It is common for people to make embarrassing mistakes when trying to learn a new language. And if you make a mistake when translating Chinese into English, you’ll probably only get away with some laughs from friends and colleagues. However, the odds can greatly change if a multinational company makes the same mistakes. Such a translation mistake can make simple local slogans have a totally different meaning when read in the new language. Unfortunately, the errors can be so devastating that they cost these corporations a lot of business and money. Below, we are going to look at some of the basic mistakes that people make when translating Chinese into English. This includes: include:


Pinyin is the standard Romanization of Chinese characters. This system is normally used in teaching standard Chinese and usually features four Chinese characters.  Pinyin utilizes syllables with 4 diacritics that mark the four tones of Mandarin. Unfortunately, many people fail to understand is that pinyin is a representation of the sounds used in mandarin which lacks semantic and contexts present in the normal Chinese characters. Therefore, you need to have a proper understanding of how the two works in order to do it right. 


Unlike English, the Chinese grammar lacks features such as verbs, gender, singular/plural, nouns, and tenses.  Therefore, many people make a lot of mistakes when translating Chinese into English as they are not used to the above features. In fact, it is easier for an English speaking person to learn Chinese than vice versa. The lack of grammatical features makes Chinese simple to learn but on the other hand, a nightmare for those translating Chinese into English. This is because; they are bound to make very many grammatical mistakes.

Writing direction

Since Chinese symbols represent thoughts, they can easily be written from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and vice versa. However, this unique placement of characters can sometimes make things difficult for translators. In fact, Things can become more difficult when you need to translate information from Mandarin into English – a language with specific rules on liner character placement and alignment. Therefore, it is only a professional Chinese translator like who can do it right. 

Cultural idioms

Unlike English, Chinese is based on millennia of culture and traditions that must be understood before accurate translation can be made. One type of Chinese idiomatic expression is Chengyu that consists of four characters. However, it is important to note that Chengyu is deeply connected to the stories, myths, and history that they represent. Therefore, a profound understanding of these myths and stories is important for the correct translation of classical Chinese into English.


Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to translate to and from. This is because, unlike Mandarin, there are many different local dialects that differ from one another. Unfortunately, not many translators have a good understanding of the local dialects and thus, make the wrong translations. Translation from Chinese into English is not just about words and definitions, but also a full understanding of the local culture and traditions.  

Published by Johanne Cosihan