Today, April 20th, marks the sixth annual Chinese Language Day, a UNESCO holiday designed “to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use” of Chinese dialects by the organization.
Despite what many might think, Chinese—not English—is the most spoken language around the world, with more than one billion users fluent in its various dialects. Part of the popularity of Chinese is thanks to China being the most populous country in the world, but it’s also due to the growing global surge of international business, travelers and expats.
China boasts the second-largest economy in the world, and decades of reform and increased foreign investment have kept the economy growing rapidly. Despite current instability, this country is an important player in global business development, where a growing market economy and increases in disposable income have made foreign investment a popular sport. The spread of business requires outsiders to master the Chinese language to ensure thorough deals. Knowing your customer’s dialect is just as important as mastering the numbers.
Travel has also helped the language spread globally. One in 10 travelers today is Chinese, and their rate of country hopping is expected to grow more than 100% by 2020. In recent years, the Chinese have enjoyed more disposable income that allows a growing largely middle-aged and young travelers the leisure to explore the world. Recent cultural shift has also led to Chinese society placing increased value on adventure and the intangible experiences gained from international travel instead of tangible signs of wealth.
If you’re developing a global business, regardless of the industry, then Chinese customers should be a large spot on your radar. And that means translations should be next on your list.
We’ve spoken numerous times about the value of going beyond word-for-word translation to achieve quality content localization. If you really want to reach Chinese consumers and turn curious customers into buyers, then you need to invest in making your brand relevant to your Asian brethren.
Don’t just swap a “hello” for a “你好” and call it a day.
Anyone with two thought knows that dropped your English content into an online translator will never work for quality content. When it’s time to invest in translated material, you may be tempted to pull the easiest, cheapest form of translation: finding a word-for-word copy of your English text to publish on your website.
If you absorb only one piece of advice today, take this: don’t do that! As you’ve probably seen in any foreign language class, no text works word-for-word across languages. Syntax varies, phrases lose meaning and colloquialisms can sound like gibberish. A catchy headline or call to action in English may come across as less than enthusiastic if you don’t invest in localization.
Localization entails getting a fluent speaker to take your content and provide a fresh approach to the text that is relevant to Chinese readers. Metaphors maintain meaning when swapped with a Chinese equivalent, and phrases that may not sit well with foreign readers can be re-worked into a culturally sensitive setting.
Don’t assume everyone has the same cultural knowledge.
In my quest to learn more about the spread of Chinese, particularly through travel, I was surprised to find how many “rude Chinese tourist” stories appeared. Many of the articles discussed travelers who did not value waiting in lines, were too loud and seemed to express arrogance. Could these be tales of bad apples? Or perhaps living lessons of how cultural translation goes beyond rewriting words into teaching behaviors and tradition?
I think a case of mis-used Swedish train bathrooms can easily teach a lesson to content marketers. While you never want to “dumb down” your message, you shouldn’t assume that what is common sense to one group may not be such common knowledge to another.
Take a look at your content: are all of the details clearly translated? Readers may be able to understand what the product is, but is your greater message clearly expressed? Did you leave any ideas up to assumption on the customer’s part?
Make sure your purpose is clear at every level to help Chinese website traffic enjoy a full experience and understand your product, your brand and your story.
Which Chinese does your site need?
All this discussion about the Chinese language hasn’t been about just one version, but the numerous dialects held within. Invest in market research to find out which one is best for your brand. Are you getting more interest from Mandarin speakers? Would a Cantonese page bring more conversions over Shanghai’s popular Wu or Taiwan’s Min dialects? Taking the time up front to find the best language will help grow your ROI down the road.
Finally, to get a visual feel for the growth of Chinese, take a glance at IHG’s “The Future of Chinese Travel” research. These remarkable graphs and statistics provide a concrete feeling of how the Chinese culture and language will continue to spread globally as more citizens and business people began crossing borders and oceans to fulfill the next big dreams. Is your business ready with a loud, and inviting 欢迎?
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Harvin Bedenbaugh—Content Writer