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Important things to consider if you’re localizing your business in Chinese

Chinese is one of the most important business languages. It is second only to English in terms of being the most spoken, so here are a few important things to know while creating your localization strategy.

With a large population and a growing number of middle-class consumers, the Chinese market has been a new hotspot for businesses. The Chinese market can be a successful market for your business if it’s done right. It’s easier than ever to crack this market with the growth of technology, online shopping, eCommerce translation services, and eLearning platforms. However, there are some major points to consider if you want to localize for a Chinese area or region, as there are many pitfalls when localizing to Chinese.

localize my business in chinese - hong kong

Hong Kong signs – Photo by Katie Manning on Unsplash

History of the Chinese language and its different types

Chinese is an old and diverse language. In mainland China alone, around 70 million people belong to 55 different minority groups, each with their dialect and some that don’t even have a distinguishable written form. However, with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Mandarin was chosen as the official language of the country. Today, more than 70% of the Chinese population speaks Mandarin. 

Written Chinese

localize my business in chinese - calligraphy

Calligraphy – Photo by chuanyu2017 on Pixabay

Written Traditional Chinese is around 6000 years old and is the oldest written language in the world. Cantonese speakers generally still use these characters, as do Mandarin speakers in Taiwan. Mandarin speakers in China use Simplified Chinese characters. Simplified characters have been around significantly less than their traditional counterpart as they were formalized at the beginning of the People’s Republic of China. The People’s Republic of China was formed in 1949, and at the time, the majority of Chinese could not read or write. To improve literacy, Mao Zedong initiated a new system of Simplified Chinese, simplifying around 2000 Chinese characters by reducing the number of strokes used for each character. Simplified Chinese was first used in 1956

While there are various spoken dialects of Chinese, these are the two major forms of writing. This is handy as even if the spoken dialect is different, Chinese can generally communicate through writing. 

Different dialects

Seven major dialects are used in China and its Special Administrative Regions (SARs). To reach the Chinese market with your business, you need to know where your target market is and what Chinese form is used there.

DialectRegion Spoken
Mandarin (Putonghua)Most of mainland China, Taiwan, Macau
Cantonese/YueHong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou (Canton), and Wuzhou.
MinFujian province and parts of Guangdong, Zhejiang, Hainan, and Taiwan
WuZhejiang province, Shanghai, southern Jiangsu province, parts of Anhui and Jiangxi provinces.
XiangMost of the Hunan province, the counties of Quanzhou, Guanyang, Ziyuan, and Xing’an, northeastern Guangxi province.
GanJiangxi province
HakkaNortheastern Guangdong, adjoining regions of Fujian, Jiangxi, Southern Hunan, and the older generations of Hong Kongers in the New Territories. In Taiwan, Hakka is spoken by some in the Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli parts of the country.

Related: What’s the Difference Between Mandarin and Cantonese?

Important considerations regarding the different dialect types

  • Cantonese is the main dialect spoken in Hong Kong. Traditional Chinese characters are used for writing. While many Hong Kongers can speak Mandarin and use Simplified Chinese characters, if you are localizing for this region, you should consider using Cantonese and Traditional Chinese characters.
  • In Taiwan, they speak Mandarin and write with Traditional Chinese characters. Both Taiwan and mainland China use Mandarin, but they have developed different terminology and writing styles.  

All of this variation within the Chinese language necessitates using the best Chinese translation services company to guarantee that sufficient research is done to develop a translation and localization plan that matches your strategy for entering this lucrative market.

Things to consider when creating a localization strategy for Chinese 

localize my business in chinese - tiananmen square

Tiananmen Square – Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

Know the culture, know your audience, and identify your primary dialect and region

Like any good localization strategy, you need to know your target audience, its culture, its language, and the things your target market values. You’ll need to consider how your brand voice and whether this will resonate with a Chinese audience. Can you directly translate your brand content, or will you need to consider a more creative translation, a transcreation, to convey your brand voice? As China is diverse, with differences across the regions, high-quality translation services can help you achieve your marketing strategy.  An experienced translation agency can help you avoid cultural mishaps and translation errors.

Learn from past successes and failures 

Learn from the companies who have attempted and accessed the market already. Localizing in China is challenging, and even some of the biggest names have failed after not performing thorough market research. Learning from what has worked with brands that are similar to yours can help narrow your research and expedite your localization strategy.

