The UK is home to speakers of many different languages - according to the 2021 census, just shy of 205,000 individuals in England and Wales gave their main language as 'Chinese'. Of course, if dealing international that number rises to around 1.3 billion!
When dealing with a client who speaks Chinese, it is important to understand the different languages, scripts, and regions in which they are used. When someone references someone speaking 'Chinese', they usually mean either Mandarin or Cantonese, which are two of many different spoken languages originating in China, and if they make reference to something written in 'Chinese', they usually mean the Simplified and Traditional character sets, or scripts, which make up the majority of Chinese language writing systems.
Being aware of these differences can help ensure effective communication with a non-English speaking client. But if you’re still feeling a little lost - don’t worry. Have a read through some of our suggestions for addressing the challenges that might come with representing foreign-language clients.
What is the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?
Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China and is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken by around 1.2 billion people, mainly in Mainland China and Taiwan, but also in Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries. Mandarin is written using both Simplified Characters in Mainland China and Singapore, and in the Traditional Character script in Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong.
Cantonese is another Chinese language, spoken mainly in China's Guangdong province and surrounding areas of Southeastern China, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau. It is also a popular language in Overseas Chinese communities in other countries with large Chinese populations, such as in San Francisco, USA. To further complicate matters however, Colloquial Cantonese, the type spoken by Joe Bloggs on the street, is quite different from the formal register used in publications such as textbooks and reports, so much so that even the grammar and Traditional Characters used vary!
In total, there are between 7 to 13 main 'types' of Chinese, including Mandarin, Wu (Shanghainese), Gan, and Yue (Cantonese); however, there is ongoing debate and research into classifying the differing 'types', and currently within China itself the authorities refer to Mandarin as a Language and all others as 'dialects'.
Traditional v Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese characters have a history of over 3,000 years! But starting in the 1950s, the authorities on the Chinese Mainland started experimenting with 'simplifying' some of these characters to make it easier to learn, read, and write by reducing the amount of strokes required and attempting to make character structures less complex. Whether or not this is indeed what has happened is up for debate; however the result is that now the character-set used in Mainland China and Singapore is 'Simplified', with Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau retaining the older 'Traditional' Character set.
Max Weinreich, after hearing it said by a member of his audience whilst giving a lecture, popularised the phrase "A language is a dialect with an army and navy".
In Mainland China, Mandarin is the official language, with other tongues around the country designated as dialects, such as Shanghainese and Fukienese. It is always best to ask a client which language/dialect they prefer to use, as they are not all mutually intelligible asking can help to ensure that the communication is clear and effective.
When working with an interpreter, speak clearly and at a regular speaking pace to ensure that your information is understood. Be careful about how you phrase ideas - generally, the more straightforward language you use, the better. Also, make time for any questions, and be prepared to stop and explain different points. Working with an interpreter is the best way to set a practical mode of communication, and IMD Legal Translation can help you.
Chinese Legal Translation, Interpretation and Transcription Services for Law Firms
Language barriers in law lead to miscommunication, reducing the quality of legal service. It’s important, then, to address the issue and get things right. Spending time learning about your client’s English proficiency, preparing translated documents, and arranging for an interpreter will go a long way in establishing clear channels of communication.
If you require Chinese interpretation or translation services, our expert translators can help you. Our skilled team can translate swiftly and accurately, saving you time and money across all legal practice areas. We offer a fast turnaround, exceptional accuracy, and high-quality service. To discuss your needs with us today, please get in touch at email@example.com or on 03309121530