Cantonese, Mandarin, Simplified, Traditional Chinese interpreters and Translators Oh my!

Not sure whether you need a Cantonese Translator, Simplified Interpreter, Mandarin Translator, or Traditional Interpreter? Or is it a Simplified Chinese Translator, Cantonese Interpreter, Traditional Chinese Translator and a Mandarin Interpreter?  Let Vivi’s Chinese Interpreters and Translators help you understand the differences between an interpreter, translator and the most popular dialects of Chinese.  Of course you can just contact us if you need any of these services now. 

Before introducing the various popular dialects and forms of Chinese, let us define and distinguish an interpreter from a translator. More often, you’ll find people using them interchangeably. While they are closely related to one another, each is different from the other.


Interpreter – is an individual who provides ‘oral’ translation between parties; and a

Translator – is an individual who provides ‘written’ translations—whether in printed or online copies


In short, Chinese interpreters work with spoken language, while Chinese translators work with the written Chinese language.  While there are some people, like our founder Vivienne, that work both as interpreters and translators, most tend to specialize in one or the other.

Interpretation, by its obvious nature, is more crucial than the latter because interpreters do it live, on the spot, and while in action before your Chinese counterpart or client. Translation involves a process and is done behind the scenes. Individuals who work on written projects are given more time to review, edit, and proofread their work.

Did you know?

The word interpreter comes from the Latin word ‘interpretari,’ which means to explain, expound and understand.[*]On the other hand, the word translator comes from the Latin word ‘translatus,’ meaning carried over. [*]

History and Facts on the Chinese Language

All dialects and variations of the Chinese language come from the Sino-Tibetan language family. The indigenous native speakers of Han Chinese, who spoke a variety of forms of the Chinese language, were one of the greatest influencers who shaped today’s common languages.

There are approximately 7,000 languages spoken globally as of this writing, and one of them comes from one of the dialects of Chinese, which is the most widely used throughout the world, according to UNESCO’s statistics[*]:


The Chinese language, by its nature and potent internal diversity, is more complex compared with other languages, both in oral and written form. Yet the irony is— when talking about Mandarin—almost 1 billion people use it.

Here are some of the dialects of the Chinese language widely spoken by natives (in descending order by population): Mandarin (960 million), Wu (80 million), Min (70 million) and Cantonese (70 million). Each one of these differs in tone and pronunciation.

The Chinese language has different forms of speaking and writing. Most people in the Chinese mainland write modern simplified Chinese characters, while other Chinese speaking countries still use traditional characters.

Two forms of Chinese spoken language: Mandarin vs. Cantonese

To simplify the dialects identified previously, we’re going to focus on the two most important forms widely used today. The two main spoken dialects represented in the international community— Mandarin and Cantonese— are quite different. While one can speak Cantonese, it doesn’t necessarily mean he speaks and understands Mandarin and vice versa.

The two dialects may have different forms when spoken, but the written Chinese language is pretty uniform. The same characters in writing will result in different forms when spoken. A Mandarin speaker and Cantonese speaker would pronounce the characters distinctly.

Did you know?

Mandarin in pinyin, which is the standard Romanizing system or phonemic notation for transliterated Chinese words, is Guānhuà.  It literally means “speech of officials” and is widely used in northern and southwestern China. It is the putonghua or common speech of mainland China. Cantonese is used in Guangdong province of southeastern China and is the official language in Hong Kong and Macau.

Interpreters as partners in business

Mandarin is more widely used compared with Cantonese. If you are expanding the business in the regions that use this spoken language, obviously, you will need a professional Mandarin interpreter to meet and discuss your agenda with the client, while a simplified Chinese translator can take charge of written materials. This doesn’t mean you are required to hire a different person. A lot of our interpreters are also professional translators, too.

The process is similar if you’re expanding business in Cantonese-speaking regions and in need of written correspondence. Hiring a professional Cantonese interpreter for your meetings and discussions, or a professional traditional Chinese translator, will help break the language and cultural barriers.

On the writing side: Simplified vs. Traditional Chinese

Simplified Chinese speaks for itself. It’s a ‘simple’ Chinese writing with standardized characters commonly used in Mainland China and Singapore’s ethnic Chinese—known as the modern written Chinese language—adopted since the 1950’s.  The characters in simplified Chinese are simplified forms of the original traditional characters, with fewer strokes needed to write most characters when compared to their traditional forms. The government of the Peoples Republic of China began to develop and promote this written language on printed materials to increase the literacy rate, as the reduced strokes needed for a vast majority of the characters meant it was easier to learn to read and write.

Although more complex, Traditional Chinese is still commonly used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. The characters first appeared with the advent of clerical script during the Han Dynasty thousands of years ago and were implemented and standardized across China’s vast empire.

The business side of translation

If you’re planning to expand your business in China, you must consider the region and written language used. Chinese counterparts and customers in Mainland China read and write in Simplified Chinese, while Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau customers use Traditional Chinese.  While it is true that almost all traditional Chinese readers are capable of reading simplified and mostly true in the reverse, there are some differences in style used between the different locales. There is also a sense of competition between those from the Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, so one should use the correct form when marketing to the different groups.

Our team can handle your written English correspondences for Simplified Chinese translation or Traditional Chinese translations—whether you need marketing colateral, legal documents, financial, medical, presentations, brochures, catalogs, we can help you with that.

At Vivi’s Chinese Interpreters and Translators, we make sure that the professional translator(s) working on your written projects and marketing collateral have specialization in your industry. Terms and jargon in technical, marketing, medical, legal, and other industries are translated in their proper contexts.

The benefits of partnering with Vivi's Chinese Interpreters and Translation are enumerable. You’re working with professionals who know the local market, culture, and business etiquette. Whether you want to navigate the local market, pursue higher studies, visit for business trips and conferences, our certified interpreters and translators are reliable, fast, and offer competitive rates.

We provide free quotes for all clients. Let us know what you need and we’d be happy to respond to you ASAP.

Better yet, why not click here to get a quote yourself, or just contact us to book an interpeter or for any other inquiries.

Prefer to call us?

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Locations: Beijing, China
Los Angeles, CA
Denver, CO
Phone: +86 132 6319 8977
Working Hrs: Monday - Friday
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

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