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What Makes Chinese Language So Difficult?

Posted by Ethan N. on January 23, 2024.

China is widely renowned for its vast territory and rich history. Its language is regarded as the oldest and most widely used in the entire planet. It makes sense that the Chinese language is growing in popularity and is currently assuming a more significant role. Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with 1.3 billion native speakers. It’s interesting to note that it’s also regarded as the hardest language to master. Chinese languages look extremely difficult because there are more than 80,000 characters in Mandarin alone. The tonal quality of Chinese also makes it incredibly nuanced.

Here are some challenges which Chinese translators face. 

1. The demand for Chinese translation around the world

Chinese translation services are one of the most in-demand services worldwide. All recent research indicates that there will be an increase in demand for Chinese language translation services for at least another ten years. The demand has been growing for years.

In light of this, numerous businesses in the UK and abroad frequently use Chinese translations. Even in the face of major global concerns like the pandemic, Chinese businesses have a huge opportunity for customer development. Chinese language service providers (LSPs), in addition to making investments abroad and expanding significant Chinese firms, have taken the initiative to travel abroad and offer their services to the global market. 


Along with document translation, Chinese language translation is beginning to take on other forms. Chinese movies demand professional video subtitling services, whilst businesses using social media for promotion require social media translations. All of these services can be assisted by a Chinese translator.

Chinese speakers are dispersed over the globe through migration, international travel, and education. This indicates that in order to communicate with these Chinese speakers, enterprises from all over the world need Chinese translations.

2. Writing systems and characters

Understanding that the writing system of the Chinese language is based on symbols—known as ideographic characters—is the most crucial part of the language to grasp. Instead of just being a single word, each letter frequently conveys an idea and might have multiple meanings. Additionally, there are 6,000 characters that are regularly used in literary and technical texts, along with roughly 3,000 characters that are used the most frequently overall.

Chinese characters can be written in a variety of ways, depending on the message they are intended to communicate, including right to left, left to right, up to down, and diagonally. This makes Chinese translations challenging, especially when Chinese is combined with a language that has a linear writing system. The translator working on your project should be a native Chinese speaker because good translations depend not only on the literal meaning of each character but also on the context.

Let’s use the following case to demonstrate:

開  – Cantonese characters mean “heart” and “to open something,” respectively. When two words are combined, they form the phrase “to open your heart,” (開心 ), which means “happy.”

Simply said, learning a new character causes your vocabulary to grow significantly.


3. Numerous idioms

Chinese is rich in the idioms it uses since it is a language steeped in culture and tradition. Chinese idiomatic idioms are made up of four characters, or chengyu. The chengyu mostly derives from ancient literature, which offers succinct and effective ways to communicate a tale, myth, or historical truth. Chinese translations must accurately convey the cultural background of the idioms because there are more than 5,000 official chengyu embedded in the language.

For instance, “big yellow moon” might be translated into Chinese as “silver plate in the sky”. Different words for the same idea.

5. Structure Sentences

There are two types of sentences in Chinese: simple sentences and complex sentences. The subject, predicate, and object of a simple sentence appear to be simple sentences, yet there are several variations between this structure and English. For instance, unlike in English, the predicate is not invariably a verb in Chinese. Furthermore, groups of basic sentences form the Chinese complex sentence. To effectively translate the ideas into another language, translators must have a solid comprehension of Chinese sentence structures.

6. Complex grammar

The discrepancies in the grammar system between Chinese and other languages, including English, may be one of the most difficult aspects of Chinese translations. For instance, there is just one term for both the singular and plural forms of a word. Chinese sentences are focused on the topic, which means that the subject comes first in the sentence, which is another grammar rule that may not make sense to speakers of other languages.

In addition, verb tenses are not expressed by changing the verb. As a result, it is necessary to determine a word’s meaning by taking into account the context in which it is used.

The best approach to guarantee that your translation is accurate and takes into consideration all of the cultural nuances that are part of the language, given the difficulties of Chinese translations, is to collaborate with a language services provider that specializes in Chinese.

Take the phrase “I read” as an example. For each example, the same term will be used in Chinese; the only difference will be in the context.

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7. Conclusion

Look no farther if you need a dependable Chinese translator. Your go-to resource for translations into Chinese is GTE Localize. We have assisted numerous international companies and brands with their translation assignments thanks to our network of over 5,000 native and skilled translators.

We allocate translators to your project appropriately based on the need for your translation and your budget. We will extensively discuss your alternatives with you and make every effort to provide you with high-quality Chinese translations within your price range. 

We’ll go above and beyond your expectations to give you access to this enormous and rapidly expanding Chinese market.