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Localization and mobile in Asia

Localization

It’s happened: the most populous country in the world has almost reached peak smartphone saturation among internet users. “According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) which is a branch of the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information, 788 million people are mobile users, a whopping 98 percent of the country’s total user base,” Statista notes. This “illustrates just how efficient China has proven at rolling out network coverage as well as how mobile technology has become an indispensable facet of everyday life in the country.”

localization mobile asiaChina is not the only country in Asia with significant mobile internet use. Business Insider reported that 2018 was set to be a huge year for Southeast Asia in that regard, and that “consumers in Southeast Asia spend more time on the mobile internet than any other market.” Thailand leads with consumers spending 4.2 hours per day on average on the mobile internet; the United States, by comparison, averages two hours per day per consumer.

What this points to is a need for companies expanding into Asia to consider how all-important the mobile internet is to consumers there. In Thailand, screens are far more ubiquitous than businessmen in Western high-rise offices might assume. Screens play ads in the subway. At the dentist, patrons watch Thai television while simultaneously attending to their phones. Attention spans, as a result, may be short. Companies have less time than ever to make an initial impression. So the first impression had better be well-researched, and well-localized.

In our issue on Asia, hot off the press and making its way to various locales around the globe, companies can find some tips on how to succeed when they’re localizing for Asia. If you’re not a subscriber, try browsing our Insights articles on the topic or browse through our free magazine articles — recognizing the big-picture challenge is just the first step.

recognizing the big-picture challenge is just the first step #l10n #mobile #china #techdev #mobile Click To Tweet
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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.

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Terminology Glosses: Hikikomori and Ikigai

Localization, Travel and Culture

Let’s talk about Japanese terminology. In Japanese, the personal pronoun 私 (watashi, I) becomes 私たち (watashitachi, we) thanks to the suffix たち (tachi, mark of the plural). The linguistic phenomenon of adding suffixes and particles so as to adjust words to the structural needs of a language is called agglutination and, more specifically, it belongs to the broader sphere of morphology.

Moving up one level towards syntax, we then realize that the word order in Japanese is subject-object-verb. These two features alone should suffice to give an idea of the complexity linguists and other practitioners face when they set out to translate a text from or into Japanese. Every aspect of the language needs detailed care: from the quest for a meaningful rendering to providing the correct segmentation and choosing the right register for the intended readership.

Every aspect of the Japanese language needs detailed care. Click To Tweet

If we focus, in particular, on terminology management, an intriguing grammatical aspect comes into play that cannot be overlooked: nouns have no grammatical gender or number in Japanese. A few years ago, a Japanese colleague pointed out how a seemingly irreproachable, ISO-compliant termbase designed with extreme care presented, in fact, aspects of redundancy and even uselessness when analyzed from his perspective. The termbase designers had diligently chosen all the grammatical categories: feminine, masculine, singular, plural and had duly applied them to source and target languages alike, basically adding sets of categories that did not have a reason to exist in some languages. As terminologists, we should routinely include the target language customization in the list of elements to be checked when we perform the health analysis of existing termbases. Not only that, we should also take into account the needs of the various target languages when creating new termbases, and even add those criteria to our best practices. Needless to say, in the discovery steps we will need to keep in mind the corresponding functionality, or lack thereof, of the terminology management tool.

If we then consider preparing a text for translation, we need to remember that Japanese has a system of characters that, when typed, have the same width — even the period. This needs to be kept in mind for space-constrained text such as software strings. For sure, developers need to know and use good internationalization practices when they compose their strings. Translators and localizers, on their end, need to uncheck the “Automatically add empty space after a period” option when working with a Japanese text. Similarly, the use of placeholders that may work well in the source language may very quickly create untranslatable chunks of text in the target languages. Japanese is no exception. Think for example of dates. The following is a short explanation taken from Wikipedia: “The most commonly used date format in Japan is: year month day (weekday), with the Japanese characters meaning “year,” “month” and “day” inserted after the numerals. Example: 2008年12月31日 (水) for Wednesday, December 31, 2008. In addition to the Gregorian calendar, the Japanese Imperial calendar is also used, which bases the year count on the current era, which in turn is based on the current emperor.

