Right now, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. With more than 1.3 Billion native speakers, it is the 1st language in the world. In 2nd place we have Spanish with 480 Million native speakers and in 3rd place is English with 379 Million native speakers.
For any translator or interpreters one thing is sure: you need to evolve and learn as many languages you can so you have a job. So learning and working with Mandarin language makes all the sense.
What does Mandarin mean?
Mandarin Chinese, also known as Huayu, comes from Portuguese mandarim, and means “minister or counsellor” and was originally meant for officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Back then, these officials communicated using a Koiné language based on various northern varieties. When Jesuit missionaries learned this standard language in the 16th century, they called it “Mandarin”, from its Chinese name Guānhuà (官话/官話) or “language of the officials”.
Is Mandarin the same as Chinese?
Mandarin is the official state language spoken in China, mainly in the mainland, Taiwan and Singapore. Cantonese is spoken in Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong province, including Guangzhou.
There is a difference between Mandarin and Chinese. Chinese is the language of writing and reading (characters) and Mandarin is the language of speaking and listening.
Do all Chinese understand Mandarin?
According to China’s Education Ministry, only about 400 million people, or 30% of the population, cannot speak the country’s national language.
Of the 70% of the population who can speak Mandarin, many do not do it well enough.
The government launched another campaign to push for linguistic unity in China.
China is home to thousands of dialects and several minority languages. These include Cantonese and Hokkien, which enjoy strong regional support.
How does Linguistic Works
When learning Mandarin and Chinese, our western brain needs to be formatted for better understanding the linguistics of this language.
For example there isn’t a verb conjugation that shows the tense, as well as there is no singular or plural.
There are two types of sentences: simple and complex. The first one is made out of subject, predicate and object. Compared to English, the predicate isn’t always a verb, sometimes being represented by an adjective. And this is a single example amongst many other variations.
Broadly speaking, the complex sentence is composed of combinations of simple ones. In linguistic matters, it is quite important for a translator to have a good command of sentence patterns, since it speaks about the person’s language ability.
Pinyin and Characters
Chinese characters, or Hanzi, suffered a change and are now divided into 2 groups: Traditional and Simplified characters. Characters represent words instead of sounds. They are pictographs that show a thing or idea. Between traditional and simplified characters, there are a total of 50 000 characters.
Hanyu Pinyin or Pinyin for short, is the romanization for standard Chinese in Mainland China and Singapore. Pinyin uses letters to make the character have a sound. Pinyin has 5 different tones, and even though we can write the same letters and might sound the same words, the meanings are quite different.
Untranslatable Chinese words
We spoke about the difference of mandarin and chinese previously. One without the other cannot exist but Chinese is actually the most relevant part of the language, and we remember again that Chinese characters give the thing or the action.
There are at least 10 words in Chinese without a direct English translation, and are called the untranslatable chinese words. If you analyze the pictograph will be confusing when adding pinyin to it.
加油 (jiā yóu)
Literal translations: Add gas
Meaning: Go for it!
When to use: What do you do when someone needs to be encouraged? Just give them a thumbs-up and say this to them.
There is a list available of untranslatable words but as a translator or interpreter, or if you want to sound more native, you need to study them and check the context to apply them.
According to many language schools and many professional translators and interpreters, you must study at least 8 to 10 years to become a professional translator or interpreter (Non Native). Being 8 years less but the hardest studying time.
Chinese is a very especific language to translate (when translating books) but proofreading is not.
Meanwhile making a Mandarin interpretation can be harder but need everyday experience.
How good is Google translate for Chinese?
When using language to communicate, the result is to take images and emotions from your mind and invoke the same images and emotions in some else’s mind. Share the idea of what you want to communicate.
The problem is that two languages may not have words that have the same image or emotion evoked by their use.
A true multilingual person does not translate words from one language to another, they translate images and emotions. Software programs don’t do this.
Software programs look at each word individually, translate them to probable correct words in the other language, then compare the results with common usage to provide the most probable translation.
Chinese translations has one of the lowest rates on Google translations, with an average rate of 4.3%.
Google is always releasing updates on their translator tools but Chinese is one of the languages that Google software cannot be accurate vs a Human translator.
The rate of human Mandarin Chinese translation services is the highest and most successful that Google automated translation. Not only for professional works such as books, news or localization websites, but for legal or medical documents.
The success of human translation doesn’t mean that the software or tool has bad quality, but for a professional usage, that software is still developing and learning about Chinese and Mandarin with Google updating it regularly..
China has now a bigger aperture towards the world, it has evolved in a more professional and leisure way to everyone. Translation and interpreting is being needed and asked more and more, with the exchange of professionals and students between countries, people traveling to and from China for vacation, companies exploring China’s trading, export and import goods from factories and for many things such as documents or product labeling to be in accordance with the country exporting rules and laws needing a western translation or manuals.
China is growing on the world and the world is adapting to its culture and language.