Related: The Top 10 Translation Blunders in Advertising 

Use local social media and eCommerce platforms

Mainland China uses various social media and eCommerce platforms that are not used or are less popular in other countries. Baidu is the search engine used by most people, with platforms such as WeChat for social media and eCommerce payments. Other social media platforms include Qzone, Renren and P1. In Hong Kong, western social media platforms are popular, and a variety of eCommerce platforms, from the Octopus card to PayMe, are used to pay for products online. 

Use expert multilingual translation services

It should be apparent by now the importance of localization and translation services when expanding your business globally, especially into Chinese markets. Navigating any new market is challenging, so take the guesswork out of your localization strategy and get the assistance of translation and localization experts. 

Into23 is a translation agency in Hong Kong offering localization and translation services. We are experts in Asian languages. Reach out to Into23 today to discuss your business localization strategy to set yourself up for success in the Chinese markets.

The 6 keys to effective eLearning translation in Asia

The eLearning industry is projected to be worth 181 million USD by the end of 2025, with an annual growth rate of 12.26% per year. Driven by the widespread adoption of eLearning platforms by educational institutions and employers around the world, as well as the increased popularity of online course providers, eLearning made the jump from supplementary service to primary platform in 2020.

The industry has continued to grow in 2021, as workplaces expand their online skills training platforms and commercial eLearning providers more effectively engage their users with gamified app experiences, data driven personalized services, advanced modules, microlearning (short bursts of platform access) and content optimization, including the use of audio and video.

The expansion of the eLearning market drives service providers to offer their programs in multiple markets to reach new audiences, which requires the use of eLearning translation services and website localization. The pace of development in the industry has resulted in increasingly complex platforms with more content, which makes effective translation and software localization challenging, considering the scale and scope of material to adapt.

Machine translation services are ineffective in this context, considering the nature of the application. eLearning translation not only requires attention to detail, but also an extensive level of quality assessment in order to ensure that course materials effectively engage users. Linguistic QA specialists can identify and evaluate the lexical and grammatical options which make the difference between efficient progress through course modules and ambiguity that can challenge users’ patience.

eLearning platform design in any language carries inherent cultural connotations. Everything from curriculum planning to content and the layout and user interface has a culturally specific context in the original language and culture that the module is developed for. This comprises the source language and content. There are six elements which make all the difference between successfully adapting to different cultures and lessons ending up lost in translation.

  • Text
  • Images
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Layouts
  • Graphics

Text: The basis for eLearning platforms and modules

Text is the simplest but most important aspect of eLearning translation and software localization. Opting for simple machine translation  is unlikely to provide accuracy, and while machine translation with post-editing ensures a level of quality and consistency, it does not  provide a framework for cultural context and therefore has limited scope for localization.

Cultural context often accounts for variations within same language. For example, people from Hong Kong use an English transliteration for the word strawberry,  (士多啤梨)  while in other regions it is translated as 草莓.

While Cantonese is spoken in Malaysia, local lexical variations arise from from Hokkien, Hakka and Malay influences, which contribute loanwords like (play) which in Hong Kong is written . There are also considerable variations in pronunciation.

For eLearning platforms,  the most efficient translation and localization solution when faced with cultural variations within a single language is to identify the most important market and develop the eLearning translation accordingly.

It is important to consider which language to use for localization in Asia: most content localized for the Malaysia market is in English. However, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and Mandarin are widely used in Asia.

While there is considerable regional variation in Chinese language usage, the cost effective approach is to develop eLearning translation and localization for the most important market.  Articulate Rise is a widely used course authoring tool for eLearning platform developers. Rise 360 is well suited to text-heavy courses, which can be challenging to translate into multiple languages. We can quickly and efficiently process translation and localization for all courses designed with Articulate Rise.

Audio and Video: professional eLearning voiceover services

Multimedia localization in particular requires a solid understanding of regional and cultural context in the target market, in order for audio and video content to effectively supplement the text. Articulate Storyline is a streamlined multimedia content solution for eLearning platforms, and we can effectively process and translate all assets from Storyline 360 projects.

elearning voiceover services and multimedia localization

Localizing the text provides a basis for the eLearning voice over, which should also be developed for the most important market.

