(July 24): Your business survival in China usually depends on somebody else — your translator. The level of dependency will vary from total to almost total unless you are fortunate enough to be fully fluent in Chinese.

Better translation relationships start with the understanding that what is simple for you may be complicated for others in ways you are not aware of. This may include the way the question is formulated. What you say may have an impact on wider background issues you are not aware of, including cultural sensitivity, political sensitivity and bureaucratic or administrative barriers. In short, you cannot speak as freely or as unthinkingly as you do in your home country because people you are working with do not have your common background of language habits.

There are two key translation decisions. The first is to decide whether the translation will be literal and formal, or interpretative. In formal translation, the sentence “The traveller will have problems adjusting to the local time after arriving on an intercontinental flight” becomes much more complicated. It may read: “The traveller will find their body will not coordinate with local time when they arrive after an intercontinental flight that has passed through several time zones.” These confabulations appear more frequently in written translations, but they are never far from spoken translations.

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