Moving up another step to the level of semantics, we will then notice that many concepts are unique to Japanese. How to render them correctly in another language is an endeavor that requires moving away from a literal translation approach in favor of a semantic method capable of capturing the essence of a text. Of all the culture-bound terms the English language has borrowed from Japanese: anime, manga, tsunami, emoji, and others, two recently stood out: hikikomori and ikigai. These are the two concepts I am adding today to the sociology and anthropology domain of our ideal termbase. They remind us of how translation happens at the crossroads between language and culture, but whereas languages have the tools to forge new words and incorporate new concepts in a world that runs fast, culture is slower in adjusting to change, especially when change impacts deeply rooted values such as, for example, moving from a group-oriented society to a more individualistic world.

Hikikomori or 引きこもり refers to “reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement.” The phenomenon exploded around the year 2000 and at present hikikomori is a word that almost every Japanese person knows. Hikikomori are present around the world, and Japan itself counts more than 540,000. Literally, the word means “to pull inward” and it applies mainly to people aged between 15 and 39 who have decided to drop out of school and completely withdraw from society. Frequently, technology plays a major role in their lives as they spend most of their time in their bedrooms playing video-games, reading manga, looking at anime, sometimes immerged in virtual reality and often inverting the day and night cycle.

Ikigai, 生き甲斐, on the other end, is defined as “the source of value in one’s life.” Professor Sue Shinomiya of Portland State University explains that one of the longest living populations resides in a certain area of Okinawa, Japan. When these elderly people were asked what they did to live well, the idea of ikigai, of finding a purpose in life and in the community, came across. Strictly related to the idea of ikigai is also the idea of wa, 平和, the search for peace and harmony. In a holistic perception of the world, harmony is key and the way wa reflects in our domain is that a translation, to be complete, also needs to be presented well: the right fonts and layout are, often, not a secondary choice.

Moving up one last level, we find the context, the situation in which our translation is expected to operate and the audience it is expected to reach. The situational context determines the level of politeness, if any, to be used in the translation.

MultiLingual’s latest issue, on Asia, just went live. In my regular column there, I often look at terminology, technology and educational advances in the translation and localization world. Here, in this online-exclusive column, we can actually have a clear idea of how our domain is in fact indissolubly, deeply intertwined with culture.

MultiLingual’s latest issue, on Asia, just went live. #multilingualmag #asia #l10n Click To Tweet
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Laura Di Tullio is a terminology management consultant who has developed termbases and managed enterprise terminology for large multinationals. She has been in the localization industry for over 20 years, holds an MA in terminology management and a degree in translation studies.

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Traditional versus Simplified Chinese

Language, Localization

We at MultiLingual are working on our upcoming issue on Asia, which we’re sending off to the printer in a week — and as some background while you wait, why not brush up on your knowledge of the various forms of Chinese?

Traditional versus Simplified ChineseThe word “Chinese” refers to a group of spoken languages which are as different to one another as French, Portuguese or Italian and to three distinct written languages: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and Classical Chinese.

These written forms of Chinese are written and read by speakers of all of the different spoken Chinese languages. Thus, Simplified Chinese may be read by some speakers of (among others) Mandarin, Cantonese or Shanghainese, just as Traditional Chinese may be read by some speakers of (among others) Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien.

When deciding which written form of Chinese to choose for a translation, the best question to ask is not “which spoken language?” (as, after all, we are not talking about a spoken translation) but “which written language?” The best way to find the answer is to also ask “which market?” The answer will be determined according to the following:

Region Written standard
People’s Republic of China (PRC) Simplified Chinese
Singapore Simplified Chinese
Malaysia Simplified Chinese
Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan) Traditional Chinese
Hong Kong Traditional Chinese
Macau Traditional Chinese

If you are looking for a multi-regional translation, then, of course, two translations may be required, even if the official spoken language is the same, so:

PRC + ROC?               →        Simplified + Traditional Chinese;

PRC + Singapore?        →        Simplified Chinese only;

and so on.

Is it true that in advertising, there may be other differences (of slang, written representations of locally spoken words, etc) but this is only a matter of concern in the case of, say, billboard, magazine or website advertising or something similar where the use of informal language may be called for. As a general rule, the above table provides all the guidance you need.

