Chinese Localization: 5 Tips for Effective Translation
In our last 2 posts we looked at the motivations for and the challenges of localizing your content for the Chinese market. If you’re looking to do business in China, translation alone won’t cut it – you need a broad localization strategy. In this post we look at the ‘how’. Here’s 5 tips to get you started.
1. Identify Your Market
Before any localization begins make sure you’ve clearly defined your audience. Ask yourself who your source content is aimed and how, if at all, this group differs from your target. It’s this understanding that will ensure your Chinese localization is effective. Are you focusing on Mandarin-speakers in Beijing, or Cantonese-speakers in Guangzhou. Is your audience in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or even the Chinese diaspora in your own country? These are all important questions you need to answer.
Taiwan’s population identify as Taiwanese more than Chinese. Hong Kong is culturally distinct from the mainland, thanks to its long history of British colonialism. Mandarin and Cantonese are just two of the numerous dialects spoken across the Chinese world. Your localization strategy should be defined by the culture, language and identity of each demographic you intend to reach.
2. Translate Meaning, Not Words
Taken word-for-word, most ad copy sounds like garbled nonsense in a foreign language. Literal translation will turn your marketing campaign into the Chinese equivalent of Engrish. Amusing, but not very effective.
Focus on the meaning you’re trying to convey, rather than the words themselves. Your messaging should inspire the same motivation in your Chinese audience as with other target markets. If your language vendor understands this, translations can easily be adapted to convey your message. To do this, you often need to get creative with your translation, modifying the text to preserve the overall concept.
Your vendor will usually provide a few creative options when this is needed and explain the reasons behind them, giving you a full understanding of how your message has been adapted. However since this is beyond the scope of many translation vendors, reconstructing a marketing campaign in Chinese is a job for transcreation professionals.
3. Use Proverbs and Idioms
The Chinese are well-known for their proverbs. Philosophical wisdom is probably the country’s oldest export. More so than in western societies, the Chinese see proverbs and idioms as part of their national heritage, and they feature prominently in local advertising.
Where appropriate, you can use old quotes and expressions to market your own products. But be sure to seek advice from local experts; like translation, there is plenty of scope for misunderstanding.
4. Respect Chinese Advertising Law
China prohibits the use of superlative claims in advertising. You can’t say your product is “the best” or “the fastest”. Western marketing techniques can get you in big trouble in China. Ask Carlsberg. Their slogan “Probably the best beer in the world” was banned in
China. The Danish beer producer had to develop a new tagline – at great expense, no doubt – to satisfy the authorities.
Make sure your ad copy doesn’t violate Chinese law, or you’ll lose money, customers and credibility. A good Chinese localization vendor can advise you on the rules and regulations. Which brings us to the final point:
5. Work With a Reputable Team
Chinese localization is a professional service. Forget about Google Translate and novice interpreters – there’s no substitute for an experienced team with broad expertise and native speaking linguists who live in China. The best localization outfits include native speaking copywriters, transcreation professionals, cultural experts and marketing gurus. People with the knowledge and skills to recreate your brand for the Chinese market.
Over to you – What your experience with localizing your products or services for the Chinese market? Share your thoughts in the comment section.