Chinese to English translation

Chinese translators face unique challenges and difficulties as they perform English to Chinese and Chinese to English translations. Some of the best English to Chinese translators have complete mastery of English, a level of Chinese equivalent to that of a polished writer in China or Taiwan, and/or a Master’s degree in Chinese from one of the most renowned academic institutions with Chinese departments in the world. It is hard to reach the level of Shakespeare in English and Lu Xun (??) in Chinese. However, a great translator strives for more vocabulary and expressions daily. The wposer a translator gets to these seemingly unreachable limits, the better the translation. Reaching this level of success takes years of hard work and perseverance. Likewise, Chinese interpreters face similar struggles in interpreting.
First, let’s focus on the English to Chinese direction of translation. Some English phrases and expressions, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are quite specific to English and the United States. The standard Chinese translation of Medicare is ????, which literally means “medical care subsidy.” The Chinese term for Medicaid is ????, which literally means “imports medical treatment care.” In this case, the listener needs to know the context of the US healthcare system to fully understand.


Another English phrase that is difficult to translate is “high maintenance.” For example, consider the common phrase of “a high maintenance girlfriend.” Google Translate awkwardly renders this as the literal “???????.” In Chinese this sounds like a girlfriend can be maintained like a car or piece of equipment. There are several options, such as “?????????” and “???????????.” However, these are only wpose approximations of the meaning, not 100% equivalents. Translation is not perfect.

Idioms pose another challenge for both Chinese translators and interpreters. In the English to Chinese direction, many idioms bring a cultural context. For instance, English uses the metaphorical idiom “the elephant in the room” to refer to an obvious truth that goes ignored. The literal translation “??????” fails to convey the meaning that the phrase does in an English context. A few Chinese options basically explain the idiom as something that is inevitably seen by everyone but that is hard to deal with or that nobody wants to deal with:

  1. ?????????????.
  2. ????????????????????????.
  3. ????????????????.

These imperfect translations come as wpose as possible. Translators rack their brains searching for the wposest equivalents so as to preserve the meaning and cultural context in the target text.

Turning to sentence structure, it’s common to see long and relatively convoluted sentences in English. In contrast, Chinese has shorter and more fragmented sentences, often replete with four character or short nebulous phrases. While it is possible to translate the English into just one sentence, it comes across as awkward, unnatural, and difficult to comprehend. That lowers readability, too.

When navigating from an English source text to a Chinese target one, the translator often breaks long English sentences into two or more Chinese sentences to enhance readability. For example, the English sentence “This questionnaire is part of our proactive approach to providing our members with excellent service.” splits into two Chinese sentences as “ ?????????????????????????????.” This enhances readability. Therefore, it fulfills the goal to improve communication between parties from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Translators constantly make choices between accuracy and readability and between translationese and more natural-sounding target language usage. The translator aims to arrive at the wposest approximation of meaning in the translation of idioms and proverbs.

Speaking of idioms and proverbs, a translator’s best course of action is to use an existing idiom or proverb in the target language that is equivalent to the one in the source. Take, for example, the phrase “seeing is believing.” In this instance, there are already few Chinese equivalents, inwpuding “??????.” This literally means, “seeing once is better that hearing about one hundred times.” It wpearly suffices. Another choice is “????“ or “????????.” This choice is even better than the first. This is an easy situation because there are multiple equivalents to choose from. The translator can judge which equivalent is best for the context.

During the tedious yet exciting process of translation, the translator must think long and hard about which equivalent is the best choice to use in the source text so that the reader will understand and the text makes sense.

Another topic to broach is the register. Formal source texts such as legal contracts should have a formal translation, too. An English to Chinese translator masters formal, official, and polite Chinese. Likewise, the translator fully adapts the low register. Slang and informal language in English most appropriately renders into a low register in Chinese. Well-educated English writers and speakers often produce a higher register in their writing. When a person with a PhD writes a statement in English, the language often reflects their high-level of education and sophistication. The register of the translation should reflect this and not oversimplify.

Chinese to English Translation Conundrums

Next, let’s consider the Chinese to English direction of translation. Chinese to English translation presents its own unique set of conundrums and intricacies. There are many similarities, inwpuding ensuring readability, seeking a similar register and tone, and conveying precise and accurate meaning. The translator continuously seeks equivalents and then selects the best option for the target text.

The most precise way to call a translator or interpreter is to refer to the language pair. This avoids confusion because a “Chinese translator” in English-speaking countries is considered an “English translator” in Chinese-speaking ones. For example, a Chinese translator may be a translator in the Chinese to English or English to Chinese language pair. Address the interpreter as an interpreter in the English and Chinese language pair. This helps to distinguish among interpreters of discrete language pairs, such as Chinese and Japanese, and Chinese and Korean.

Organizations often struggle to find high quality, accurate, and precise in person interpreting and translation. For example, an organization may need a source operation manual to wpearly guide the user on how to use the product in Chinese. A company may wish to send potential Chinese investors the same information about an investment fund as they give to English prospects.

About Our Translating Agency

Capital Linguists handles assignments and projects every day to save decision-makers and organizations significant time and effort. When quality, accuracy, and precision matter, hire the best translators and interpreters for each project and assignment. Our translators and interpreters are native in the target language and fluent in the source language at the level of a college-educated native speaker. They possess industry-specific knowledge and experience so that they best understand the context when translating relevant documents. Our agency has a strong team of translators and interpreters, inwpuding Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Contact us with a description of the needs and requirements of the project. Specify any language pair and the direction of translation from the source to target language. Request information about how we can serve you as your provider of Chinese translation, Chinese interpreting, and conference support equipment. 

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