Mandarin or Cantonese Translation: Which Does Your Business Need?

Demystifying the Chinese Languages in their Written and Spoken Forms

Chinese Script and Cantonese Translation

Are you ready to take advantage of the consumer market among Chinese speakers?

Around 1 in 5 people opens in a new window in the world speak Chinese as a mother tongue. Since 2011, China has also been the second-largest economy in the world and may take the top spot by 2020.

However, what many people don’t realize is that the Chinese language is not only spoken in mainland China. It is also the language of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and others.

The Chinese language is extremely diverse. It is divided between the two main dialects of Cantonese and Mandarin (Putonghua).

Do I need a Mandarin or Cantonese translation? Or, should I translate into Simplified or Traditional Chinese?

We’ll answer everything you need to know about translating Chinese below. Let’s go! 

Mandarin or Cantonese Translation? 

The Chinese language can be confusing!

Some people claim that Chinese is actually much more simple opens in a new window than French or Spanish. This is rarely the experience of most learners. 

People think that Mandarin and Cantonese are actually two different languages. However, they’re more like accents or dialects within the same language.

Someone from Madrid has a different accent than someone from Mexico City, but they both speak Spanish. It’s the same among Chinese speakers.

For example, someone in the capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing will probably speak with a Mandarin dialect. However, someone living in Hong Kong will have a Cantonese dialect.

Even though both Cantonese and Mandarin are the same languages, that doesn’t mean they sound the same. Someone from Beijing can probably understand someone from Hong Kong. And yet, there may be some confusions between the two.

Most importantly, Mandarin and Cantonese reflect the differences within the spoken language of Chinese rather than the written word.

Other Dialects of Chinese

It’s important to know that Mandarin and Cantonese are not the only dialects spoken in the Chinese language, there are many more. Therefore, if you require localization translation services, you may need to consider whether your audience is actually based in other regions of the mainland.

For example, in Shanghai, regarded as the financial center of the country, the people speak a dialect known as Shanghainese (Wu dialect). Other common dialects spoken across China include the Gan, Min and Xiang dialects. 

Moreover, the Mandarin that Taiwanese people speak is also slightly different from the Mandarin that people speak on the mainland.

However, it’s important to remember that the difference among the dialects of Chinese are only relevant if you require voice over or audio translations of Chinese.  

What About the Written Word?

There is confusion still about the written form of Chinese. You’ve probably heard about Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese before. People often think that Simplified Chinese corresponds to Cantonese and Traditional Chinese to Mandarin, or the other way around.

However, there is no direct relationship between the two. Remember, Mandarin and Cantonese are dialects. While Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese are actually two different kinds of symbols or characters within the Chinese language. 

When to use Simplified Chinese?

Many westerners are familiar with the confusion over Chinese characters. Don’t be surprised to hear that Chinese people struggle with them as well.

That’s why the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) introduced the Simplified Chinese characters in 1949. This was combined with increased investment in improving the literacy rate among the people of China. 

The people of mainland China quickly adopted Simplified Chinese. The island city-state of Singapore also took up the new symbols.

However, it’s also important to note that the Simplified Chinese symbols are always evolving too. The government recently released an official list of so-called new characters, most of which were already widely used.

When to use Traditional Chinese?

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, people continued to read and write Traditional Chinese. The Traditional style of writing and reading Chinese is thousands of years old. 

The gap between the Traditional style of writing Chinese and the Simplified version on the mainland has continued to grow in the past several decades. New characters have subsequently been added to Traditional Chinese as well. 

Who is Your Target Audience?

You need to consider who your target audience is to determine whether your text needs to be translated into either Traditional or Simplified Chinese. 

Therefore, if the target audience for your text is either Hong Kong or Taiwan, you need to make sure it is translated with Traditional Chinese. Whereas, if your target audience is on the mainland of China or Singapore, you will need to focus on the Simplified version of the written language.

Note that there has been a transition from Traditional to Simplified characters in Hong Kong since the PRC took the island over from the U.K. in 1997. You may want to consider supporting both character sets if you target audience is mainly in Hong Kong.

It’s also worth noting that the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan can usually understand the Simplified style of Chinese. In contrast, the mainland Chinese struggle to make sense of the Traditional Chinese characters.

Therefore, if you want to translate your text to reach the biggest audience of Chinese speakers, Simplified Chinese is your best choice.

It is also important to note that Chinese immigrants around the world and particularly in the USA and in Canada still use the Simplified Chinese script. If they are your audience, use Simplified Chinese for all written forms.

Professional Translation Services

Now you know everything you need to know about translating your text or audio into the Chinese language.

Do you need a Cantonese translation? Do you require a Simplified text translation? Now you know what your business needs to do!

You have the opportunity to reach out to a huge market of consumers and clients excited to hear about your products and services.

You can ensure your document, website, software or webinar is expertly translated into the appropriate language or dialect for you. Find out more about our professional translation services here.

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