So you’re a webmaster tasked to translate one of your client’s websites “into Chinese.” Before you embark on this daunting task, here are ten tips to remember when you aim to make a professional, highly-polished translation.
1. Use Mandarin Chinese.
China is huge, and it’s got several dialects. But it does have one official language all Chinese understand – Mandarin. This particular dialect is also traditionally the most widely-used of all the Chinese dialects, even more than Cantonese. So unless it’s targeting a particular Chinese market, the website should be translated into Mandarin Chinese.
2. Use simplified characters.
Think of this as another default rule. Simplified characters have also been the recognized standard for mainland China for more than half a century, so use them instead of traditional characters. Take note, however, that if you are targeting Chinese markets in more specific areas such as Taiwan, Hong Kong or traditional Chinese communities outside of mainland China, you might need to use traditional characters.
3. Hire a native Mandarin Chinese speaker from mainland China.
You must always hire a translator who speaks Mandarin Chinese as a first language or as a native. Translations made by someone who studied Mandarin inevitably cause awkward, even risqué misinterpretations of the website. This happens more often than you think!
It’s also better if your translator speaks Mandarin Chinese the way it is spoken in mainland China, with all its latest homegrown nuances. There are already subtle cultural differences and developments between different Chinese communities around the globe, and mainland Chinese can tell the difference, even when they are all conversing in Mandarin. If you don’t hire a native from the mainland, you risk creating a slight cultural gap between the website and its potential customers.
4. Hire an additional translator, who’s also a native Mandarin Chinese from the mainland.
When we hire people to write website content in English, we hire more than one proofreader and editor to make sure the job is done correctly. You should aim for the same level of quality in translating your website to Mandarin Chinese. You must hire a second translator. (If you must, hire a reputable translating agency to do the work.) Leaving everything to one translator leaves you open to typographical mistakes.
5. Translate “hidden” texts as well.
English letters are still used for webpage URLs. You can’t avoid this; it’s the way html was designed from the ground up.
But your translators or translation agency should help you translate all the “hidden” texts on the website, such as meta tags, alt tags, title tags, and image names. Although these aren’t seen by most visitors, these are still visible to Chinese search engines and Chinese-speakers who use text browsers.
6. Design the website’s layout according to how the language is written.
In most cases, the Chinese language is written and read from left to right. So modify the website’s layout accordingly.
Remember, too, that a written Chinese translation of an English phrase is often physically shorter. This creates the need for you to reposition many of the site’s menu items and other elements (e.g. embedded images within text).
7. Aim for a larger font size for texts.
Because Chinese characters (even the simplified ones) are more complex in appearance than the traditional Roman letters of English, do your potential Chinese customers a favor by making the fonts larger and easier to read. For many websites, this can easily be done using CSS.
8. Use creative fonts.
Yes, there are many Chinese font designs available. Use them and make your website more presentable! One example of a basic and commonly used font is SimSun. But remember to consult your translator(s) on the appropriateness of chosen fonts for particular texts.
If you are adding characters to an image, download the appropriate fonts to be used in your image editor.
9. Use utf-8 encoding.
Utf-8 is a character encoding system used to implement Unicode, which supports a huge variety of language characters, including simplified Chinese. For html pages, you’ll need to edit only one line of code to use utf-8.
10. Don’t forget your English-speaking customers (or bilingual Chinese customers).
Just because it’s in Chinese doesn’t mean the website will be viewed only by people from mainland China. Visitors to the site could very well be Chinese bilingual speakers abroad, using PCs set to Western or American English. They should be able to view your translated website with ease.
If such a user does not have Chinese fonts installed on their computer, Chinese character text will show up as gibberish. Make sure to design (and not just translate) your website from the ground up to include additional, embedded images of Chinese characters you’d like everyone to view and read. And if you are looking to translated your website to target other languages, we offer that services as well.