Ensuring Successful Business with China: The role of accurate translation.

2015 ended with Chinese president Xi Jinping finalising a number of trade and industry agreements with South Africa, valued at over R94-billion[1]. With the door opening up to a flood of new opportunity, the last thing you need is miscommunication.

Increased commercial dealings with China can mean profitable reward for many companies. There are, however, a number of inherent obstacles when it comes to cultural principles and rules of engagement. These were covered in our last blog in this series: Understanding Business Culture. When it comes to documentation, educational material or even notices, accurate translation is vital. In overcoming this barrier there are a number of things to consider.

The ‘Chinese Language’ is actually a collection of languages or dialects. Mandarin is the most widely used of the dialects followed by Wu (Shanghainese), Yue (Cantonese), Min, Xiang, Gan and Hakka[2].

Characters – not Letters

Chinese uses characters instead of a standard alphabet known as hanzi[3]. Every character represents a word or concept that could have multiple meanings dependent on context. Direct or literal translations that ignore the connotative meaning of the characters may result in an unclear message.

English and Chinese are also very different when it comes to sentence structure. The ordering of nouns, verbs and relative clauses make the tense difficult to determine.

Computer Generated Translation

In order to take advantage of new business opportunities with China, one might be tempted to use an online translation tools e.g. Google Translate. After all, it is a low cost or even free method. This would, however, be a risky option that could have devastating results.

In an extreme case a restaurant produced an English translation of its name needed for signage purposes. It read: ‘Translate server error.’

Legal Documentation

One must ensure clear communication in all instances for successful business with China but even more so with legal matters. Legal documentation of any sort is complex in nature. Companies should seek the help of professionals in this regard. Even the smallest of errors could be devastating.


Bangula has been running big and small translation projects for our clients successfully for over 10 years. We’ve built up an excellent database of tried and tested freelancers over the years. This experience has enabled us to develop an outsourcing model that truly benefits our clients.
Contact us now to find out more.