Mandarin Chinese as a Universal Language

With the Chinese New Year around the corner, it seems appropriate to talk a little about the Chinese language, its competition with English regarding usage and how it is gaining prominence among languages used in business and finance around the world.

As has been said for a long time, it won’t be long before Chinese becomes the main language of business worldwide, ending the hegemony of English. Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than eight million people in the world, both in and outside of China. Mandarin is the primary spoken form of Chinese, in contrast to the southern Chinese dialects such as Cantonese and Wu.

Until recently, it was believed that by 2017, Mandarin Chinese would replace English as the primary language of business because of the growing economic importance of China today and its importance in international business. We do not know to what extent Mandarin will actually be able to surpass English, leaving it in second place worldwide, but proficiency in this language is indeed becoming increasingly more valuable.

For us in the field of translation, it is important to be familiar with several details to keep in mind when working with texts mainly from Chinese into another language. The main detail would be to begin the project by asking ourselves how to quote a document in Chinese (which also applies to other Asian languages ​​such as Japanese or Korean); since the vast majority of translators and agencies measure their word count based on the number of characters and not the number of “words.”

Consider the following words for example: 学校 / xuéxiào / (school) 机场 / jīchǎng / (airport). As we can see, we have two “characters” (in the last example, “airport,” the characters have separate meanings: 机 = machine, and 场 = field) representing one word. This leads us to ask ourselves whether we should charge for two characters, or one word. Obviously, this difference will have a greater or lesser impact depending on the size of the project.