Planning, developing and organizing a workflow for high quality translation of text, video and audio between completely different languages requires expertise and experience with  providing localization and translation services.

Images: Visual learning and culture

Visual content in images and video should also be assessed for cultural relevance. While American Football imagery effectively conveys concepts to North American audiences and translates reasonably well in Europe, it may distract Asian learners who are less familiar with the sport and might not intuitively grasp concepts illustrated with quarterbacks and goalposts. Sports like soccer and tennis are more culturally neutral and help make content more easily localized across markets.

Layouts and Graphics: The culture of colour, and how it affects UX

Image and text elements should also be maintained separately, in order to avoid difficulties with translating and localizing images with text. Videos should ideally have captions set up as distinct elements in order to streamline translated versions. The design language for video caption and user interfaces should ideally provide a degree of flexibility, because colours have different associations in different regions and cultures.

For example, the colour red indicates passion in Western cultures, while it is associated with prosperity and luck in Asian cultures. In South Asia, the colour the colour orange is associated with the Hindu religion, while in the Middle East, green is associated with Islam. Streamlining colour configuration settings makes for an efficient eLearning localization strategy. Designing elements with flexibility and configurability in mind is an important step for eLearning platforms to take so that they can effectively translate their content for different markets with software localization services and expert translation services. Another efficient approach is to opt for culturally neutral design elements in order to effectively serve a wider eLearning audience.

eLearning translation and eLearning localization go hand in hand. Unlike legal language translation services, culture cannot be separated from language in an educational context. While marketing transcreation is an essential aspect of adapting an advertising strategy which would certainly enhance eLearning platforms, the scale of eLearning projects are generally best served by cost-effective localization and multilingual translation services with specialized eLearning voice over carried out by experienced professional translators who can optimize your platform and efficiently scale the reach of your services while ensuring they are effective for every user.

Into23 provides comprehensive eLearning and localization services with unmatched quality, speed and value in Asia. Our translation system supports Articulate Storyline and Articulate Rise content, which streamlines the setup of translated and localized courses. We can deliver a complete portfolio of course translations in any number of languages you require, including all audio and video content, in one go. Our clients never have to worry about keeping track of 25 different translations and coordinating launch dates. In Hong Kong’s English to Chinese translation services market, attention to detail and appreciation of cultural context is key to effectively serving markets.

Our experience in the region, global partnership networks and passion for language and culture enable us to develop effective solutions tailored to the scale of your project.

What’s the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?

 Mandarin may be dominant but don’t write off Cantonese yet.

In 2010, a Pro-Cantonese Movement (廣州撐粵語行動)erupted in the city of Guangzhou in Guangdong province, the epicentre of the modern Cantonese dialect we hear today.

It was triggered when the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Guangzhou Committee submitted a proposal to keep Cantonese in mainstream media in order to preserve the ancient dialect, which was at odds with Beijing’s blanket directive to standardize Mandarin throughout all provinces.

As expected, these remarks propelled the topic to the top of the leaderboard on Weibo and other Chinese social media sites. The majority of netizens speaking up were from Cantonese-speaking Guangdong province, defending the language in a myriad of creative ways. Notably a comedic modification of the poster for Echoes of the Rainbow, a popular Hong Kong movie released in 2010. It was modified to “The Thief who smashes Cantonese” featuring Ji Keguang, the most prominent proponent of Mandarin standardization.

But it is not uncommon for multiple languages to co-exist in a single location. In fact, 3 of the top 4 most multilingual countries in the world are located in Asia (Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and India), with China ranking 6th on this list, with 300 different spoken languages located within its borders.

So why did this Cantonese versus Mandarin debate in particular garner such attention from the masses? How is it any different from China’s 299 other languages? To understand this, we need to take a deeper dive into the history of the language.

One of the main reasons Cantonese is of such interest is perhaps because it is significantly older than Mandarin. It was first recorded after the fall of the Han dynasty, around 220AD, over 2000 years ago. In contrast, Mandarin only came into being around 100 years ago. In addition, Cantonese came into being through natural evolution, whereas Mandarin was a top-down ‘creation’, made for a specific purpose: unification and simplification.

cantonese vs chinese map

A map depicting where Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken, along with many of China’s other languages.

