Chinese to English translation

Common Chinese to English Translation Errors

By Hagen Weiss

Chinese to English translation is no easy task. The differences between the two languages are vast, including:

● Chinese characters vs. English alphabets
● Chinese utilizes tones that the English language does not
● Chinese does not distinguish between singular or plural forms
● Chinese generally prefers the active voice as opposed to the passive voice

Because of these differences, translation errors are not uncommon between these two languages. Whether it’s for a game, website, or marketing materials, make sure you’re watching out for these common Chinese to English translation errors.

Capitalization Errors

Because there is no such thing as “capital letters” in the Chinese language, it can be easy to make capitalization errors when translating from Chinese to English. Inconsistent use of capitalizations or capitalizing nouns or pronouns that do not require capitalization can make your translation seem unprofessional.

Here are instances when you should capitalize your letters:

● At the beginning of a sentence (e.g. “Call me in five minutes.”)
● Proper or special nouns (e.g. “Tom Hanks” or “China”)
● Acronyms (e.g. “USA” or “OK”)
● Headings or titles

Be careful when capitalizing entire words or sentences. Capitalizing entire words or sentences typically means you are shouting at someone. It can also convey a sense of urgency or a way to get someone’s attention.


One of the consequences of using a non-native translator is what is known as “Chinglish.” At best, the reader may be able to figure out the text’s general meaning, but it lacks coherence and is awkward to read. At worst, the meaning is completely twisted and can be offensive.

Here’s an example of a sign that is poorly translated.

Redundancy Issues

Often translations suffer from redundancy issues where certain ideas are unnecessarily repeated. It doesn’t even need to be the same words, but if the same idea is conveyed more than once, it can lead to confusion.

For example, “Your brother is the tallest of all your family.”

The phrase “of all” is unnecessary because the word “tallest” already implies there is nobody else taller than the brother. There is no need to repeat that idea twice. Instead, you can say, “Your brother is the tallest in your family.”

Cultural Discrepancies

When translating into English, you must also take into consideration the cultural nuances. What may sound flattering in Chinese may actually be off-putting for an English reader. Often, those in the East may use verbose and flattering language to describe their product or services. However, in the West, audiences might find that language unbelievable and exaggerated.

Moreover, issues of political correctness can be a serious translation blunder. You need to be sensitive to phrasing that deals with gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and those with disabilities.

For example, saying something like, “The disabled man was eating his lunch…” can be distasteful as it implies that the disability is somehow the man’s primary identity. Instead, only mention the disability if it is really relevant to the discussion. You can also rephrase it to say “The man with a disability…” or even use his name to be respectful.

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