Friday, August 19, 2011

Chinese Language Questions for your Next Chinese Translation Project

During the past few months, we have been issuing a series of newsletter articles that answer the some of the most common questions about certain languages, and these have included Spanish, French and Portuguese. This month, we are covering the most frequently asked questions about the Chinese language. Answers to these questions can help with your next Chinese translation project and increase your overall knowledge of one of the world’s most economically important languages.

How many Chinese speakers are there in the world?
Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, with an estimated 1.3 billion native speakers (includes all varieties). And these numbers are only increasing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be 1.5 native billion speakers of the Chinese language, and these are conservative estimates.

What are the different dialects of Chinese and where are they spoken?
There are numerous dialects spoken in China, but the two main dialects with the largest economic power are Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin Chinese alone is spoken by 836 million native speakers. There are about 71 million speakers of Cantonese worldwide (numbers may vary depending on the source). While they share the same writing system, the two dialects are not mutually intelligible. Cantonese speaking people call this situation “the chicken talking to the duck” because they cannot understand each other when they speak.

In what countries is Chinese spoken?
It is spoken by people in the People's Republic of China (China), Republic of China (Taiwan), Singapore, and by sizable minorities in Malaysia, the United States, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Mauritius and Peru. It is the third most common language spoken in the United States after Spanish, with more than 2 million speakers (mostly Cantonese but increasingly Mandarin). Cantonese is mainly spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and the Cantong province in mainland China whereas Mandarin is spoken in the rest of the mainland, with the exception of the southeast coastal areas where other dialects are found.

Where is Simplified and Traditional Chinese used?
There is often confusion between the definitions of Mandarin/Cantonese/Simplified and Traditional Chinese. Mandarin and Cantonese are dialects, non-mutually intelligible when spoken, yet simplified and traditional Chinese are writing systems that two different countries have adopted (China and Taiwan respectively). China had promoted the use of Simplified characters for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to increase literacy rates throughout China. Simplified Chinese also serves as a cultural and political role for China, differentiating itself from Taiwan as they became political adversaries. Simplified Chinese, however, was never adopted by the government of Taiwan as they decided to stick to the traditional type, due to the respect for it’s rich culture and historical significance. Yet most recently, simplified Chinese has had an increasing role in Taiwan because of China’s economic influence. It must be noted that there are dissimilarities in Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan and China. Many words and phrases have taken on new meanings over the years. There are also differences in tone and pronunciation. Some words simply do not exist in the other country.

Are there any new developments in the Chinese language?

There have been recent attempts between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments to collaborate to form a first-ever join dictionary that will cover the different ways of writing and speaking Chinese. The dictionary will be free and accessible throughout the internet. Because of China’s increased political and economic power, the Taiwanese have begun to use simplified characters because they are easier to write and also facilitate communication with China. The Chinese dictionary is meant to serve as a bridge between the two writing systems, in order to improve communication and the overall relationship between the two countries. – Source: "China and Taiwan 'First Joint Dictionary'", BBC News, 2011

The internet has been playing a large role in helping the language further develop and be accessible to others. Bing has developed an extensive Chinese language dictionary which you can visit at

What does this all mean for someone looking for a Chinese translation?
Having the correct translation is important for success in the Chinese-speaking market. If your translations are intended for Mainland China, then hiring a translator capable of translating from English to Simplified Chinese is important. The same goes for Taiwan, where a translator familiar with traditional characters should be used. If translating for the Chinese population in the United States for example, caution should be used because the majority of Chinese speakers are from Hong Kong who speak Cantonese, although increasingly the population is becoming more Mandarin. Because the population is generally older, Cantonese speakers in the United States still write in traditional Chinese, as opposed to the Cantonese living in Hong Kong that write Simplified Chinese. Due to the complexities of the language, it is often difficult to find an appropriate translator. This is where a translation agency that specializes on Chinese translations can help. A translation agency may be able to help you determine what language you should use for your target market or even help you identify what you target market should be.

It is wise to carry Chinese business cards when you travel for business in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. For more information about our Chinese business card translation services, please visit

It is estimated that only about 16% of the Chinese mainland speaks various levels of English. Translating your document will undoubtedly increase your abilities to reach a larger portion of the Chinese speaking population. PLG has been offering Chinese translation and typesetting services since its inception in 1994. For more information about our Chinese translation services, please visit

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