Misunderstandings Non-Chinese people have about Chinese translation

2014-06-20     

'There is only one kind of Simplified Chinese and only one kind of Traditional Chinese.' Not true. There is simplified Chinese for Peoples Republic of China and Singapore, and traditional Chinese for Hong Kong, Taiwan, as well as for overseas communities.

'A Chinese translator can translate well into both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, or they can just simply convert the characters from one to the other.' Unfortunately this is not true either, and it is surprisingly common to see a Simplified Chinese translation with a flavor of Taiwan or Hong Kong, and vice versa. This is far from ideal since there are not only character variations. There are also vocabulary differences and idiomatic differences. Getting these wrong can actually cause offence, so local knowledge of how language is used in the target region is paramount. At Sprakab, we believe in NATIVE translation done by native speakers from the target market.

'Interpretation and translation is basically the same thing' – This is a common misunderstanding but written and oral communication each require a different skill set that an individual may or may not possess. 

'Anyone who is Chinese and good at English will be a good translator or interpreter.' This is certainly not a given, see the previous reply.  

'You can leave your materials in English and it is fine.' Actually no. Not only will consumers and business partners appreciate your translated material, but you will open up opportunities to a much larger audience. Everyone is more comfortable with his or her own language.

'You can get away with translating half of your website.' Not necessarily. Leaving some of your content in English (or another language) will often seem rude to Chinese people. You will give the impression that you don’t really care about your Chinese readers.

'You don’t need to adapt marketing materials to China.' What the Chinese care about, and how you get them to take an interest in your project or service, can be quite different from other markets. The information Chinese customers look for, and what builds their trust, is not the same. And Chinese people are savvy consumers. They will ignore a message if it doesn’t resonate with them.

'Chinese translations are always low price.' This is of course not true. Like anywhere, rates will differ according to the translator, the subject matter, the required amount of quality assurance and so on. While there are many Chinese translators, not all have a strong background in the relevant cultures and subject domains, and prices are likely to reflect this.

'Chinese is the hardest language in the world to learn.' Simple spoken Chinese is actually relatively simple, and at lower levels, the grammar is fairly straightforward. If you are travelling to China on a regular bases, you will find plenty of opportunities to use some basic Chinese phrases, and it will be well worth learning some. Your Chinese counterparts will appreciate it!

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