Why Dialect and Context Are Key For Asian Language Translations


The Asian marketplace is a highly valued economic arena in the current worldwide economy. The resilience of many of these countries has the world watching. Many countries are looking toward previously unexplored countries as potential sources of revenue and locations for offices, stores, and manufacturing plants. However, Asian languages present unique challenges for translation.

There are many languages and dialects in the category of “Asian languages.” However, speaking in general terms, Asian languages have a few key differences from Western tongues that make them particularly challenging for translators and exceptionally challenging for apps, online tools, and machine translators.

Contextual References

Many Asian languages depend on the context of the text to determine what is actually being said. Some lack pronouns and other words that Western language speakers depend upon to determine who is speaking and about whom he is speaking. In addition, verb tenses may overlap making it confusing as to when something happened or will happen. This contextual dependency is lost on a machine translator and will typically require a human element for editing.

Numerous Dialects

The vast number of localized dialects is another challenge in translation into the Asian languages. The Chinese language serves as an excellent example of the complexity of languages. Some linguists argue that this is not a language per se, but rather a family of languages sharing a written form.

In the Chinese language alone, there are four primary dialects which are not mutually intelligible. The most widely spoken of these is Mandarin, which has over 20 known variants. The Chinese people also make a distinction between a spoken and a written language, whereas in English they are one in the same.

One must also add in the other, non-Chinese languages spoken in the country such as Tibetan. So in this one Asian country, over 250 languages are spoken and written.

The enormous number of regional linguistic adaptations and variants across a number of countries makes translation somewhat daunting.

Idea-based Language

As most people understand, many Asian languages are character-based. This means that a single character expresses an entire idea where in Western languages a letter represents a sound and sounds combine to create words. There are fewer characters in many of these languages than there are words in Western tongues.

Western languages with their vast vocabularies have a specificity of meaning that is not present in many of the Asian languages. Some may say that these languages are less precise than their Western counterparts. In reality, there is precision but more is being communicated by context, formality, tone and non-verbal means than Western languages typically utilize. These subtleties are simply harder to translate word by word.

Professional translation services can be of great assistance in converting your thinking from a Western linguistic process to one more suited to Asian languages. A thorough understanding of these complexities is necessary for effective translation. Look for translators who have experience in dealing with these complicated languages if you are expanding into this competitive market.