A Close Look Into the Difficulties and Future Landscape of Chinese Translation and Interpretation

Rising Demand for Chinese Translators and Interpreters - Difficulties and Future Landscape

November 25, 2014

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Chinese language, translation

China continues to record robust economic growth, and thus Chinese interpreters and translators are in high demand as bridges connecting China and Japan. According to an estimate, there are more than 50,000 people in China learning Japanese, and attention is now focusing on the future landscape of translators and interpreters bridging both countries. Here, we will examine the key points and future landscape in the field of Chinese interpretation and translation, with a focus on the differences between the Chinese and Japanese languages.

Differences in the Chinese and Japanese Languages - The Same Kanji Character, Yet Very Different Meanings

The meaning of the kanji (Chinese logographic writing system) characters for "letter" in Japanese are pretty straightforward for a Japanese speaker. However, someone from China may view the exact same kanji characters and think restroom. This is because these characters mean toilet paper in Chinese. This shows that there are certain situations where the same kanji characters can have very different meanings in China and Japan. The kanji characters for letter are perhaps one of the best known examples, but the characters that mean "staff" or "worker" in Chinese can be misinterpreted as "spy" by a Japanese speaker, which has become a common joke among those who understand both.

However, if a professional translator makes such a major mistake, the end result won't be laughter. An incorrect translation could lead to a fatal mistake in business, as was demonstrated by the Tohoku Tourism Expo's website which was forced to shut down because of a huge number of incorrect translations.

There tends to be a lot of mistakes made particularly in the field of translation from Chinese to Japanese because both languages use the same kanji characters.

Surprisingly Unknown Aspects of the Japanese Language

This difficulty is often on display in the field of Chinese interpretation.

According to Chinese language interpreter Yining Dai from Shanghai, two of the most difficult parts about learning Japanese for Chinese speakers are pronunciation and intonation. For example, the "fu" sound in Chinese is similar to the "f" in English, so the lower lip and teeth meet, but in Japanese "fu" is pronounced without the teeth and lower lip meeting. As for intonation, ordinary dictionaries don't show intonation, so Chinese speakers have to shadow the news (repeat the words as they are spoken) or refer to the intonation dictionary published by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute.

Since Chinese has a lot of direct expressions like English, sentences tend to be clear and to the point, but Japanese prefers more indirect, passive expressions. In this manner, linguistic expressions are different, so it is very important to understand the cultural differences behind this.

The Key to Chinese Language Translation and Interpretation is Cultural Acceptance

Professional Chinese language translator Guoben Lin, who has dedicated efforts to burying this gap between the languages, says the future key in China is to have cultural acceptance of Japan. There will likely also be greater demand to understand and interpret culture based on the latest trends in each country.


Japan and China are geographically close and use the same kanji characters. However, the wall standing between the two countries may be wider than we ever imagined. Here, we learned about the hard work of Chinese language translators and interpreters who have dedicated themselves to breaking through this wall and connecting the two countries. We also looked at the future landscape of the field. Their role will likely continue to increase in importance as demand for their services grows.

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