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When Should You Use Chinese Translation, Localization, Transcreation, and Transliteration on Projects?

Maria Krisette Capati, Author

02 February 2020

Most people are familiar with translation. But did you there are key approaches so you can maximize the services of a professional Chinese translator?

The translation process isn’t only converting the texts from a source language to another, such as Chinese to English. It’s also an art.

Knowing when to use translation, localization, transcreation, and transliteration will help you decide on the budget, business goals, target audience, and more. Depending on the industry you’re in, you’ll also get to choose which among these approaches is appropriate for your projects.

READ MORE >> Should You Work with a Freelance Chinese Translator or a Chinese Translation Agency? – What are the Pros and Cons? (Part 1)

If you’re in the process of setting up Chinese website, find out the best practices below on website translation projects. If you’re an app developer or publisher, learn how localization works.

Whether you’re launching a new ad for your Chinese audience or want to start from scratch with document translation, this is for you.

You’ll also learn how to create content that’s ready for your global audience, especially your Chinese customers.

Remember that each approach is unique and comes with a set of benefits and drawbacks. Gain more insights below.

How to maximize Chinese translation services?

Translation can be maximized in both print-ads and online activities. Content translation from Chinese to English is a good investment for long-term efforts if you’re targeting Chinese customers.

When it comes to print-ads and publications, translation can be applied from a wide range of documents such as manuals and brochures to flyers and more.

There are 861,634,814 Chinese internet speaking users as of this writing, which is why investing in translation services in Chinese will significantly have an impact on your online presence.

On websites and web pages

Translating a website, on the other hand, involves extracting all the texts from the web pages. These may include the About Us page, product information, blogs and articles, and information related to shipping policies and terms and conditions.

Translating texts from static web pages is common among startups and small business owners who simply want a Chinese version. You can use Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese on your website, depending on the regions you want to make your Chinese site visible.

Printed-ads and publications

For printed materials such as technical documents, manuals, magazines, legal documents, translation can involve both translation and transcreation processes.

For instance, this client of ours saved thousands of dollars from the translation cost because of the tools we use and established workflow that involved translating technical documents.

Industries such as engineering, legal, healthcare, manufacturing can take advantage of AZ-Loc’s pricing plans for repetitive documents that the CAT tool has already recorded, saving thousands of dollars, and without any rush fees.

For the fashion and retail industries, it may require transcreation to Chinese to adapt the creative writing style from the source language.

Legal documents are highly sensitive projects where translation should be headed by a professional legal translator. He or she should be knowledgeable about Chinese laws and policies (including laws and policies of the original language) (e.g., US English is different from UK English and Australian English).

How about Chinese localization best practices for business?

Localization touches the culture and the heart of the audience. Translation includes the communication process – the language – where the texts are converted so that the target audience can understand the message.

Simply put, it’s making your brand, product, or website adaptable to the market and culture.

Localization humanizes the work itself, which covers the appropriate color, layout, design, payment method, website codes and strings, and even the workflow.

Localization isn’t just writing or speaking the language of your target audience. You are writing and speaking like a local.

Online activities and digital marketing

On top of the translated texts on a static web page, localization involves tweaking the color, layout, and design, so it becomes more relevant to the audience.

If you compare Nike’s Philippine English version (left) and the Chinese version for the Mainland audience (right), you’ll see a considerable difference aside from the translated texts shown. The pictures shown on the English site may be different from what the Chinese site shows, including the layout and what each one would like to emphasize, despite having the similar theme, which is running.

website localization in chinese samples

Another thing to consider on website translation is the SEO (search engine optimization) that is compliant to Baidu best practices. These things fall under the localization process, where SEO specialists have to work on the keywords and search queries.

Keep in mind that your website is comprised of strings and metadata texts that are visible and readable only by search engines. So, it takes more than just translation services to get these things in sync with your online activities suitable to your Chinese customers.

Payment methods such as Alipay and WeChatPay can also be integrated into the website, which proves that user experience and user interface should be a top priority in this process, aside from the language used.

Marketing campaigns, online catalogs, and mobile apps – these are other digital assets that you can localize in Chinese to help you increase your sales and provide immersive digital experience.

WeChat should replace foreign social media channels like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. Since these are unavailable in China, maximizing the WeChat features can help you grow your online presence.

Printed-ads and publications

Localization is also applicable to printed-ads and publications. While we all know that digital marketing is the most effective way to sell and promote brands and products, you can still use the traditional publications such as brochures, flyers, and even business cards that feature Chinese elements on the design and layout.

If you’re in the e-learning or education industries, printed courses and modules can also be localized for your students. In this way, it will also be easier for them to learn and adapt to your courses.

