Localizing for China: 3 important considerations

Localizing for China

Entering the Chinese market is a tempting prospect, but overcoming the language and cultural differences will require in-depth research and a mindful strategy.

Over 1.1 billion people speak Mandarin or Standard Chinese as it’s also known, the majority of them as a first language. That’s a very big chunk of the world’s total population and creates a vast consumer market that’s impossible to ignore for businesses with global ambitions.

China is the world’s largest exporter of goods and therefore has important trading relationships with both its allies and rivals alike. It is, for example, Germany’s biggest trading partner and its highest level of imports and exports takes place with the United States.

Behind all these commercial dealings lies the secret ingredient to good business: communication. Interacting with partners in China is an essential element to successful trade, and impeccable translation both from and into Standard Chinese or another of the main dialects in China, is a necessity for many companies.

Making sure your product and brand language is localized (adapted to fit linguistic and cultural expectations) for China can, however, be a challenge. Here are some of the major considerations.

1.     Language complexities

Chinese is one of the most complex languages in the world and presents a substantial test for English or European language speakers. Although it doesn’t have genders or tenses, it has a unique writing system that is made up of thousands of characters and fluently reading even Simplified Chinese (developed from the 1950s to improve literacy rates), requires a knowledge of 2,500 characters at least. Chinese also uses different tones when spoken which change the meaning of what’s said according to the pitch.

To be able to translate or interpret Chinese therefore requires training, expert knowledge and experience. Chinese isn’t a language you can pick up in a couple of months. To speak and write it well requires time and application.

Although Mandarin Chinese is the most widely used form of the Chinese language, there are several other prevalent regional dialects and depending on your target audience you may need to think about translating into one of these. Should you make sure you have a Cantonese interpreter if you’re doing business in Guangdong province and the important areas of Hong Kong and Macao? And is Shanghainese an option for your marketing audio for the vibrant metropolis on the Asian east coast? You will also have to consider where Traditional Chinese rather than Simplified Chinese writing is preferred.

2.     Cultural conventions

China has an enormously rich history and its intricate and distinct culture today has developed as a result of thousands of years of tradition. Understanding Chinese society’s norms, taboos and customs is mandatory if you want your communication to get the right message across.

Here are just a few of the things to look out for.

  • Colors and symbols: red is considered a color of positivity in China and conveys success, happiness and good fortune. White, on the other hand, is associated with death and worn at funerals.
  • Forms of address: honorifics are still used to address colleagues, professionals, strangers and even members of your family. They often replace pronouns and demonstrate the esteem you give someone as well as showing your humility.
  • Numbers: these can carry great significance. 8 is thought to be lucky, while 4 is avoided because it rhymes with the word for death. Marketing with numbers in China should be approached with caution!
  • Family values: these are of great importance and respect for the older generation is universally observed.
  • What not to say: the Chinese government doesn’t recognize certain historical events and reference to them is erased. Using the name ‘Tibet’ in English descriptions is now not considered acceptable either.

Knowing the cultural nuances and conventions is vital if you want your business operations in China to go smoothly. As an experienced language service provider, t’works uses professional linguists who are also experts in localizing language to meet cultural expectations.

3.     Technology challenges

Many of the websites and apps that we are familiar with in the West aren’t available in China and as a result, there is a very different array of social media, search engines and e-commerce platforms. Selling in China means adapting your company’s offering to these different online sites, but with over a billion internet users in China alone, the returns can be worthwhile

The preferred Chinese search engines are Baidu, Sogou, Shenma and Haosuo, although Microsoft’s Bing has gained some ground in the last few years. Baidu dominates but not in the way Google does in Western economies, and each search engine has its strength area. To rank on a Chinese search engine, it’s usually necessary to have a website hosted in the People’s Republic and written in Simplified Chinese.

By far and away the most popular means of going online in China is via a mobile phone with almost all internet users accessing the web in this way. The Chinese also favor a single-entry point for online shopping where sites offer multiple brands in one place and people also make a lot of purchases via social media. Paying via a QR code is commonplace and social media influencers in China carry a lot of sway.

Taking the time to fully understand what makes Chinese consumers tick – how they buy, what user experience they expect and what language and imagery resonates with them best – will take investment and expertise, but it will be worth the effort.

Ask the experts

It’s only by adapting your communication to the preferences of the Chinese market that you can hope to get a foothold there. Building trust with an audience means making strong connections and the language you use plays a big part in creating confidence in a product or service.

t’works has over 75 years of collective experience in making language work for its customers. Our talented teams are highly skilled in localization for specific markets and we’d be happy to advise you on how to use Chinese to your best advantage.

Your personal contact

Marie-Laure Vinckx

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