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The complexities of translating English into Chinese and Spanish

by Ethan more
translating English

You want to create local experiences for your global customers. In order to achieve this, you need to connect with your diverse customer base in their native language.

Since you run your business on an international scale, your customers could be anywhere. They also speak hundreds of different languages. So, as you look to prioritize which languages to translate your English content into, two languages come as an obvious choice: Chinese and Spanish. 

Together, these languages have about 1800 million speakers in the world. This is pretty huge and should give you a good starting point if you look to expand your business worldwide. If you don’t translate your English content into languages such as Chinese and Spanish, you’re sure to miss out on a big portion of the audience having the potential to become your loyal customers. 

But translating English materials into Chinese and Spanish often poses grave challenges. It often requires the expertise of an experienced translation agency to tackle them. 

Here’s what makes Chinese and Spanish difficult languages to translate into. 

Top challenges when translating English into Chinese

Chinese is a language that most people in the world speak today. It has over 1.3 billion speakers – which makes it the language of about 16% of people on Earth. These speakers don’t just reside in China but in several other countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, the U.S., the UK, South Africa, and more.

If you can think of two languages very different from one another, English and Chinese should be the one. Due to these differences, translators find it hard to deliver Chinese translation services.   

Following are the common challenges you need to know about English to Chinese translation.

1. Chinese has many dialects

It’s important to understand that Chinese isn’t one language. It has various varieties based on the region, such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Xiang, Gan, and more. In fact, some versions are so different from one another that even the local residents won’t understand them much. 

However, the official language in China is Mandarin. Similarly, Cantonese is popular in Hong Kong. This is what makes it difficult to translate into Chinese. You need to be very specific about the location, dialects, and needs of your target audience. Otherwise, you won’t garner much traction.

2. Use of characters in Chinese

While English uses a combination of 26 letters to form a word, Chinese don’t. It uses thousands of characters to form words and phrases. Moreover, each character has its own meaning. Thus, English translation into Chinese becomes much more difficult.

3. Chinese has different tones

Do you know Chinese is a tonal language? It means different words convey completely different meanings in Chinese based on their tonal inflections. These tones are hard to master and make translation a tough task.

4. Word order in Chinese

“I eat an apple” becomes “Apple I ate” in English to Chinese translation. You see, the object comes first in Chinese.  So, translators have to struggle with it.

5. Lack of verb conjugation

The Chinese language has no tenses. Therefore, it becomes difficult to describe events in the past, present, or future. The wider context of the language as well as the tone of the language will help determine the meaning of the sentence. 

Top challenges when translating English into Spanish

About 486 million individuals in 110 countries speak Spanish. Making it one of the world’s most popular languages your business can’t ignore.

But Spanish also presents several complexities for English translation. Let’s explore some of the common challenges here.

1. There isn’t one Spanish

Looking for English to Spanish translation services? Hold on for a moment. Similar to the Chinese language, Spanish also has many versions of it. These different versions have occurred due to the cultural, linguistic, and historical changes over time. Because Spanish from Spain or Europe is distinct from Latin American Spanish, you need to ask what Spanish your target audience speaks.

2. Spanish has longer words

Spanish is often a more expressive and detailed language in comparison to English. Research shows that an English text can become 20-30% longer during Spanish translation of it. That said, translators will have to struggle if there are any space or character limitations. For this very reason, successful companies incorporate translations right into their design process. 

3. The level of complexity is high

Spanish is a romance language and is much more complex than English. In contrast to English, it uses gendered nouns. Every noun not only has a gender but can be singular or plural as well. Keeping this in mind, any word you come across for a person, thing, place, or idea, will be either masculine or feminine. 

Moreover, overall sentence structure, rules of verbs and adjectives, and the distinction between statements and questions are all different in Spanish. 

4. Different levels of formality in Spanish

Formality matters a lot in Spanish. The way you address a spouse or close friend will be different from that of addressing your manager or doctor. For instance, Spanish has four different ways of saying “you”. It all depends on the person you’re addressing, your relationship with them, their gender, and more.  

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