Primary Challenges of Chinese to English Translation
China, the superpower of the world, is known globally for its advancements in the fields of science and technology. Popular for its abundant history and populated lands, China is also renowned due to its Chinese language, which is the most spoken language across the globe. Just like English is considered the language of official correspondence, Chinese is also being increasingly used with the progress of time.
However, delivering a message from the Chinese language to English and vice versa is not an easy task. When the need arose, a complete translation of Chinese to English was demanded. Consequently, the process of “Chinglish” came into existence. Needless to say, both these languages are very different from each other, but the pattern of thought plays a significant role in transferring the meanings of the native language. Add to that cultural understanding, the abundance of idioms, subject-verb construction, and grammatical rules—and you get the perfect Chinese to English translation.
A great thing about Chinese to English translation is hunting down new words and terminology. In fact, the daily work of a linguist is already very challenging, not to mention the Chinese to English translation. Nevertheless, this task needs to be fulfilled in order to achieve the targets and enhance the competence of communication.
A list of certain challenges that makes the Chinese translation difficult are given below;
Arrangement of Character
One of the factors that make the Chinese language difficult to translate is the way of writing. Until Chinese symbols depict thoughts, they can be written not exclusively in one direction. While translating and understanding the Chinese language, one might get confused because of the direction of writing—left to right, right to left or down and up, up and down. Likewise, the translation might get really tough, especially in the case of Mandarin.
There are more than 50,000 Chinese characters that are rarely spoken in daily life. It is estimated that almost 500 Chinese characters are more than enough to make 80% of written Chinese comprehensible. The concept of joining two Chinese characters is being exercised in modern language. For example, 開 in Cantonese translates as “to open something”, while 心 signifies “heart.” By joining them together, the expression would be “to open your heart,” (開心 ), and as a word, it means “happy.”
The Use of Pinyin
Pinyin is the process of Romanization of Chinese characters through observing their pronunciation. For instance, the literal meaning of Pin Yin is “spell sound” when translated in Mandarin. To make it easier to understand, take a look at these 4 Chinese characters 学习中文 now in Pinyin they will be spelled as xué xí zhōng wén.
If a person looks close enough, he will notice that this procedure has the ability to develop a better understanding of the Chinese language amongst Western learners. This technique was initially applied at the school level with a goal to boost literacy and to establish a unique method of pronouncing Chinese letters.
These days the technique of Pinyin has become even more reliable and significant, as it is providing a facility of typing Chinese on a usual keyboard. But still, it is not a piece of cake to understand Pinyin. Moreover, it is not possible to translate multiple combinations into English. For example, “Xi” will sound like “see / shee” whereas “C” will be pronounced as ‘’ts” in English. That’s not all because even the tone of voice used by the speaker is of great value. For instance, “猪 (zhū)” stands for “pig,” whereas “珠 (zhū)” stands for “pearl “. Hence, it’s important to ensure not to spread confusion while sticking to a tone of speech.
Everyone knows that Russian grammar is very difficult to study. Surprisingly, Chinese grammar is even more complex to understand than Russian grammar for a beginner. Firstly, this is because the concept of the plural or singular form of verb is non-existent in the Chinese language. Secondly, there is no verb conjugation to specify tenses. One has to discover it through the context. For example, the word “I read”. In Chinese this word will be exercised for all the tenses and just the context will be altered.
We all know idioms are a way to convey the “hidden” meanings in any language. Nevertheless, the translation becomes tougher when it comes down to transforming the way of thinking and these hidden meanings of two entirely different languages. Chinese is known to be a language that relies upon the Chinese culture and tradition that directly affects localization. This is the reason a careful reading is required in case of idioms so that it makes sense in usage. Besides, while English-speakers prefer to describe things directly, the use of idioms in everyday expressions might be hard.
Translation of Sentences
The English language is a fairly simple one, as far as sentences are considered—not the case in the Chinese language. There are two kinds of sentences in the Chinese language. One is simple sentence and the other one is complex. The first one consists of a predicate, subject, and object. This is different from the English language, where the predicate isn’t always a verb.
Generally speaking, the complex sentence is a group of combinations of simple sentences. One has to make sure the sentence structure is right while translating. Additionally, it is imperative for Chinese translators to have a good understanding of sentence patterns since it is related to the person’s language aptitude.
Dealing with dictionaries
The base of any language is its words and phrases. Therefore, it is important to discuss those phrases and words that mislead English translation and have been preserved in the body of Chinese and English dictionaries. For example, ‘nishiliu’ is a Chinese word that defines a geological mass movement, a kind of landslide. In every English dictionary, the primary English equivalent of this word is “mud-rock-flow”—the literal character-for-character translation of the Chinese language. Unfortunately, “mud-rock-flow” is not used in English conversation. The closest equivalent for this would, therefore, be “debris flow”.
The Last Word
The process of translating from one language to another may be a tough one, but it has its own sunny sides. Nevertheless, it is important to determine the cultural sensitivity of any language while translating. Not considering the cultural context can wreak havoc in the literal translation process. If the Chinese translation is replicated word-for-word without paying attention to the cultural context, the message might sound offensive or simply unfaithful to its original meaning and intention. This is the reason professional Chinese translation services would take pains to dig deeper into the cultural context before undertaking the task of translating this language into English.