The Challenges Of Chinese Translation - Speak Your Language

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The Challenges Of Chinese Translation

Posted on: January 5, 2022 by admin

Chinese translation is becoming increasingly popular. It also happens to be one of the hardest languages to translate due to its complexity! Some Chinese characters convey different meanings when combined together and since there is no official alphabet, this makes it much more difficult. There is a significant difference in Chinese and English grammar, as Chinese doesn’t have characters that indicate past, present or future tense. A character must be paired with another to dictate what tense you’re writing—confused yet? Don’t worry, we’ve expanded on this below and we will explain the common challenges when it comes to Chinese translation.


Use Of Characters

How are you supposed to translate a language when the alphabet is non-existent?! Great question. As mentioned before Chinese is based on how characters are used together to create words, meanings and phrases. That means that the same Chinese character may convey different meanings when combined with other characters. These compounds are usually 2 or more characters. Have we mentioned that there are 1000s of characters? When you compare that to the 26 letters in the English alphabet, you can see why it can be tricky to translate for someone who isn’t fluid in both languages.



Next, let’s touch on Chinese grammar. The Chinese language has no singular or plural form and it lacks verb conjugation to indicate the tense. This means that the same character will be used for all tenses and the translator must figure the tense by understanding the context of the sentence. For example:

  • English – ‘I run’ and ‘I ran’ is used to indicate present and past tense
  • Chinese – ‘我跑’ can be used for both present and past tense


This lack of tense makes translation much more complex and is one of the many reasons to use a native Chinese translator. A native speaker can distinguish which character and sentence structure that they should use. As Chinese uses a completely different sentence structure and grammar system, using a fluent translator leaves no room for errors or misunderstandings.


Multiple Dialects

The Chinese language has multiple dialects. Each dialect has its own unique vocabulary which includes phrases and slang words. There are 8 variations of spoken Chinese and 100s of other less common ones. The 2 most spoken dialects are Mandarin and Cantonese. They have many differences in their spoken forms including the number of tones, vowel lengths and consonants. If you’re looking to translate English to Chinese, it is in your best interest to use a native translator that understands the specific region’s dialect. Localising your translation means that you can connect with your reader better. It is important to take into account the social and cultural differences each region has.



Chinese idioms are an essential part of the Chinese language and often they do not translate into English. Like most places, China uses different expressions and with that, characters translate differently. Chinese idioms are used regularly and are pretty helpful in expressing a variety of different meanings. They are commonly used to paraphrase essential elements of a story and sentence. When you couple this with the various dialects, you can understand how quickly things get complex with translation! That’s why we can’t stress enough how important it is to engage in a native Chinese translator who specialises in the dialect you are looking to translate to!

What Makes A Good Chinese Translator?

So, let’s now address what makes a good Chinese translator! We’ve boiled it down to 3 things:


A translator doesn’t develop their skill sets overnight. It needs to be practised in an academic environment and requires a substantial amount of time to develop fluency. Academic and real-life translation experience are 2 of the most important factors to consider when looking for a translator. You should consider:

  • Their translation experience
  • How long they have been translating for
  • Kind of training they received


Native Speaker

We can’t stress this one enough. Finding a translator that is a native speaker will guarantee that that the meaning of the words and characters will hold their integrity. If they are a native speaker, they will have a thorough understanding of the culture, values and social etiquette. This is especially applicable when translating to Chinese and all of the different dialects.


NAATI Certified

Along with translation experience, a good translator should have an education on the relevant language and be NAATI certified. NAATI stands for the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters. It’s an Australian standard organisation responsible for setting, maintaining, and promoting professional standards for translators and interpreters. A NAATI certification demonstrates that the translator has the ability to meet the professional translation standards.


These are what our experts have shared, and we hope this gives you some insight on key things to look out for when searching for a Chinese translator. The most common challenges are the different use of characters, grammar, various dialects and common idioms. An experienced native-speaking translator will have all of these down packed and won’t have any issues translating your documents.


Speak your Language is a national organisation providing expert translation and interpretation services in Australia. Contact us today for a free and non-obligatory Chinese translation quote.