When it comes time for your business, website, joint venture or other projects to get into various Chinese-speaking markets, and begin (or continue) to work with Cantonese and Mandarin translation services as far as text-based, subtitle localization and voice over localization are concerned, it’s important that you understand some of the differences and nuances that exist in the Chinese language. Let’s touch on a few basics that will help you sort out how Chinese and Chinese translation actually work — and how a good translation service experienced in these fields can help your company best communicate its messages in different Chinese-speaking regions and countries.
First off, a quick note about Cantonese and Mandarin. Officially, as recognized by The People’s Republic of China, they are the same language. And while only considered dialects of Chinese, when spoken, Mandarin and Cantonese speakers have a very hard time understanding one another unless they’ve been exposed to the other language — which is increasingly common in Mainland China, as there has been big push for people to learn Mandarin. But when it comes to the written language, for practical purposes, they’re basically the same language. A character in Cantonese is the same in Mandarin, but it’s important to point out that there are differences between simplified Chinese characters (a product of the Communist Government’s desire to increase literacy), known as jian ti zi, and the traditional (complicated) Chinese characters, known as fan ti zi, which are more common in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere.
Chinese Voice Over vs. Subtitles
What this means for any business getting into Chinese-speaking regions — and looking at subtitle localization (videos, slide shows, etc.) for websites — is that once you’ve figured out if your core audience reads simplified or traditional Chinese characters, you’re pretty much good to go (with a few caveats) — regardless of the dialect spoken. But, when looking at Chinese voice over localization, you’ll definitely have to make a distinction between Cantonese and Mandarin. (Don’t even get us started about Shanghainese, which falls under the umbrella of Wu Chinese.)
Sorting Through Chinese, and Chinese Localization Services
When breaking down regions and dialects that use some form of Chinese, a simple way of looking at it is that the big, official state language of China is Mandarin. Mandarin, just like the fabled ‘ring’ in Lord of the Rings, rules over them all. Cantonese (spoken by some 60 millions people) is used more in the southeast, including regions like Guangdong Province, parts of Guangxi Province, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Shanghainese, cleverly enough, is used in Shanghai. Mandarin is by far the most common variant, which means when it comes to Chinese voice over localization services, chances are you’ll be dealing with Mandarin more often than not.
And when you and your translation service dive into text translations for your various Chinese website and subtitle localization needs, the point to keep in mind is that simplified Chinese characters are used in Mainland China, while elsewhere people tend to stick to traditional characters — although a fair amount of debate still exits at to which type of characters are better. At least now you know some of the differences, which is helpful when working with Chinese subtitling and Chinese localization projects.
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