So hang on, how is Classical Chinese written? Classical Chinese is to modern Chinese languages like Mandarin, Cantonese and Shanghainese what Classical Latin is to modern Romance languages like French, Portuguese and Romanian, i.e. it is a written standard which has not been spoken for centuries but was until fairly recently used as a lingua franca for administration, literature, the sciences et cetera. Is has a very different grammar to, say, Mandarin and can be hard (or impossible) to understand but, as a general rule, is more readily comprehensible by people who have been schooled in the classics of Chinese literature and poetry. It can be written in Simplified or Traditional Characters.

And what exactly does Simplified Chinese refer to? Simplification in respect of Chinese characters refers to the writing system created after the orthographic reforms instituted by the Chinese Communist government in 1956 and 1964. These reforms affected about two thousand commonly used Chinese characters, structurally simplifying some, merging others, eliminating variant forms and so on. These changes were made in areas controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and later adopted by the government of Singapore (1976) and by Chinese-language schools in Malaysia (1981). Simplified characters have not been adopted in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau.

What was the point of simplifying Chinese? Essentially the idea was to make it easier to learn to read and write. The Chinese writing system (along with many other elements of Chinese culture) came in for a lot of criticism during the May Fourth Movement of the 1920s, and it was members of this movement who formed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Once the CCP got into power it set about upending Chinese culture, and the characters underwent simplification as a result. Simplification does not in fact make Chinese any easier to learn at all, as the process of learning the characters is in and of itself mnemonic and simplifying the characters does nothing to help with memorizing them, but it does make them quicker to write by hand — indeed, some of the simplified forms that were adopted officially as part of the CCP’s policy had been used unofficially for centuries for the very reason that they were easier on the wrist, so to speak.

Of course, since the advent of computers, it is not harder or easier to write one character set than the other. The problem nowadays is that people are more likely to forget how to write by hand what they write every day using their computers.

Last of all, how can you tell Traditional from Simplified characters? Well, the Simplified ones do look… er… simpler. Have a gander at the following examples — first, Traditional:

窈窕清禁闥,罷朝歸不同。君隨丞相後,我往日華東

冉冉柳枝碧,娟娟花蕊紅。故人得佳句,獨贈白頭翁。

And now the same text in Simplified Chinese, with the simplified characters in bold:

窈窕清禁不同。君丞相,我往日华东

冉冉柳枝碧,娟娟花蕊红。故人得佳句,独赠翁。

It doesn’t seem like much, right? But of course, extrapolated over thousands of texts, the differences multiply exponentially.

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Frazer Robertson is a linguist with NZTC International in New Zealand. He was born in New Zealand, but has also lived in the Czech Republic, Japan, Taiwan and Brazil. He holds a degree in Chinese from Victoria University of Wellington and also studied for several years at Tamkang University in Taipei, Taiwan.

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West meets East: Personalizing for Asia

Localization Culture

West meets East

One size does not fit all. In this day and age, highly divergent markets have prevented companies from adhering to one fixed formula. When setting out to conquer a new business environment, companies must reengineer their structure and align their business models to local market imperatives in order to remain relevant to end consumers.

As the world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is also home to some of the most rapidly emerging ecommerce markets on the planet. According to the Goldman Sachs Next 11 Report, six out of the 11 countries that have the most potential of becoming the world’s largest economies in the 21st century are located in Asia. This list excludes the BRICS emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. As a result, these findings seem to suggest that Asia may have the most potential for economic growth and long term stability for investors. Asia, then, may offer investors the most lucrative packages in terms of economic potential and prosperity.

Conversely, popular products among American consumers do not always translate well in other countries. With consumers from different cultures and regions behaving distinctly from one another, it becomes incredibly challenging for businesses to succeed in Asia, despite it a being a highly profitable market. This particular market has often led to a long list of global brands and ventures who’ve failed miserably. For instance, businesses such as Best Buy, Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Home Depot were all major corporations in America, but also took huge losses in Asian countries. What could be a combination of arrogance, failure to localize, poor timing and cutthroat competition is what ultimately led to their downfall.

Understanding your niche market

A few businesses were able to learn this concept early on and utilize their applied knowledge to customize their products for their target market. For example, LG TV’s Indian market created a tailored TV that included a built-in cricket video game with amplified sounds because many Indians are known for their love of cricket. In addition, LG concentrated its efforts on customizing its TV on-screen-displays and manuals in over 16 different languages due to the fact that India has over 16 official languages.

