Chinese Translation: Your Passport to the Biggest Market in the World

Home to more than 1.3 billion people, the Chinese market is too big to pass up. Although the nation remains a hotbed of American manufacturing activity, big brands and small businesses alike are now trying to stake a claim in China’s expanding consumer market as well.

Translation and localization remain critical for success in the Chinese market. Why is that so and how can you adopt the right practices for Chinese translation? Read on.

China Dominates Online

China tops the number of Internet users worldwide, according to Internet Live Stats, with just under 650 million users and is growing at an average rate of 4 percent per year. Although the country lags behind in proportion—only half of Chinese consumers have Internet access, compared to nearly 87 percent of American consumers—the country comprises nearly 20 percent of the world’s Internet users. This makes both online and retail enterprises very lucrative: Native e-commerce shop Alibaba, according to the BBC, grabbed 76 percent of the mobile merchandise market in China through 2013, which works out to $37 billion. The bottom line? Population growth and an increasingly Internet-savvy consumer base makes China a hub of opportunity.

Language Sensitivity and Diversity

American companies haven’t done well in executing Chinese market positioning strategies, for several reasons. The first is sensitivity to the local language, culture, and business practice. American companies often make mistakes in localization by not accounting for Chinese lifestyle. For example, clothing brands like Nautica struggled after using non-Chinese models, which made locals worry that the designs wouldn’t complement their body types. Luxury jewelry store Tiffany didn’t take into account that Chinese consumers increasingly prefer large stores that offer a diverse range of product choices. By keeping retail shops small and simple, Tiffany accidentally implied that it wasn’t truly committed to Chinese women.

Language is another key barrier. Chinese translation isn’t always straightforward, as companies like Best Buy learned when opting for Chinese words that sound like its English equivalent, but mean something very different: the brand’s Chinese moniker Bai Si Mai actually means “Think one-hundred times before buying.”

The number of languages spoken in China also makes this a difficult prospect, as there are seven main dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Wu, Min, Xiang, and Gan. Although Mandarin is called the “common language” and is China’s official language, translating for Mandarin alone limits market penetration and —especially in crucial areas like mobile sales, which rely on quick communication with users across the country.

Automate the Process for Chinese Localization

To address the issues associated with Chinese language localization, enterprises need to use a robust translation software platform. This helps in automating the process and preserves quality and consistency.

Translation memory keeps a record of everything translated by a company and then automatically populates new content with suggested translations to save time, while still producing consistent, high-quality translations. The translation software allows brands to work with both human and machine translators to produce the best content possible. Machine translation may be best suited for real-time translation, whereas expert human translators can generate SEO-friendly content that is contextually, culturally, and linguistically sensitive—giving you the benefit of professional website translation, which speaks directly to Chinese consumers.

China is the biggest market in the world—and still growing. Making inroads here means finding the right words and relating to Chinese consumers as fellow citizens rather than a foreign demographic.

Image source: BigStock

There are many types of translation workflows, some riskier than others. Find out which one is best for your business.


About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is a freelance technology writer with a passion for telling great stories about unique brands. For the past five years, he's covered everything from cloud computing to home automation and IT security. He speaks some French, is fluent in Ancient Greek and a master of Canadian English — and yes, colour needs a 'u'.