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What is the difficulty in translating East Asian languages?


East Asian languages

English translator David Bellos noted in his book that a person who knows nine languages can communicate with about 5-5.5 billion people on our planet. Among those languages, he named Chinese (that’s over 1.3 billion speakers) and Japanese (130 million speakers). But if he had added Korean and some Turkic languages, the numbers would have been more impressive. These are all the languages of East Asia, which is home to more than 22 percent of the world’s population. So translating a text into the languages of the countries in this region is becoming an increasingly sought-after service. But it’s not easy to do – you need specialists who know all the intricacies of translation.

Challenges of translation

When translating a text from an East Asian language, translators face many challenges:

  • Their own writing – all languages have it, and it is more complex than European writing (regardless of the use of Cyrillic and Latin). The characters used in China, Korea and Japan also affect the structure of the text as a whole.
  • Cultural peculiarities of a country. Sentences that sound neutral or polite in Russian may not correspond to oriental business etiquette.
  • The rules by which compound words are formed. An example is the GPHIN early warning system used by the UN and WHO. It processes news sources to find information about diseases in time. But in Chinese, not all diseases are called by common terms. Here, unofficial, multi-word names are in use. Setting up the system so that it learns to recognize these complicated words has been a real challenge.

Added to these challenges are other problems that translators face, such as “false friends” or difficulties with grammar and punctuation. For this reason, you should turn to a technical translation company, which works with experienced professionals, including those who are proficient in East Asian languages, to ensure a high-quality text.

Specifics of East Asian languages

If you need a text translation from one of the East Asian languages, there is another peculiarity. Borrowing has been active in these languages. For example, Korean has an original Korean vocabulary, but it also has borrowed Chinese vocabulary. There are also words borrowed from English. This makes the speech richer, but at the same time it makes the structure of the text – and the translator’s task – much more difficult.

Japanese also has its own specifics. For example, there are three types of writing, although hieroglyphs take precedence. For words borrowed from foreign languages, katakana is used. For writing suffixes there is the syllabic alphabet hiragana. Romaji is also used for transliteration into Latin script. Romaji is used to write most electronic letters, including business letters. These features make written translation even more complex.

What is required of a translator

A professional translator working with East Asian languages needs more than just knowledge of the subject. He or she needs to be fully immersed in the culture in order to accurately reproduce the meaning of the original text without distorting it. He needs to constantly improve his skills by reading books and watching films in order to grasp current cultural trends and codes that native speakers use almost subconsciously. The ATT translation agency works with the best experts in the field, who are well versed in the specificities of East Asian culture.


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