Chinese
Translation Services

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Chinese Localization

The first thing that any Chinese localization specialist will ask you when you request a quote for a ‘Chinese’ project will be, ‘which form of Chinese would you like – Simplified or Traditional’.

  • In basic terms, this refers to the character set which is used, and applies to Chinese in written form only. Simplified Chinese characters, as the name suggests are simplified characters which were adapted from the more traditional form of Chinese, and are used if your target audience is located in Mainland China and Singapore, whereas Traditional Chinese characters are used predominantly when targeting Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. However, despite sharing the same character set, there are slight differences between Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong and Traditional Chinese for Taiwan, so wherever possible and if budget permits it is recommended to create a version for each market.
  • Regarding spoken forms of Chinese for Mainland China, Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong, the dialects are Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is spoken in Mainland China and in Taiwan (Taiwanese Mandarin), though again, they each have their own unique flavor and accent, so you will need to be specific to the needs of your target audience. Cantonese is the official spoken dialect of Hong Kong and Macao and bears no similarity whatsoever with Mandarin, and should be treated as such.
  • Once you have your target market identified, Chinese is not a complicated language to master. Translators should be chosen based on three criteria: native dialect, native writing system, and subject matter expertise. Chinese is well supported in design, publishing and multimedia packages and can even be localized by non-Chinese staff. Nonetheless, language quality assurance should always be conducted by Chinese native localization professionals. With regard to Chinese voiceover recording, the voice talent should be a native speaker of the prestige register of the required dialect.

Translation

  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Machine Translation engine building
  • Machine Translation post-editing
  • Desktop publishing
  • Voiceover & dubbing
  • Subtitling & closed captions
  • Flash & multimedia localization
  • Linguistic testing
  • Functional testing
  • Interpretation

Products

  • Documentation
  • Technical manuals
  • Marketing materials
  • Brochures & flyers
  • Packaging & labeling
  • Magazines & newsletters
  • Websites
  • Mobile applications
  • Software applications
  • Training & eLearning
  • Voiceover & multimedia
  • Video content

About Chinese

The Chinese language – actually a group of dialects – is one of the two major branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family, the other being Tibeto-Burman. The traditional dialect classification system comprises Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Min, Xiang, Hakka, and Gan.

Although most of these dialects are mutually unintelligible, they are perceived by their native speakers as being varieties of a single Chinese language. Mandarin (which includes Standard Chinese) has the largest number of speakers, some 1.4 billion, followed by Wu, with some 90 million, and then Yue (which includes Cantonese), with some 70 million.

Chinese is one of the oldest spoken languages, with Old Chinese believed to have been in common use by the time of the early and middle Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE–256 BCE). In its written form, the earliest significant corpus – the so-called “oracle bones” – dates to the Shang Dynasty in the second millennium BCE.

Standard Chinese is a standardized form based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. It is the official language of both the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, and one of the four official languages of Singapore.

The Cantonese dialect is native to the Guangzhou area of Guangdong province, and is considered to be the prestige dialect of the Yue group. Chinese is one of the two official languages of the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions (the others being English and Portuguese, respectively); however, both recognize Cantonese as the de facto official spoken variety of Chinese.

The Chinese writing system is logographic; i.e., each character represents a word rather than the sounds which make up that word. (Chinese characters are also commonly called “ideograms,” symbols that represent ideas. Strictly speaking, this is incorrect, as many ideas are expressed by using multiple characters.) Because there is no linkage between the meaning of a logograph and its pronunciation, a reader does not need to know the pronunciation or language of the writer in order to understand it. Although two speakers of different Chinese dialects may be completely unable to communicate verbally, both will be able to read and understand the same text, even if it was written by a writer whose native language is a third, mutually unintelligible dialect.

The separation of meaning and pronunciation does, however, have a significant disadvantage: a learner must memorize thousands of characters along with their pronunciations in his or her local language. Comprehensive Chinese dictionaries list in excess of 50,000 characters, although many of these are rare, archaic, or obsolete. Lists of common characters used in the People’s Republic of China comprise some 3,500 – 7,000 characters; in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the lists comprise some 4,800 characters. Furthermore, there are now two sets of characters in common use; Traditional Chinese, which is used in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan; and Simplified Chinese, which is used in the People’s Republic of China and Singapore.

Examples of character simplification:

Chinese is traditionally written in a vertical, columnar fashion from top to bottom and right to left. It is now also written in a horizontal, linear fashion from left to right and top to bottom, like English. Spaces are not used to separate words, although a space is sometimes (rarely) used as an honorific marker. A system of punctuation was not widely used until the 20th century CE, and the set of punctuation marks differs from those used in European languages.

Because knowing the meaning of a character does not imply knowing how to pronounce it, there are two phonetic writing systems used to teach and indicate pronunciation. The first system, known as zhuyin, was introduced in the early 20th century CE. It consists of 37 characters and 4 tone markers, and is capable of expressing all the possible sounds in Mandarin.

In the 1950’s, the People’s Republic of China introduced a phonetic writing system, known as pinyin, which uses Latin script and is based on earlier systems of romanization. There is a one-to-one correspondence between zhuyin and pinyin. Pinyin is now an ISO international standard and has replaced zhuyin in almost all locales. In Taiwan, however, despite the fact that pinyin was made the official standard in 2009, zhuyin continues to be widely used. Both systems are written in an annotative fashion, known as “ruby,” above or to the right of the logogram.

The following table summarizes the different forms of spoken and written Chinese used in various locales.

 Locale  Spoken Language   Written Language
 People’s Republic of China Mandarin  Simplified
 Hong Kong Cantonese  Traditional (plus characters specific to Cantonese)
 Macau Cantonese  Traditional (plus characters specific to Cantonese)
 Taiwan Mandarin  Traditional
 Singapore Mandarin  Simplified

 

*The Chinese language – actually a group of dialects – is one of the two major branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family, the other being Tibeto-Burman. The traditional dialect classification system comprises Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Min, Xiang, Hakka, and Gan.

Chinese Translation & Localization Challenges

  • Translators should be chosen based on three criteria: native dialect, native writing system, and subject matter expertise.
  • With regard to DTP, Chinese written in the modern, left-to-right fashion like English can be performed by a non-native DTP operator who can follow the basic line breaking rules relating to Chinese punctuation characters. DTP for Chinese written in the traditional, columnar fashion is problematic, as is text that includes zhuyin or pinyin ruby; only specialized software programs support these formats in a native fashion.
  • With regard to voice-over recording, the voice talent should be a native speaker of the prestige register of the required dialect.

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