In February 1913, the ‘Unification of Pronunciation Conference’ was held in Beijing to examine and approve the standard pronunciation, known as ‘GuoYin’(國音)of over 6500 Chinese characters. Through a series of complicated voting, the version of Chinese we now know as ‘Mandarin’ was born. The voters hailed from all over China, many in fact preferring to speak Cantonese or Sichuanese (amongst others), yet the final result resembles most closely what was spoken in Beijing at the time.

From 1955 onwards, Mandarin was referred to as Putonghua(普通話), meaning ‘common’ (普)and ‘universal’(通).

The then-Head Minister of Ministry of Education Zhang Xiruo said at the time:

The common language of the Han nationality has long existed. Now it is named Putonghua. It needs to be further regulated and standardised. This is Mandarin with the northern dialect as the base dialect and Beijing phonetics as the standard pronunciation. For simplicity, this national common language can also be called Putonghua.

In 1982, only 40 years ago, Beijing enacted the ‘Tuipu policy’, whose purpose is to make Putonghua the nation’s only language. This has numerous advantages for the country’s economy and leadership, creating a homogenous society across China’s enormous landmass and simplifying trade, communication, education, and much more.

It was a logical move to boost economic development which China so desperately needed at the time in order to catch up with the developed nations of the world. But at what cost to the diversity of ethnic cultures and local identity? What’s more, with the rise of technology and seamless translation software now readily available, is communication in different languages even a hindrance to economic development anymore?

We at Into23 would argue that a language barrier creates a competitive advantage for those willing to put in the effort to localise their products. As a result Into23 has built relationships with hundreds of incredible companies expanding into and out-of China. All of whom understand the importance of language as a cultural identifier, and are working hard to solidify their presence in their local area through accurate translocalisation thanks to Into23.

This idea of localising communication is particularly prevalent in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, where many, especially young people, are beginning to question their Chinese identity. An annual poll run by the University of Hong Kong found that even though the proportion of the population that can speak mandarin fluently has doubled since the handover in 1997, only 31% of people said they felt proud to be Chinese nationals, the lowest ever recorded. In fact, according to Chan Shui-duen, a professor of Chinese and Bilingual Studies at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, many young people “just reject it”.

what's the difference between mandarin and cantonese

The streets of Hong Kong, where both Mandarin and Cantonese are equally prevalent.

Against this backdrop, it is understandable that Cantonese is not just surviving but actually thriving. According to linguistics expert Lau Chaak-ming, businesses are picking up on the importance of playing to the local Cantonese identity. Writing in vernacular Cantonese (as opposed to standard Chinese) has increasingly appeared in public advertisements, magazines and other targeted media in the last 10 years, even “greatly accelerating” in the last four years.

60 million Cantonese speakers worldwide is a very considerable audience and as such should be considered when moving in to the China market. Translating your content from standard Chinese to vernacular Cantonese is often the difference between your product launch succeeding and failing.

Whether you are just curious or looking for multimedia localisation services, audio and video transcription services, E-learning translation services, website localisation, or indeed any kind of written or spoken translocalisation, please fill in the contact form and we would be happy to discuss the intricacies of translocalisation for multilingual Asian audiences.

8 Marketing Strategies for Entering the Market in China 2019

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The Chinese market has often been considered by many companies whom looking for growth in Asia. With over 700 million internet users, China is the world’s largest digital market.  It is also one of the largest eCommerce markets globally and transactions on its mobile platforms remain unparalleled to its neighboring countries around the region. But operating in the market doesn’t come without its fair share of pitfalls. Here are 8 marketing strategies shared by experts about entering the Chinese market.

Alberto (安亚柏) Antonucci, China Expert @ Ad Maiora Asia

“Having an e-commerce business without brand awareness is useless. Same to say if you place the products in an existing marketplace (i.e. JD, TMall, etc.)

Brands entering China should be first focus on these 3 rules:
1. Let them know who you are
2. Let them know what you do
3. Let them talk about you.
So, in other words, there is no winning e-commerce solution without a convincing branding strategy!”

Ashley Galina Dudarenok, China Marketing Expert | Founder Alarice & ChoZan

“Take a close look and adjust your brand positioning and product features before entering the Chinese market. For example, the post-90s and post-00s generations are the driving force behind apparel retail today. For foreign fashion brands targeting the middle-class or mature women, they may need to change to a younger, fresher look for Chinese consumers.”

