How to Translate English into Chinese

Posted by Lilian Li on Dec 21, 2015

how to tranlsate English into Chinese

Translating has never been easy, since the source and target languages often do not share the same syntactic structure or even punctuation. Further, translation is not just about translating word-for-word. It is about interpreting meaning. And what may have a positive or neutral meaning in one language may be the opposite in another language.

Sentence patterns in English and in Chinese have both similarities and differences. The good news is that the word order in a sentence is largely similar in English and Chinese. The bad news is that there are still some minor differences. For example, temporal expressions are usually in the latter part of the sentence in English (example: We will take the train at 10:00), but the first part of the sentence in Chinese (example: At 10:00 we will take the train).

Below are two sample translations. The position of temporal expressions is clearly different. They are easy to remember and learn for English native speakers, though.

I went to my grandpa's house yesterday.

我昨天去了爷爷家。

We have to move by 14 November.

11月14日之前我们必须得搬家。

However, some differences between English and Chinese can be quite subtle. Chinese allows run-on sentences that can be joined by simply a comma. Also, Chinese allows topic nouns in front of real nouns. Sometimes it is quite annoying to read such Chinese sentences. The following translation is an example of a Chinese run-on sentence and a topic noun.

大象鼻子很长,那棵树叶子很黄。

Elephants have long noses and that tree has yellow leaves.

Apart from the sentence level, word level grammatical differences are also difficult to translate. Chinese has no tense markers on the word level but has what are called "particles," special words, for expressing tense and other details (着,了,过), that often are added after the verbs, roughly expressing present tense, present perfect and past perfect.

In terms of word meaning, English metaphorical usage sometimes cannot be directly translated into Chinese (or vice versa). For example,"Finally the stork came to the Flanders's last week. They have been expecting a child since 2000." The culturally-specific word"stork," symbolizing "childbirth," comes from German lore of several hundred years ago that children babies were delivered to families by storks. A literal translation will make no sense to a Chinese person without the corresponding cultural explanation.

Anyway, if you want to translate English into Chinese well, the first thing you have to do is to learn Chinese well. Only when you familiar with both original and target language well, you can be successful in translation.

About The Author

Lilian Li

Lilian Li has a master's degree in linguistics and didactics from Rennes University in France. An expert in linguistics and educational psychology, she has taught Chinese as a foreign language for several years, primarily in France.

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