The Chinese language is unique and fascinating in the world of human languages and linguistics. It holds the title of being the most widely used language in the world, with one fifth of the population speaking Chinese as their native tongue. It is spoken in numerous Asian regions, in addition to several more regions of the world containing Chinese communities. This figure is forecasted to grow in the years to come.
In contrast with other languages, Chinese has a level of complexity that comes from the fact that there are several dialects in the spoken form and two sets of alphabets for the Chinese written form of the language.
Unlike most written languages, written Chinese is not based on an alphabetical system. If you open a Chinese newspaper or book, you will see a wide array of intricate and decorative looking symbols. Each symbol tells its own story, by conveying a single concept and sound. When put together on a page, the symbols are like notes on a sheet of music: in different combinations, the symbols create a variety of different meanings and moods. These symbols are known as the characters of the written Chinese system, of which there are approximately over 80,000.
The written system can be further broken down into two forms: Traditional and Simplified. Traditional Chinese is the original form of the written language. Simplified Chinese is the modern form of the written system and is characterized as having less pen strokes per character than a Traditional Chinese character, which makes Simplified Chinese exactly what it sounds like it is- simpler to read and write. Both forms are used in varying degrees of regularity in different Chinese speaking regions. Simplified Chinese was adopted in Singapore schools in 1969, and in Mainland China in 1956.
There are numerous Chinese dialects, and several regions of speakers for each dialect. The most popular dialects of the Chinese language include: Mandarin, Cantonese, Xiang (Hunanese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Min (Fujian, Hokkien, Taiwanese), Hakka and Gan. Mandarin is the most widely used dialect, and is considered the “common language”. Many Chinese speak Mandarin, in addition to their local dialect. During vacation in Taipei, I noticed several citizens were fluent in Hokkien (Taiwanese language) and very familiar with- if not absolutely fluent in speaking Mandarin.
Chinese is also a tonal language, the meaning of a word changes according to the tone used.
The first crucial step to provide Chinese translation is to work closely with the client to determine his target market, after that you can identify the proper written form to use in a written/printed document. On the other hand for interpretation services, you need to determine the proper dialect to use to communicate effectively with your Chinese audience.
The recent growth of the Chinese population in the U.S. on one hand, and the potential of the Chinese economy on the other hand, have propelled the need for Chinese translation and localization. The same has happened in the U.S. in relation to Chinese interpretation services. We often see training material that needs to be translated in Chinese and afterwards voiced over into Mandarin. The same is true for the marketing of products in Chinese. Due to these developments, it is beneficial to take a look at the Chinese population in the U.S. to understand their needs.
Within the Asian population, Chinese is the leading group
The Asian population saw dramatic growth in the U.S. during the decade beginning from 2000 to 2010. During this time period, a giant 43 percent increase in the Asian population- from 10.2 million to 14.7 million- was observed with much of the population residing in the Western region of the country. If we break down the Asian population into its separate racial groups, we will find that nearly a quarter of the total population is Chinese: 23 percent- which accounts for 3,381,000 of the 14.7 million Asian individuals residing in the U.S.
It is no wonder, then, that there has been a growing demand for Chinese language translation and interpretation services in the U.S. These services are needed for a wide range of purposes to serve this population, from Human Resources, education, business to health care.
The Chinese population in the different U.S. regions
Nearly half of the Chinese population in the U.S. lives in the Western region (49%). Furthermore, the Northeastern region of the U.S. is populated by over a quarter of the total Chinese population (26%).
The NY-NJ-PA metropolitan area has the highest Chinese population count of all metro areas (Chinese pop. 695,000). After the NY metropolitan area, the following areas in Los Angeles round out the top 4 metropolitan cities with the highest Chinese population: LA-Long Beach-Santa Ana (Chinese pop. 544,000), San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont (Chinese pop. 477,000) and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (Chinese pop. 173,000).
Metro areas tend to draw in individuals of not only varying cultures but also ages. We can conclude that there is great demand for Chinese language services in NY and LA. We also know that particular attention and research will need to be done on the demographics of the Chinese individuals living in the metro areas to determine the spoken and written form of Chinese to use. The U.S. population is morphing continuously. A few decades ago, NYC’s Chinatown was largely comprised of Cantonese speakers emigrating from Hong Kong. In 1979, the People’s Republic of China came to being, and under its jurisdiction, Mandarin Chinese was taught in schools throughout Mainland China. Since then, NYC has seen more immigration of Chinese people from Mainland China and thus resulted in Mandarin becoming the “lingua franca”- or common language-of spoken Chinese.
Language services wanted
As the Chinese population grows, we will continue to see demand for Chinese language interpretation and translation services for several important needs. There will be more Chinese families who need quality health care, their elderly well taken care of, and their children to be provided with a good education. I can attest to this – my family was fortunate to have a professional Mandarin interpreter on hand, when my mother was raced to the ER several years ago. Having the interpreter’s service, helped make meeting my mother’s needs a comforting process that might’ve otherwise been chaotic.