Source: https://www.marketing-interactive.com/events/tips-and-tricks-to-cracking-the-china-market/

Susanna Nicoletti, Brand Contributor Jing Daily

“Engagement” is key in China. For a luxury brand to get Chinese consumers deeply involved — so much so that they feel they can’t live without its products — it will need a 3-step process called Culture Marketing. This new approach is based on (1) Understanding, (2) Planning, and (3) Exchanging, and it requires an approach that’s different from the one-way exchanges of the past where brands impose a monolithic vision on their target audiences. This process can be easily applied to any market, but it’s especially helpful in the China market where the demand for customer service is high and opinions spread quickly via Chinese social media.”

Source: https://jingdaily.com/culture-marketing-china/

Mark Tanner Managing Director of China Skinny, a Shanghai-based marketing firm and Michael Zakkour (MZ), VP, China/APAC Strategy & Global Digital at Tompkins International


“I don’t think it is as straightforward as throwing more money at store openings, social media and KOLs, etc. It is really more about understanding target markets and being smarter, connecting and engaging with them. Luxury consumers want to feel special, loved, and there are increasing tools available for brands to assist with this.

One example is facial recognition, which is starting to take off in China, allowing brands to develop individual profiles on customers to provide a truly personalized level of service that is authentic and thoughtful. This should be incorporated into new store openings, KOL campaigns, social and e-commerce.”

Source: https://jingdaily.com/strategies-luxury-china/

Sofya Bakhta of China Briefing 

“The maintenance and development of online word-of-mouth are fundamental to sustaining your business and relevance in the Chinese market. Important tools to create online buzz are:

  • Social media networks like WeChat, Weibo, Youku, and Tudou.
  • Online shopping websites like Taobao.
  • News websites like Sine China.
  • Online communities like Douban.

It is necessary to stay updated with the most popular platforms as well as the latest issues and topics trending on these platforms and to use and develop them to promote your brand effectively.”

Source: https://www.china-briefing.com/news/marketing-in-china-digital-branding-foreign-businesses/

Mark Hedley of B2B International


“Making that first step into the China market is an intimidating step for most companies in the b2b arena, with an almost endless series of potential pitfalls to be negotiated.  Although there are often many obstacles in the way of achieving success in China, the rewards of successfully navigating this difficult course are also immense.

Thankfully, as China’s economy continues to grow and become more open to foreign companies, the rewards increasingly outweigh the challenges of doing business in China.  While the old adage “In China everything is possible, but nothing is easy” still rings true for many foreign companies when doing business in China, the extent of this difficulty seems to decline further with every passing year.

China is a country that is constantly changing and its markets are evolving more rapidly than almost anywhere on earth.  As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach by which foreign companies should approach the China market.  Each company’s China strategy is likely to be informed by any number of different factors – from industry sector, product type, company size and culture, through to long-term business aims and global corporate vision.”

Source: https://www.b2binternational.com/publications/china-market-entry/

Sebastian Mueller, Chief Operating Officer at MING Labs


“When entering China, you must assume that you have lost product-market-fit and need to rediscover it. It is crucial to start with a beginner’s mindset and test your current solution in the new market. Start with a Riskiest Assumption Test (RAT) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) mindset in order to validate what is and is not working.

You might find that geographic differences make your product useless. For example, a company producing high-tech fishing equipment can be successful internationally where most lakes are natural but will find itself at a roadblock in China, where many lakes are artificial and do not have the same ecological or physical features.”

Rachel Lou of Dragon Social

“Despite all these missteps foreign businesses have taken when marketing in China, Chinese consumers are not so hard to please if you can market to them in the right way.

No matter how your Chinese marketing strategies are going to be laid out, two things are especially crucial if you want them to work like a charm in China – Have a sophisticated, extensive understanding of the local culture, and convey your intended message in a culturally-appropriate way. If you play it as creatively as possible while noting cultural nuances then this delicate game for foreign marketers will be yours to ace.”

Source: https://www.dragonsocial.net/blog/mistakes-marketing-to-chinese-consumers/

That concludes the summary of the marketing strategies to enter the China market. Reach out to into23 if you have any translation and localization needs for entering the China market.

This is a guest post by Bob Low, the regional marketing consultant for into23.