People in Russia, a key emerging market, are more likely to entertain guests indoors during the harsh winter seasons. LG developed a popular karaoke phone that can hold more than 100 Russian songs. The phone was a hit, and sold over 220,000 units. In China, many refrigerators have a larger freezer at the bottom and a smaller compartment at the top; this is because Chinese consumers like to store foods and meats for the winter. WhiteGoodsco has designed a nest style of refrigerator with a refrigerating compartment on the top, which has reduced the frequency with which consumers have to bend to get food. They have also designed refrigerators with large volume freezer compartments and smaller refrigerating compartments for the northern Chinese markets, which reflect the habits of storing food in the freezer during the long winter season, whereas consumers in the south are more likely to shop for fresh produce on a daily basis at one of the many street markets and have a greater requirement for cool fruit and vegetable storage.

It is possible to have a thriving business in Asia, but it’s important to truly understand your niche market. Knowing how essential translation and localization are to ecommerce success is key. To succeed in foreign markets, translating websites and brochures are not enough. Businesses need to consider changing their approach and even their products, but they first need to think outside the box. Brands need to be able to speak the same language as their audience; because each culture and region is just as unique as its language.

Identifying the differences between East and West

The family and cultural principles of Asian countries and the United States differ dramatically from one another. Each region has its own unique set of standards and expectations. Consequently, it would be difficult to explain the values of Asia as whole, but rather, easier to explain the values based on each country.

Let’s say your if your computer or printer is broken, it may take up to a few weeks to repair. In Korea, a technician can come to your house the same day and fix it within minutes. Charges and fees? It’s completely free, as long as the product is still under warranty. In America, there are only a few businesses open 24 hours a day. In Asian countries, not only are the convenience stores open 24 hours in residential areas, but almost every restaurant delivers throughout the night for no additional charge.

Another example is the moving services in Korea. On the day of my move, I could carry out my usual daily routine and return to a fully furnished house. Within a day, all of the furniture, rugs, beds, drawers, closets even the picture frames and clocks were placed exactly where they were supposed to be. Yet when I moved in the USA, I spent almost the same amount of money on purchasing moving supplies alone.

Many know of eBay’s infamous attempt to dive into three of Asia’s major markets utilizing one sole business model. This gaffe proved costly, as eBay received three very different results for their singular effort, and this taught them and the rest of the world that you cannot succeed on a macro level unless you understand your market at the micro level. Grouping entire nations together because they reside on the same continent will always yield unwanted results. eBay is an excellent example to demonstrate the reaction of each domestic player, the varying results and how each country is diverse. eBay first entered the market in February of 2000 and at that time was already successfully operating in 19 other major countries. The 21st century is the century of globalization, and eBay was determined to be at the forefront. Although the Japanese portal Yahoo! Japan was doing an auction service, eBay assumed that Japanese consumers would enjoy the global standard service as well. The first challenge eBay faced was fees for its users. Traditionally in Japan, sellers have more power than buyers. For instance, in real estate, landlords in the US will pay all of the broker fees and tenants only have to pay first and last month’s rent in addition to a deposit. In Japan, tenants have to pay three months of rent, a deposit, any broker fees and sign a letter of appreciation. In some cases, many foreigners even have to pay the entire year’s rent up front in cash. In Japan, the online auction seller is not required to pay a fee. Sellers can cancel bids at any time before the auction ends if the bidders are new and have little to no reviews, without acquiring penalties. However, eBay tried to keep their guidelines simple, stating that sellers would pay all fees. They believed that this concept would be welcomed by consumers, but there were not enough sellers or goods.

The second issue that raised concerns were payment methods. eBay required credit card information to open an account; however, credit cards were not as common in Japan as they were in the United States. Instead, in Japan, there were other unique payment methods. One excellent example is cash on delivery. Using this method, the buyer could pay the delivery man directly for the item they ordered.

Another unique form of payment in Japan is called Convini, referring to convenience store transactions. Convenient stores play a large part in the everyday life of Japanese consumers. As you may have seen if you have ever visted Japan, there are 24-hour convenience stores on virtually every street corner. These stores are more than just places to buy snacks and household goods. They act as mail boxes, post offices, banks, restaurants and pharmacies. You can buy movie or concert tickets, pay utility bills, make wire transfers and send and receive packages. Those in Japan prefer this method because it’s efficient, inexpensive and quite literally more convenient. Most of all, you don’t need to give your personal banking or credit card information to the seller. Last but not least, eBay neglected to implement customer support in its Asian initiative. Japan is widely renowned for the quality customer service they provide. Even for online purchases, real time telephone services were available. eBay was not ready to make the appropriate changes to their service to accommodate their target market. As a result, eBay gained only a small share of the Japanese online auctions market and in 2002, withdrew from the Japanese market altogether.

