Peak Translations

Tips to translate from English to Chinese

You would think it would be straightforward to ask for a Chinese interpreter or to have a document translated into Chinese, but like many languages there are certain things that need to be considered. Below you will find some tips to translate from English to Chinese to help you cross those cultural barriers.

  • The first thing to note is that the spoken and written form of Chinese is different and likewise varies on your target country.
    • When it comes to talking the talk in mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia or Taiwan, you will require Standard Chinese, in other words Mandarin. However, if your business takes you to Hong Kong or Macau, then a Cantonese interpreter would be necessary.
    • To translate from English to Chinese in the written form, it is useful to know which kind you will need to ensure your message is understood. For instance if your target market is mainland China (PRC) or Singapore, it is essential that you ask for Simplified Chinese, which is basically a simpler version of Traditional Chinese. However if you intend to have business relations with companies in Taiwan or Hong Kong for instance, then your written documents call for Traditional Chinese. As for Chinese communities living overseas, it is advisable to cover all bases and provide both translation in Simplified and Traditional.


  • Have you ever noticed how little space Chinese text takes up on a page? In relation to English, a paragraph of Chinese demands about 30% less space than English. So for instance, translating from English to Chinese or the other way round in the advertising and marketing world can prove quite a challenge, as what may take a phrase to say in English might only require a couple of characters in Chinese. In these cases it is useful to learn the art of paraphrasing. Being aware that Chinese requires far less space than English on a page is essential knowledge if you are planning to translate a website for example, as you will need to adapt the website in order to cater for the shorter Chinese phrases so that your target language is well represented.


  • Another point to consider is the use of italics, which can cause obstacles in the world of English to Chinese translation, as Chinese does not technically use italics. Nonetheless, where there’s a will there’s a way. To try and emulate the English font, Chinese translators will use slanted fonts to keep as close to the source as possible.


  • Localisation in any language is important as cultures vary across the board. What might appear acceptable in one culture might go down like a lead balloon in another. This is certainly important when having a website translated. To translate a website from English to Chinese in the most efficient way, localisation would be necessary such as adapting address and date formats or units of measurement and so forth. For example Chinese dates are written the opposite way round to English, whereby the year comes first, followed by the month and then the day. It is also important to note that the metric system is used in China therefore is advisable to convert imperial measures into metric.


By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, January 2018





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