Languages present unique challenges for organizations when they are looking for accurate translations.
Issues surrounding quality will always feature highly on a company’s priorities when translating, but some languages cause more problem than others. For example, going between simplified and traditional Chinese presents a number of problems.
What is simplified Chinese?
The written text used in mainland China and by people who are of Chinese origin in Singapore since 1949. It was developed as a writing form in order to encourage greater literacy levels in the country and this is why the decision was taken to simplify its rules and form. A simpler version of traditional Chinese, it has two main differences; a reduction in the number of strokes per character and a reduction in the number of characters in common use. Around 2,000 characters have been simplified and some now look completely different from their original form.
What is traditional Chinese?
This is the traditional version of Chinese and is still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, as these locations are politically separate. Indeed, in 2011 the Taiwanese government announced it was no longer going to use simplified Chinese on government websites, as it views the preservation of the traditional form to be of vital importance for the future of Chinese culture. The difference between the two forms has grown over time as more new words enter into the vocabulary.
Converting between the two
While it is possible to convert between the two forms of Chinese using software, it can be very difficult to get a totally accurate final version. There are three levels of conversion between simplified and traditional Chinese.
Character level conversion – Converting the characters from one system to the other – plenty of software solutions can do this, but cultural nuances and style quirks will not be taken into consideration.
Word level conversion – The two language systems use different words to express different terms and feelings. Software can convert between the two literally, but the most appropriate form may not necessarily be chosen.
Professional level conversion – This is carried out by a human and takes into consideration cultural and linguistic appropriateness of specific expressions seen in that form of Chinese. Will provide the best finished version.
Finding the right solution
While there are software applications that can automate conversion between simplified and traditional Chinese on both a character-per-character and word-per-word basis, neither solution will result in a professional standard output. The individual nuances of both languages are too complex for either solution to be truly effective. For example, character-per-character only really gives a rough conversion. Although word-for word is more advanced, it cannot incorporate all linguistic and cultural considerations and therefore can result in an unnatural sounding output.
Because of this, the best solution is to employ an experienced linguist with knowledge of both languages. By applying their own skills and using software tools to assist their work, they can create an end product that sounds natural. If you are considering using software, it’s important to think carefully about what quality expectations you have for the final output. Do you really need the highest quality for all of your content? If the answer is no, a character or word level solution may be appropriate. However, if you want to bring your content up to a professional human translation standard, a skilled linguist really is the only worthwhile option.