read and write the language easier. Simplification also reduced the number of commonly used characters by replacing several characters from the traditional set with a single character from the simplified set.
When should Simplified versus Traditional Chinese be used? For Mainland China or Singapore, Simplified Chinese should be used. In Hong Kong, both Simplified and Traditional Chinese are used, so it is important to determine which your readers prefer. For Taiwan, your documents need to be in Traditional Chinese. In countries with large Chinese immigrant populations like the U.S., the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Traditional Chinese is more prevalent although Simplified Chinese may be preferred in some instances. So, if you are not sure which to use, it is always best to ask to determine more about the make up of your target audience and consult with your LSP when needed.
How different are Simplified and Traditional Chinese? Can’t the font and a few other things just be changed to “convert” the written Chinese? The writing systems and much of the terminology are so different that it is not just a matter of simply converting from one version of Chinese to another. Attempting such a “conversion” in isolation is not only time consuming, it can significantly compromise the translation quality and risk alienating your readers. For example, if you present your business card to someone in Taiwan with any Simplified Chinese in it, you are likely to offend the person with whom you are doing business.
This is especially important because business cards are key to forming first impressions in Chinese-speaking countries. It is, therefore, best to translate directly into the written version of Chinese your readers commonly use. So, be sure to consult with your LSP if you have material that needs to be translated into both Traditional and Simplified to determine the best process to ensure a quality translation that is appropriate for each of those target audiences.
So, what about Mandarin and spoken Chinese? When asking if a document can be translated into Mandarin Chinese, the answer is essentially no because this is one of the spoken varieties of Chinese and is unrelated to the two versions of written Chinese. However, if you need interpreting for a conference, a meeting, an employee training, a legal proceeding, a medical appointment, etc., knowing which spoken variation of Chinese to use is key. In addition, when localizing an audio or video script, knowing which spoken dialect is needed would be important as well.
What are the most common spoken varieties of Chinese and when are they used? Although there are hundreds of Chinese dialects, most people either speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Mandarin is the main language of government, the media, and education in China and Taiwan. It is one of four official languages in Singapore and is now used more in Hong Kong. Cantonese is spoken by about 66 million people in the southern Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Guandong. It is also spoken in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and many other countries. Cantonese is spoken by many Chinese immigrants in the U.S. and other countries, but Mandarin is also common. Ask if you are not sure which Chinese dialect to use because many of the spoken variations of Chinese are mutually unintelligible.
With China being an economic powerhouse and Chinese being spoken by more people than any other language in the world, it is essential to understand which version of written or spoken Chinese is appropriate to effectively communicate to your target audience. Contact Syntes and we will not only help you determine which version of Chinese you need, but we will efficiently and effectively translate your materials.