In regards to education, progress has been made to facilitate clear communication between parents and teachers; for example, the IEP (Individualized Education Program) forms are now available in multiple languages, including Chinese. And, in the business world, language services are also requested for business purposes to tap into the Chinese and Asian markets, as more U.S. corporates conduct businesses abroad.
Throughout the years, JR Language has successfully delivered Simplified and Traditional Chinese translation services as well as Korean translation services, among other Asian languages, for many academic and health care institutions, as well as companies from different sectors in the U.S. to assist in their efforts of communicating with the Chinese and Asian world.
As markets become more global, familiarity with corporate cultures worldwide become an important key to success. Adaptation to traditions and behaviors of a culture are as relevant as understanding the language. The adaptation to traditions and values is very important to take into consideration when doing Chinese translations and is one of the crucial elements that a professional Chinese translator needs to perfect while localizing the content to the values of the culture.
Chinese culture is based on the teachings of Confucianism, which emphasizes preservation of harmony and the collective good. Positive relationships are an important foundation in Chinese culture. When engaging in business dealings in China, showing that you are trustworthy and a good listener will help guide you on your way to establishing positive relationships with your Chinese counterparts. For example, when you translate your website into Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese there are some elements that you should include to appeal to that need of trust, such as certifications and recognized memberships of your company. This also includes any award received by your products. Another significant element to include is the company’s overview and the company’s board or leadership to appeal to that relevance of hierarchy.
The following is a list of main etiquette that should be observed while conducting business in China and preparing written content or translating content to target the Chinese Market.
Eye contact: Always maintain eye contact with your Chinese counterparts while communicating. Lack of eye contact will be considered as untrustworthy.
Positive speech: Using negative phrases such as “no” or “cannot”- are considered impolite. Phrase your replies positively by using phrases such as “I will think about it” and “maybe” even in times when you are absolutely certain that a request cannot be fulfilled.
Greetings: Always wait for your Chinese counterpart to initiate a greeting. Address them as Mr/Ms/Mrs using their business title and their last name. Greet them with a gentle handshake.
Rank & Hierarchy: Ranks and positions are important to the Chinese. They consider high status as a sign of great accomplishment, experience and wisdom. Always show respect for your Chinese counterparts who are of such status, by showing appreciation and acknowledgement of their opinions.
Colors: Avoid wearing bright colors as they are offensive and inappropriate in a Chinese business environment. Never wear white articles of clothing to a meeting- the color white is for funerals. This element is important in the selection of images and colors for a new or localized website.
Dress Code: For both males and females- a conservative, formal dress code is required. All pieces of clothing are to be dark, subdued colors including black, brown, and tan. Skirts below the knee, and flat or small heeled shoes are appropriate forms of dress for women. Avoid wearing revealing articles of clothing and shoes and flashy jewelry. This is another element to consider for images in Chinese brochure and websites.
Be On Time: Punctuality is important, in conducting business in China. Don’t be late!
Many Western companies are starting efforts to participate and benefit from China’s growth and expanding middle class. There are many companies looking to participate. The following companies are already taking part: McDonald’s, Home Depot, Procter and Gamble among other recognized brands. There is no easy answer for how to be successful in a country so highly populated, diverse, with close ties to ancient history. Nonetheless, it is valuable to develop insight into China’s culture and social etiquette. Acknowledging the cultural differences will aid in understanding the Chinese culture and language, which will ultimately increase your chances of success. In the process you will earn your Chinese clients and Chinese business counterparts’ loyalty that will likely lead you to successful business.
The news about Apple not anticipating the tremendous demand for products in China made me think about how pent up demand in China is a huge opportunity for American companies looking to expand.
By 2015, China will surpass the United States in ecommerce market size, to RMB 2 trillion (US$320 billion) according to the Boston Consulting Group. The middle and affluent classes are rapidly changing their purchasing behavior to include new sales channels such as the internet, creating opportunities for recognized brands, and for market pioneers that can establish a brand in the current emerging landscape.
At JR Language Translations, we see a growing trend with our clients who realize this opportunity, and ask us for help to enter into the Chinese market. From universities marketing to aspiring students who are looking for an American education, to small businesses exporting products and services to China, the trend has been growing at double digits for the last three years.
The typical cycle starts with the translation of a few brochures and case studies, then the translation of a website, to the complete localization of contracts and service manuals. Some clients are not aware of the different dialects and writing forms of Chinese, so we always work with them to select the most appropriate for their target market.
On the other hand, many companies are still thinking about what to do, leaving the opportunity for growth on the table for other businesses to establish their foothold. We see these times as a second opportunity to jump in early into the Internet.
Tell us about your experience with the Chinese market, or if you have questions contact us and we may be able to help.