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Working with an Interpreter 101

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The Chinese Language 101

chinese language 101

Resources for learning about the Chinese language...

I am a paralegal and need to request an interpreter for a trial.  The only thing I was told was that the witness speaks Chinese.  Should I request the services of a Cantonese interpreter, a Mandarin interpreter, or one who interprets in both?


Cantonese and Mandarin are not mutually intelligible, so unless a Cantonese speaker has had some exposure to Mandarin, she would not understand Mandarin. Likewise, unless a Mandarin speaker has had some exposure in Cantonese, she would not understand Cantonese.  Mandarin speakers are likely to have come from mainland China, Taiwan, or other parts of South east Asia with large Chinese communities.  Cantonese speakers are likely to have come from Hong Kong, or a province on mainland China called Guangdong, or parts of South East Asia where there are large Chinese communities, or communities of immigrants in the Bay Area.  Many immigrants who have been in the United States for many years still speak primarily Cantonese.

Because these two dialects of Chinese are not mutually intelligible, most interpreters cannot interpret in both.  In the State of California, there are only about 10 (ten) interpreters who are court certified in both Cantonese and Mandarin.

If all you were told is that the witness speaks Chinese, and nothing else, if you know where they are from, i.e., Hong Kong or Taiwan, you could make a reasonable guess as to which dialect they speak.  However, it is not always certain because if they are from Guangdong, they might prefer Cantonese or they might prefer Mandarin.  It is better to ascertain which dialect of Chinese is needed.  If they can't be more specific than "Chinese", or if there are multiple witnesses, some of whom speak Cantonese and some of whom speak Mandarin, then you would request an interpreter who can interpret in both Cantonese and Mandarin, or request two interpreters: one for Cantonese and one for Mandarin.

If a document is translated from English to Chinese, should it be translated into Cantonese or into Mandarin, and what is the difference?

I always hear about "traditional Chinese" and "simplified Chinese".  What is the difference?

If I pick up an electronic English Chinese dictionary, will I be okay while traveling in China ?

If a deposition needs a Chinese interpreter, does it take twice as long?

For more information on how you can work with "The Chinese Language", please contact us.

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