History of the localization industry in mainland China

For almost 20 years, China has witnessed the development of its localization industry. Most recently, Chinese localizers have been strengthening their exchanges with foreign counterparts as well as the publicity of their services. The previously chaotic state of the sector has been replaced by a standardized and orderly development pattern. Although the worldwide financial crisis crippled some localization enterprises, it offered the Chinese precious opportunities in accelerated globalization. Thus, China has gradually become one of the major centers for multilingual localization services.

In the mid-1990s, the earliest localization companies were founded in Beijing, among which were Worksoft Creative Software Technology Ltd. (1995), Beyondsoft Corporation (1995), hiSoft Technology International Limited (1996) and Lionbridge (1996). At the beginning, they were small-sized, focusing on software localization. For example, Worksoft provided the localization translation services for the products of international IT giants such as IBM and Microsoft. Most of these companies were established by domestic investors and a few of them by foreign investors.

The Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and Shanghai World Expo in 2010 fueled the country’s rapid development and international communication across almost all fields. The growing economic prosperity of China, the great demand of the product localization market, the competitive cost of human capital and the government policy of promoting the IT industry put the domestic localization sector on the freeway of development. China’s localization market attracted the attention of the world. International localizers wanted to know how to enter China’s market and how to adapt themselves to Chinese culture and traditions.

The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) organized three forums in Beijing and Shanghai in 1998, 1999 and 2003, which were followed by other LISA forums and conferences, as well as the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) and Localization World events. In 2005, Lionbridge organized the China Localization Industry Summit Forum in Beijing, which was attended by general managers of major domestic and foreign localization companies, such as Lionbridge, Worksoft, Beyondsoft, hiSoft and so on. The Localization World Web (www.giltworld.com), China’s first nonprofit localization information and technology service website, organized four communication conferences in Beijing as well as the First Localization Translation Competition. In 2006, the website sponsored the Third Beijing Localization and Translation Sector Communication Conference.

From 2004 on, the entry of localizers from other countries and regions into China’s localization market was accelerated. In 2004, Czech-based Moravia and Skrivanek, US-based Localize Technologies and Symbio, and Taiwan-based TargeTek all established offices in Beijing and Nanjing. They provided software testing services; translation and interpreting services; traditional and simplified Chinese localization services; desktop publishing services; East Asian languages localization and internationalization; multilingual localization; and international engineering treatment. In 2006, Belgium-based Jonckers Translation & Engineering opened its branch company in Beijing. In 2007 and 2008, US-based TransPerfect Translations and Europe-based Tek Translation International established a company branch in Beijing.

The acquisition of Trados by SDL and the acquisition of Bowne Global Solutions by Lionbridge in 2005 triggered the tide of mergers and acquisitions in China. In 2006, the purchase of China’s Transco and Rainbow by US-based Welocalize and US-based thebigword helped foreign companies enter the Chinese market. Ensemble International Ltd. and Teksen Systems were incorporated into hiSoft, which was then ranked among the top 25 language service providers (LSPs) in the world according to Common Sense Advisory statistics.

China’s localization companies have been expanding their services from first-tier cities to second-tier cities by establishing their branch companies. For example, Shenzhen SDL established its localization desktop publishing center in Changsha City in 2007 and hiSoft opened its branch company in Wuxi City in 2008. They have also established their offices in other countries and regions. Due to cut-throat competition and increasing technological strength, many translation companies, especially technical translation companies, began to enter the localization market — companies such as Jiangsu Sunyu Information Technology Co., Ltd., Shenzhen Haoboyi Co., Ltd. and Chengdu Lan-bridge Group. These companies have had their staff trained by localization experts and combined translation and localization into one whole businesss. It seems that it is a general trend for translation companies to offer localization services in China. Like translation companies, localization companies are now under the leadership of the Translators Association of China (TAC).

The service pattern of localization companies underwent remarkable changes starting in 2002. Outsourcing service companies began to purchase localization companies, and traditional localization companies tended to transform into outsourcing service providers. For example, Worksoft changed its software localization service into a software outsourcing service. Henceforth its development was sped up and it became one of the listed companies of the New York Stock Exchange as the leading enterprise of China’s software outsourcing service industry. Localization technology has also been developing rapidly in the past decade. SJTU Sunway Software Industry Limited was the first to formulate the concept of “information localization” in China, and in 2004 it successfully developed Yaxin CAT, a computer-aided translation tool, with the ambition of becoming the largest information localization expert in the Asia-Pacific region.

