Why Localization is Important Part II: Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese

We’ve said it before (“Why Localization is Important: Lost in Translation from Spain to LATAM”): localization is important, really important. What localization boils down to is showing your customers, the people who care about you and your message, that you in turn care about them. The need to feel understood is universally human and creating that value for your customers can be extremely profitable.

To review, localization adds value to translations by:

  • Ensuring cultural appropriateness of translated content
  • Appearing “customized” to match the end audience’s language needs
  • Not changing the original meaning of your message

It is safe to say that understanding is the core theme of translation. What many people do not understand, however (and no shame here), is the complicated concept of foreign-language dialect differences- within the same country and within the same language. Perhaps not surprisingly, when we speak of in-country dialect differences, you may think immediately of a large country in particular… China!

Here are some facts and figures about China:

  • Population-wise, China is the undisputed winner, they are #1 in the world with a total of 1,355,692,576 people (surveyed in July of 2014)
  • Area-wise, China is the 4th largest country in the world
  • China has one of the world’s fastest growing economies AND populations, making it a highly attractive market to enter
  • There are two dominant languages in China: Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese
    • There are over a billion people speaking the Chinese language, differences in dialect are bound to occur
    • Geographically, China has a lot of land for language dialect differences to pop up

You may ask, “What is the difference between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese?” and “How do I know if I should choose Traditional Chinese over Simplified Chinese?” Rest easy, here is all the information you will need:

Why the difference in the first place? Today, China has an average literacy rate of 95%, 97.5% in men and 93% in women. In the late 1800s, however, the People’s Republic of China decided to “simplify” Traditional Chinese to improve the then problematic literacy rate. Easy enough, Simplified Chinese is just simpler!

Another thing to understand about the Chinese language, both Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese: writing in Chinese (and therefore communicating in print or other mediums) is by no means simple. Each character has a specific meaning and requires multiple “strokes” and can be extremely involved. In mentioning that, Simplified Chinese varies in two key ways. Here’s the difference from Traditional Chinese:

  1. There are less strokes per written character
  2. There is an overall reduction of the amount of characters with distinct meanings; one character can have a few meanings (like English synonyms)

The important question: which variance to use to communicate with your customers?

Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan and in Hong Kong. There are 23.34 million people in Taiwan and 7.19 million people in Hong Kong. That’s over 30.5 million people who value Traditional Chinese over Simplified (Sure, this may only be around 2% of the Chinese population, but don’t discount appealing to the special language needs of these populations).

Taiwan and Hong Kong are extremely lucrative markets with exploding economies. Moreover, there is an increasing trend of going old-school; Traditional Chinese is coming back. Traditional Chinese is making a comeback on print advertisements and communications and is being taught increasingly in secondary schools and Universities. Simplified Chinese is still widely used and understood on mainland China and is attractive because it has a universal understanding.

The extent to which you localize your Chinese translations is up to you, but appealing separately to Traditional Chinese speakers and writers has its merits. It allows your consumer to feel understood. After all, the core human need to be understood is what translation AND localization is all about.