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Chinese translations: 5 things to consider

Five things to consider when you are ordering a translation between English and Chinese.

1. Which variant of Chinese do you need?

Chinese has many varieties and you will need to choose which variant you want based on the target audience of the document.

• If your audience is based in mainland China, your translations should be in standard Mandarin and simplified characters.
• If your audience is based in Taiwan, you should use standard Mandarin and traditional characters. However, you shouldn’t just convert the characters from simplified to traditional or vice versa, as many terms and expressions differ between the two languages, and characters do not convert exactly.
• If your audience is based in Hong Kong, you should use standard Mandarin and traditional characters. The same problems exist with conversion between Chinese for Hong Kong and Taiwan as they do between simplified and traditional characters.
• If your audience is an overseas community, it may be best to produce both text in both simplified and traditional characters. Older communities tend to use traditional characters, while more newly established groups may be more comfortable with simplified characters.

Please get in touch with us if you are not sure which variety to use, or if you are interested in any specific regional dialect or form.

2. Size of the text

Chinese differs greatly from English in terms of the amount of space it takes up on the page. One paragraph of Chinese will take up approximately 30% less space than English. So your document may need to be re-formatted in order to look good in the target language.

3. Does your document need localisation?

If your material (such as a website) includes forms you may need to adapt units of measurement, date formats, address formats and so on. For example, in Chinese, dates are written as year-month-day. China uses the metric system so we advise that imperial measures are converted into metric. Much Western social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are blocked in mainland China; if your materials contain links to these media, it is best to remove or create equivalents on Weibo, WeChat and Youku.

4. Is the style and tone suitable for a Chinese audience? If not, shall we re-write?

While some of the time it is possible to translate marketing copy or articles while retaining a style that is appropriate to the target audience, when culture gets involved this is not always possible – and culture and language are inseperable. This is often especially true for Chinese to English, but in some cases, the tone of voice or the information given for English to Chinese could be better adapted to what Chinese audiences expect in order to better engage readers. We are able to advise on this and could help you put your information across in a more culturally-appropriate way.

5. How we work out the price

Chinese uses characters (not ‘symbols’) to express meaning, whereas English uses words. When we translate English to Chinese, we count the English words in Microsoft Word to find how many there are. When we translate from Chinese to English, we count the Chinese characters (in this case, punctuation is counted as one Chinese character). One English word often translates to two Chinese characters, which means that there are generally more Chinese characters than English words for the same content (even though it takes up less space). There may be extra charges for specific formats, image editing and typesetting.

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