Translation Tips for the Chinese market

If you have a visitor guide, a website, an audio guide or any kind of signage in your attraction, you are probably thinking about whether you should be translating it for the Chinese market. The answer to that question is an overwhelming ‘yes’. Your visitors will expect it and the tour operators considering your hotel or attraction for inclusion on their tours will be influenced by the availability of translations.

But which languages do you need? And are there different needs depending on the medium? Here is our quick guide to translating for the Chinese visitor.

Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in China and has more native speakers than any other language in the world. It is a simplified version of traditional Chinese and is the official spoken language of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). It can also be referred to as ‘Chinese’.

Some consider Mandarin a dialect rather than a language, as it varies so much across China, but the Mandarin you need to worry about is the version spoken in Beijing. That is the standard you will receive if you ask us for a translation into Mandarin.

However, Mandarin is not spoken in Hong Kong or Macau. In these areas, people speak Cantonese which is also the language widely spoken in the Canton region of China, around Guangzhou.

So that’s fine. Translate into Mandarin and Cantonese and you’re covered, right? Wrong.

Someone who speaks Mandarin will not necessarily be able to understand someone speaking Cantonese. But if you write the words down, they are more or less the same. Just a few minor differences.

The differences are that, in China, the written version of Mandarin is used. In Hong Kong, Macau and Southern China, a more traditional written version is used. (Just to further complicate things, in Taiwan, where Mandarin is spoken, the written language is also the more traditional form.) But, written down, both languages can be understood (more or less) by everyone.

So, where does this leave you? Well, for the spoken word, you should translate into both Mandarin and Cantonese. For the written word, you definitely need Mandarin and, if your budget will allow it, you could also translate into traditional Chinese. This will work in your favour if you want to impress visitors from Southern China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

For a quote on translation services from China Travel Outbound please contact Helena Beard at [email protected]


Enjoyed this article? Then these may also be of interest to you.

Top tips for overcoming the English-Chinese language barrier

Cross-cultural challenges for British people doing business in China

Bitesize China Facts