Succeeding in Chinese-Speaking Markets Requires Special Attention
Language is the one of the most personal components of the customer journey. Ideally, you would be able to use a single variant of any language for any country where it's spoken, but the reality is that sociocultural and political facts require supporting the right dialect of a language in your target markets. The starting point for most planners is, "Which language do they use in a given country?"
That means that globalization planners must address basic questions such as, "Which dialect of Spanish should we use for advertising or localizing products in Argentina?" or "Which variety of Chinese do we need for advertising or localizing products in Hong Kong?" Of course, once you target specific countries, those "which language?" questions are joined by a wide range of challenging economic, logistical, political, and cultural issues.
Chinese is a great example of this multinational language phenomenon. What makes it an important but challenging target for translation and localization? Why does this language require special attention?
- Chinese reaches the second largest economy in the world (and dozens of others). The People's Republic of China (PRC) is the second largest economy in the world and promises to surpass the United States in the next couple of decades to become the biggest. Chinese also happens to be the (or an) official language of five countries or regions – the PRC, Taiwan, Singapore, and the PRC's Special Autonomous Regions (SAR) of Hong Kong and Macau. In addition to these five entities, Chinese is used in 146 other countries and territories.
- The term "Chinese" itself has multiple meanings – and thus confuses planners. If a colleague says that, "We have a web page and app that need to be translated into Chinese," ask for clarification. By "Chinese" he could mean: 1) any of several mutually unintelligible languages and dialects, each using a variant of the historical Chinese writing system; 2) dialects such as Shanghainese, Cantonese, or Taiwanese all used in popular media; 3) the official, standardized spoken language, Pǔtōnghuà, based on grammar of the northern Mandarin dialect and generally on the pronunciation of Beijing; and 4) and the writing system used for Standard Written Chinese in two primary forms: "Simplified" for the PRC and Singapore, and "Traditional" for Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong.
Even some smaller variants of Chinese have as many speakers as French, Italian, or Spanish have in Europe. Wu, spoken in and around Shanghai, has more than 80 million speakers; Yüe (including Cantonese) around 60 million; and Southern Min (including Hokkien, Taiwanese and Chaozhou), some 50 million and these are all unintelligible with standard Chinese or with each other.
If your company has already chosen which Chinese-speaking market it will support, your choice of dialect simply involves referencing the first column of a table in CSA Research's report to learn which Chinese dialect is the dominant tongue for that market. Two other tables identify the preferred dialect by region, domain, and content type. However, if you don't already have a strategy for any of the countries listed in the figure above, then it's time to pick one based on CSA Research's digital opportunity report. Our primary research shows that PRC policy has resulted in a tremendous increase in the use of Mandarin in both the countries of the Chinese diaspora as well in mainland China itself.
Chinese is one of many economically and culturally interesting languages used in more than one country. CSA Research has thus far analyzed the opportunities for two multinational languages in "Supporting Chinese" and "Arabic Regional Variants for Global Brands." The same analysis that you do prior to supporting Chinese both linguistically and operationally should be part of your business planning for English, Spanish, Portuguese, and other pluricentric languages.
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