Korea takes the win

Although the American multinational corporation struggled in Japan, in January 2001, eBay merged with the biggest ecommerce company in Korea. One of the first decisions they made was to change their existing URL and interface to the same global eBay logo and interface. However, there was high resistance from Korean executives. After much debate, they agreed to hire a marketing firm to conduct a customer survey. Results divulged that Korean customers preferred the Korean style better. Soon after, eBay announced that they would keep the Korean URL and interface. The second dilemma the company encountered was the matter of fee structures. Korean fees were a lot more complicated. On top of the base fee, sellers could choose different premium listings. As a result, the first two pages displayed only premium paid listings. eBay headquarters thought clients would prefer simple organic listings. This time they pushed harder and made their website visually cleaner, ignoring the recommendations of local executives. eBay executives were surprised to learn that the new site not only reduced advertising income but also the number of visitors. Comparable to a shopping mall, the busier shop would get more attention. Again, the Korean staff proved that they were correct and headquarters had to follow the local office’s decision. With the help of Korean staff members, the company successfully remained as the top auction site in the Korean market.

Having the home advantage

With a strong presence in multiple international markets, eBay instinctively replicated their standard business model and headed for the Chinese market in hopes of becoming the leading consumer-to-consumer online trading platform in one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Unfortunately, assuming homogenized consumer needs do not always translate well in a foreign business environment. Unaware of home-grown rivals, the ecommerce giant was blindsided by up-and-coming competitors who catered to the needs and wants of locals. In particular, Alibaba.com, a dominant marketplace that facilitated business-to-business retail, launched its own consumer-to-consumer platform to fend off eBay’s intrusion into the Chinese online economy. Eventually, the lack of localization strategy resulted in eBay’s withdrawal from China’s online auction market in 2006.

In 2003, TaoBao, an affiliate of Alibaba, emerged onto the market with a vastly different business model compared to eBay. While TaoBao offered a no-transaction-fee model, eBay continued to drive Chinese customers away by upholding the position that quality services do not come free. Years later, eBay reevaluated its payment policies but it was already too late into the game to turn the tide. Already in a favorable position, TaoBao went on to introduce an instant messaging interface, allowing buyers and sellers to communicate in real time. With about three hundred million cellphone users in the nation, the Chinese population was greatly receptive to this service, which allowed the immediate receipt of acknowledgment when participating in online transactions.

With the rise of online business ecosystems, various forms of online payment solutions also began to come onto the scene in order to conform to evolving consumer behavior. In particular, Alibaba introduced Alipay, an online payment and escrow service. Prior to the adoption of digital-based wallet, the sole universal form of payment in China was wire transfer. With Alipay, it offered consumers a convenient yet secure online payment experience as payment would not be transferred to the seller until shipment had been delivered to the buyer. Aside from integrating Alipay with ecommerce platforms, the ewallet could also be used offline from transportation to department stores. In comparison to PayPal, Alipay is much more integrated into the daily life of consumers and its multifunctional nature soon won the hearts of many in China. With over 400 million registered users, it quickly earned the title of China’s largest epayment provider, taking up 82.3% of the market share and processing more than 80 million transactions per day, which is three times the amount handled by PayPal.

Another factor that impeded eBay’s advancement into the Chinese market was the lack of proper localization. Despite its huge success around the world, eBay’s centralized business model proved to be detrimental when adopted in China. For instance, eBay’s universal technical maintenance takes place on Thursday nights Pacific Standard Time regardless of the region. Taking time difference into consideration, eBay’s Chinese webpage would be inaccessible on a Friday afternoon in China, when traffic is at its heaviest. In order for companies to gain global recognition, it is crucial to find a balance between localization and standardization. Localization is not merely about breaking the barriers of language, but culture and customs as well. eBay is a prime example that attests to the importance of meeting local market demands with modification of layouts and interface customization for a culturally aligned user experience. While standardization could guarantee a unified brand identity, localization would yield better results in the long term.

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Don Shin is the CEO and founder of 1-StopAsia, a translation agency dedicated to Asian languages.

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