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Chinese characters are never round (except for Po in Kung Foo Panda)

It’s a guessing game many of our clients play quite often, with limited success. “I’ve got this document in erm, Japanese. Can you translate it into English?” Initially I’d happily take their word for it but does the client really know it’s Japanese or could it be Chinese? Who am I to question them, particularly as my Japanese and Chinese is limited to ordering sushi or a chicken Chow Mein, or a “number 63”?

If they are guessing they’re usually wrong. It’s our job to make sure we get it right and I like to think we always do. We have a lot of language expertise in house but we certainly don’t have speakers of every language we work with. That’s where our network of over 5,000 closely vetted professional linguists help us out.

Of course you’re welcome to continue guessing but if you’d rather accept a little help here’s a few tips on how to identify a few of the languages One Global translates to and from for our clients, day in day out.

Ã, ã: You’re almost certainly looking at Portuguese if you see this nasalised A, especially if the language looks a lot like Spanish.

Ł, ł: If you see this letter (as in Łódź, and standing for a sound like “w”), you are likely to be looking at Polish. Ż/ż would confirm you’re looking at something written in Polish.

Ř, ř: This is the classic distinctive Czech letter. The sound it stands for is so difficult to learn, even Czech kids take years to perfect it. Another character you might want to look out for is Ů/ů.

Ă, ă: If you’re looking at this A with a cup on the top it’s probably confirmation that you’re seeing Romanian. For further confirmation, have a look for Ț/ț and Ș/ș (that’s T and S with a comma beneath).

Ģ, ģ; Ķ, ķ; Ļ, ļ; Ņ, ņ: Just when Romanian thought it was the special one for having that T and S with a comma, the Latvians pop up with four letters with commas of their own.

Finnish and Estonian: Finnish has long words and lots of double letters (as in moottoripyöräonnettomuus, which means “motorcycle accident”), making it look (and sound) like it’s speeding past you. Almost none of it looks related to words you could recognize. If you see a language that looks a lot like Finnish but has words ending in b or g and has the character õ, it’s Estonian.

Vietnamese. In contrast to Finnish, Vietnamese is made up of short words and most of its vowels have one or two accents each. The following example is a translation of the previous sentence using Google translate so it’s likely to be gibberish but does demonstrate the point:
Ngược lại với tiếng Phần Lan, tiếng Việt được tạo thành từ ngắn và hầu hết các nguyên âm của nó có một hoặc hai dấu mỗi

Of course there’s plenty more examples I could offer, too many to include in this post. What about the languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet, many more than just Russian? Or the Arabic script that isn’t exclusive to Arabic?

And finally, back to Po and the Chinese or Japanese question posed at the beginning of this post. There’s a special character that will give Japanese away every time. Japanese makes frequent use of the character の, a grammatical particle that doesn’t exist in Chinese, because Chinese characters are never round.

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