Top 5 Chinese to English Translation Mistakes

If your Chinese to English translation has left your target audience laughing, you need a new translation services provider.

Although bad English translations have amused many, in the age of social media network effects, reaching millions of people with the wrong message is not a funny proposition for your global brand image. Using a poor translation is analogous to renting aerial advertising with no message attached!

By avoiding these top five mistakes of Chinese to English translations in technical documents, user manuals, and legal contracts, you can ensure that your company’s message will have high impact with your target audience. 

1. Hiring a Hong Kong Translator for a Shanghai Document

Only a translator who has in-depth understanding of the source language and dialect will be able to capture the intended meaning of the source text. Start by establishing whether you are working with Traditional or Simplified Chinese. Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan while Simplified Chinese is used in Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. These are two distinct languages that are not interchangeable.

2. Using Unfamiliar Technical Terms

When a 19th century Italian astronomer labeled possible bodies of water on Mars ‘canali,’ the world science community came to believe that intelligent life on the red planet was building canals. A little science fiction may not have done any harm, but most mistakes in technical documents or legal contracts can create harm and high costs for business. Using proper terms that are specific to your company or industry might be the difference between life and death for your company’s products as well as your company’s brand image.

3. Misinterpreting Regional Pronunciations

Many translations of blockchain in Chinese actually refer to cryptocurrency. They include byte coin and the people’s money. Only a subject matter expert who understands the context will know when to use blockchain and when cryptocurrency is the intended meaning. But the word will be pronounced differently if you are presenting at a conference in Hong Kong in Cantonese or Shanghai in Mandarin. The Chinese to English translator must also understand the different pronunciations.

4. Hiring a Translator Who Has Never Worked in the Industry

A professional translator with industry experience can ensure your documents use the right terminology and at what point to seek further clarification. In Chinese, it is not uncommon for numerous words to describe one English term. A translator should have deep familiarity with the industry to provide a translation with terms understandable to both markets.

5. Failing to Keep Up With Legal and Technical Changes

In a high profile patent dispute between Apple and chipmaker QUALCOMM, a Chinese judge recently banned iPhone sales to China’s 1.5 billion mobile phone users. Since the dispute began, China’s patent laws and precedents have changed many times. If a legal generalist translator is used, the risk of misconveying the legal case to the English legal team is much higher. The biggest mistake in legal translations is overly generalizing the text when the fine details and subtleties are what win or lose a case.

In today’s hyper-connected world, every document you translate must be high impact. Using a non-experienced Chinese to English translator is like hiring a skywriting plane to fly over your market with no message attached.

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