Business cards in Chinese are the perfect giveaways to your clients. Localizing the design, name, and job title can be done on-print, one English version, and at the back, the Chinese version, including your Chinese name. Creating a Chinese name is part of the next approach, which is the transliteration

So, when should you use Chinese transliteration?

Transliteration makes a language accessible to those people who are not familiar with how it’s spoken or read. It focuses more on how it is pronounced rather than meaning, which is useful when you talk about business names, foreign people, and culture.

Transliteration often includes names, taglines, and brand names. For example, in my case, Maria Krisette Capati is “transliterated” in Chinese, which is 凯丽. (Kai Li). It will be easier for my Chinese friends to call me using this transliteration instead of my full name using the English alphabet.

Kai Li, in Chinese, if literally translated, Kai means triumph; victory; and Li means beautiful.
In reality, the meaning of each character isn’t essential, neither one is connected to the other character. The goal is to simply make my name “accessible” to the locals, which they can easily pronounce.

Another example is the Hungarian name, “Ferenc.” When it’s transliterated into English, it is “Feri.” The pronunciation is similar to “Fairy.”

Do you know Peter Pan? Well, when it’s transliterated in Chinese, it’s 彼得潘 (Bide Pan).

Keep in mind that there are different ways to transliterate a name in Chinese. And it’s ideal if the one transliterating it is a native Chinese to make sure that the words and characters used aren’t offensive to the locals.

In a nutshell, transliteration isn’t rendering or translating the English words to Chinese. It’s only providing a new format.

How useful is transliteration in your business?

You need Chinese transliteration for business if you need brand localization. That’s the reason why Coca Cola’s name in Chinese is “KeKou Kele” when pronounced. And when translated, it means 可口 Kekou (delicious; savory; tasty) 可乐 Kele (laughable; funny; amusing).

Remember, transliteration focuses on pronunciation rather than meaning. And it’s a coincidence, too, that coke is tasty, right? But not funny.

Dolce and Gabbana’s transliterated name in Chinese “杜嘉班纳 Dujiabanna.”

Instead of translating the brand name literally, the translator will rely on phonetic elements from the English words and recreate the sound in Chinese without altering its meaning. Moreover, the translators should avoid rendering the name that might sound awkward to the target audience.

A professional Chinese translator that has transliteration skills can be creative and use wordplay or sound choices (just like Coca-Cola) to evoke meaning or qualities of the brand to the Chinese audience.

Global brands will find transliteration much valuable when they expand to markets that don’t use non-Latin alphabets. China, Japan, Korea, Russia are good examples. BMW, for instance, transliterated its brand name in Chinese as “宝马,” which means precious horse or treasure horse.

What are the benefits of transliteration for business?

The process and strategy behind transliteration may be confusing to some. There are no established rules when transliterating a foreign name into a Latin-based alphabet. But transliteration can do wonders for your business, too.

  • Brand awareness – To have transliterated names and taglines will contribute to brand awareness among your target audience. The skillful your translator is when it comes to names and transliterations, the more your target audience will remember your brand. Pronunciation is the key to making a first impression, long-lasting.
  • Easy to search – most Chinese shoppers use the internet to search for brand names and products. If you have transliterated names, including products, it’s easier for shoppers and customers to find you online, whether on Baidu, other search engine platforms, or social media channels.

The Chinese language can be a bit complex when choosing a proper name for brands and taglines. If it sounds relevant and natural to your target audience, it’s more likely they will remember it.

It’s best to work with professional translators who know these approaches – translation, localization, and transliteration – and when to use them.

In summary, translation is simply rendering one language to another. Transcreation is all about creative translation where one language is rendered to another but not necessarily translated word-for-word. The goal is preserving the meaning, context, and tone in an artistic way. It’s often used in marketing materials to catch the attention of customers with persuasive words.

Localization goes beyond the language. It’s about writing and speaking the language like a local and adapting elements like design, layout, and structure to make it relevant to the audience.

So, now that you know the differences and when to use them, let us know how we can help you in your business. We can combine these best approaches for you that match your style, budget, and goals.

Fill in the form below and we will get back to you with a quote on your project.

As we are constrained by resources, we will only serve those deserve our attention and time. We will only focus on clients who are already decided which projects to prioritize and understand the importance of translation and localization efforts.

china market writer

Maria Krisette Capati

Krisette or "Sette" for short is a professional writer and copywriter who loves to cover disruptive technologies, digital trends in China, and a myriad of geeky and innovative topics. She's the Content Strategist at AZ-Loc and currently manages the English website and in-charge of the social media channels. She has been writing about China markets, business, and startups since 2012. She has gained her expertise as a China internet specialist and is fascinated by its business ethics, language, and culture. She's a major of Business Management and Entrepreneurship and an advocate of faith-based non-profit organizations. When she's not writing or dabbling with Sophie and the team, she satiates her wanderlust as a digital nomad. 

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