Mandarin or Cantonese? Find out which dialect to translate your documents into

mandarin or cantonese

Translating Chinese and diving into Chinese localisation can be a complex task.

It is perfectly natural not to know which appropriate dialect to choose for your target audience if you are not fluent in the language.

This article aims to explore the two dialects – Mandarin and Cantonese –, as well as their usage contexts and methods for selecting the most appropriate option for translation. In addition, we will provide some useful advice for anyone interested in localising their work for the Chinese market.


How do Mandarin and Cantonese differ?

Mandarin and Cantonese are dialects of the same Chinese language. Although they share the same alphabet, they sound very different.

To illustrate the linguistic situation, in China, a person living in Hong Kong will speak a Cantonese dialect and a person living in Beijing (or elsewhere on the mainland) will speak a Mandarin dialect.


What is the distribution?

China’s official language is Mandarin, which is also the most widely used language throughout most of the nation, including Beijing and Shanghai. Taiwan and Singapore also have Mandarin as their primary tongue. It is used on national TV and radio and is taught in schools.

People in the Guangdong province, which includes Guangzhou, Macau, and Hong Kong speak Cantonese.

Mandarin is the official language of China, so if you’re wondering which dialect to learn before visiting for business or pleasure, we usually suggest starting with Mandarin. You will be able to communicate in Mandarin even if you go to areas where Cantonese is spoken. It is a necessary skill for everyone doing business in China.


Simplified and traditional Chinese

We have covered the difference between the two main dialects, but what may be surprising to many is that it is more important to determine whether the document needs to be translated into traditional or simplified Chinese rather than whether it should be translated into Mandarin or Cantonese.

The idea that simplified Chinese is the same as Cantonese and traditional Chinese is the same as Mandarin is a common misconception. However, there is no apparent connection. Mandarin and Cantonese are dialects, while simplified and traditional Chinese are styles of writing, with different kinds of symbols and characters.

The introduction of simplified Chinese in 1949 aimed to aid Westerners in comprehending the Chinese language and its linguistic features. This not only made it easier for people to pick up the Chinese language more quickly, but also boosted the literacy rate in the country.

The mainland and Singapore embraced simplified Chinese. Meanwhile, people in Hong Kong and Taiwan continued to use traditional Chinese.


Selecting a qualified Language Service Provider

The two dialects are constantly changing, so if you are in need of a translation, it is best you resort to a skilled team of project managers and translators, like the one we have at Traductanet.

The option you choose will depend on your target audience. Simplified Chinese is the language to choose if your audience is in Singapore. In turn, traditional Chinese should be the one considered when aiming for a market in Hong Kong.

Sounds hard? Do you need to translate English into Mandarin? Let us take care of everything – reach out to us at Traductanet and we will evaluate your situation and boost the communication of your business! Ask for a quote.