Chinese Mandarin translation is often regarded as a complicated affair. That may often be the case, but in truth, Mandarin is no more difficult to learn than most other languages. A recent post on Lexiophiles.com argues that learning Mandarin, and thus Mandarin translation, is not such a mammoth task after all. The post is in response to another on the site which lists Mandarin as one of the top 5 most difficult languages to learn (along with Arabic, Basque, Finnish and Hungarian [those last two are related])
The author lists the misconceptions that lead people to believe that Mandarin translation is somehow more laborious than other kinds of translation. The first issue is the script. Chinese characters are universally admired for their beauty, causing some less than beautiful Westerners to get them tattooed on their bodies. Author Wojciech says that although there are 100,000 different characters, the Chinese proficiency test for foreigners includes only 2,600 characters on its highest level. You don’t really have to learn all the different characters because each one is constructed from components that become familiar as you use them.
You can’t instantly deduce how the character is read from the way it’s written but every now and then they give you some ideas (eg. 媽 is mā, and 馬is mǎ).
Pronunciation like all things, becomes easier with practice and perseverance. Tones are important in Chinese, but even Chinese people make mistakes with tones. Grammar is actually quite simple in Mandarin , it has no tenses, numbers or genders. As for local dialects and regional differences, Mandarin is the prevalent language of China and is widely spoken. Local accents exist in all languages so you needn’t let that put you off. But as the author reveals, it can make things difficult:
Earlier this year I was in Taiwan where they’ve got a really broad accent to their Mandarin, and it seems their inventory has a completely different set of consonants than what is taught in Chinese classes. But still context is the king. In the context you understand things even if you don’t know what sounds and tones they’re made of.
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