As far as localization technology training is concerned, Beijing Yuda Global Technologies, which is the first company to focus on localization service training, was founded in 2004, with the aim of providing localizing technologies, management and training curricula for foreign and domestic software developers, localization service companies, translation companies, university students and individuals. Yuda adopted various forms of localization training, such as enterprise training, open classes and employment training. The Localization World Web conducts web-based training and ISTQB testing, training and accreditation, dividing localization technology into technical writing, localization translation, desktop publishing, technological tools and project management.

A growing number of domestic companies are aware of the growing importance of localization services in the internationalization of their products. They have become or will become a member of international localization associations. For example, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., the leading enterprise of China’s communication equipment and technical service, became a member of LISA in 2005. Among the world’s top 500 enterprises, 480 so far have opened a company branch in China and 42 of them have China as their Asian headquarters, undertaking the design, development and localization of international products.


Trends in Chinese localization

Statistics show that worldwide information in the coming five years will increase ten times, and information in China over the same period will increase 30 times. In turn, localization services will experience soaring growth.

Currently, the buyers of language information services are increasingly adopting content management systems (CMSs) or even global management systems. They prefer information services that can be seamlessly connected with CMS, exchanging data smoothly in order to enable swifter and more transparent localization and internationalization of information.

The new generation of machine translation technology, showcased by tools such as Google automatic translation, exerts a major impact on the global language information service sector. In particular, machine translation of Latin and European languages is greatly improved. For certain scenarios, some clients are willing to adopt this model, relying mainly on machine translation supplemented with human editing.

With the rapid growth of communication technology in various sectors and territories, users of mobile phones have quickly increased in number. Thus, the need for technological communication in different languages is growing fast.

In sectors such as international conference, business negotiation, global hospital diagnosis and patient nursing, global service support and call centers, the demand for interpretation of multiple languages has increased. The traditional interpretation model that relies on the language proficiency of interpreters can no longer meet the need of these particular service sectors. As a result, computer-aided interpretation systems or software tools are being introduced to assist in improving the efficiency and quality of interpretation.

As previously mentioned, the global financial crisis beginning in 2008 had a deep impact on the localization service industry. Localization companies have had to lay off employees, stop recruiting or reduce salaries in order to keep costs low. Chinese localization service companies felt the same pressure from the market in 2009, as 99% of their clients were from Europe and the United States. This limited income source had its drawbacks and was seriously challenged in the face of the financial crisis. On the other hand, this may have helped to spur diversification. Since 2010, among the top 25 global localization service companies, over 80% have set up branches in China.

With the extension of product lines, the quantity of information content soars. Global companies focus on core businesses, such as the development of new products, and outsource technical writing to vendors, which had been previously undertaken by the companies themselves. In China, IT companies such as IBM and Microsoft are finding vendors for some of their technical writing projects, which brings in new business opportunities for localization companies. To meet the need of their international clients for technical writing, localization companies must have skilled staff that is proficient in English writing and familiar with the clients’ products as well as technical writing standards.

Localization companies established in earlier years in China are located mostly in Beijing, Shenzhen and cities that are economically developed. However, the cost of human resources and office facilities are rising rapidly due to keener competition in these cities. In addition, the price of Chinese localization has been reduced, which brings greater pressure on the operational cost of localization companies.

At the same time, second-tier cities in China are restructuring their economy and supporting IT and software sourcing sectors. Attracted by favorable policies and supportive measures, localization companies, along with other sourcing companies, move to cities such as Chengdu, Wuhan and Jinan. In April 2009, the TAC and the Chengdu High-Tech Zone Management Committee jointly established a global multilanguage information processing center in Chengdu, with the goal of attracting Chinese translation and localization companies to set up their offices there.

During 2007 and 2008, the chain of the localization service sector witnessed changes in its approach to cooperative enterprise. Localization companies started to join forces under the TAC in 2007, and the proposal for establishing a Localization Service Committee under TAC was filed to the Ministry of Civil Affairs for approval. The Committee was approved in January 2009. The Department of Language Information Engineering of Peking University started to offer masters-level education of computer-aided translation and natural language processing, and to probe into the possibility of combining this major with a masters in translation and interpretation, with the aim to train graduates in  multiple skills. These organizations play a role in completing the ecological chain of the localization service sector in China, and promoting the healthy development of this sector.

In 2012, with the support of the government, the Multilingual Engineering Research Center (http://www.cloudtrans.com) was jointly established by the translation company Trans, the TAC and more than ten universities and institutions. The center focuses on cloud translation technology, aiming to create an “internet of languages,” which would be characterized by integrating all possible language information resources in the world into one swift, barrier-free, intelligent multilingual communication network. In 2014, the TAC is drafting three sets of industry norms for language services, including the Codes of Selection for Localization Service Providers.