China manufactures an enormous proportion of the world’s goods. A 2008 National Geographic story reported that 60% of the world’s buttons were made in China, as were 70% of the world’s umbrellas.
Hundreds of other items in the average Canadian home were likely made in China as well, from Christmas lights to baby clothes to home exercise machines.
Other Chinese businesses are also thriving in North America. Social media app TikTok has become a steamroller, with 3.2 million active monthly users in Canada. Fast fashion company Shein is popular with Gen Z shoppers looking for trendy new outfits on the cheap.
Between China’s myriad exports and the purchasing potential of the Chinese market itself, there are countless business opportunities for North American companies that want to establish a relationship with China.
But to do so successfully, they will need expert English to Chinese translation services to help them navigate these waters. Let’s take a closer look.
What You Need to Know About Doing Business in Chinese-Speaking Markets
There are multiple markets where English to Chinese translations are key if you want to do business successfully in Chinese-speaking markets.
Mainland China, of course, is the juggernaut, but you may also want to consider Chinese territories such as Hong Kong and Macau; the nation of Taiwan; and countries such as Singapore and Malaysia that have large Chinese-speaking populations. Each has its own linguistic needs, which we will detail below.
The Trade Relationship Between China and Canada
Statistics Canada reports that the country imported over $100 billion of goods from China in 2022. That marks a 16% increase from 2021.
Top imports included $31 billion worth of consumer goods, as well as $28 billion worth of electronics.
But the trade relationship flows in both directions—as reported by the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Canada exported over $27.9 billion of goods to China in 2022. Leading among them were coal briquettes, iron ore, and sulphate chemical wood pulp.
China is also the third-most important trading partner for the United States, after Mexico and Canada. Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2022, the US imported $536 billion (USD) of goods from China and exported $153 billion.
Considering the 1.3 billion Chinese speakers in the world, expanding your services or products into Chinese-speaking markets presents a huge growth opportunity and revenue booster.
Companies in all sectors may benefit from exploring relationships with Chinese partners. A Canadian retail company may want to buy wholesale consumer goods from China, for example. On the other hand, a Canadian software company may want to localize their product to Chinese to expand its reach to China and other Chinese-speaking markets.
The English to Chinese Language Barrier
If you want to do business in mainland China, communicating in Chinese will be critical. Unlike much of Europe or Latin America, where many executives can speak and read English, the language of business in China is Chinese. The same can also be said of territories like Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
North American companies who wish to do business in Taiwan will also need English to Chinese translations for both marketing collateral and other business documentation.
In Singapore and Malaysia, there are also significant populations of Chinese speakers, and the language may be relevant for marketing as well as for other business communications.
(Note: The term “Chinese” covers two distinct writing systems as well as multiple spoken variants of the language, including Mandarin and Cantonese. For more on the topic, see our article on Chinese translations giving insight into the Chinese language, both spoken and written.)
Not only will you need skilled interpreters for business meetings, but you will also need to plan carefully for English to Chinese translation of key business documents.
For example, to export your company’s products to China, you will likely need to translate documents such as a bill of lading, an invoice, a customs declaration, your insurance policy, and your sales contract. This is in addition to translating regular communications to your Chinese business partners.
If your company specializes in software-as-a-service (SaaS) and wants to offer a localized version of your product in Taiwan, you would need to start with Chinese software localization, i.e. localizing the user interface of your software. You would also need English to Chinese translations of your supporting documents, from user manuals to terms of service.
The Potential for Mistakes in English to Chinese Translation
There are many stories of major North American companies who have stumbled when attempting to market their product in Chinese.
Kentucky Fried Chicken’s slogan, “Finger-Lickin’ Good,” was apparently mistranslated to “Eat Your Fingers Off” when the company first opened in Beijing. (Luckily for KFC, they were able to recover quickly, and they now have over 8000 stores within China.)
Other apocryphal stories suggest that Pepsi mistranslated “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead” or that the characters once used to signify Coca-Cola mean “bite the wax tadpole.”
While there is no evidence that these stories are true, they speak to the anxiety that even household names have about English to Chinese marketing translation and how easy it is to get something comically wrong—even something as fundamental as a transliteration of your brand name.
Unintentionally funny linguistic mistakes are not the only possible issue. Nowadays, Chinese consumers on social media platforms such as Weibo (the mainland Chinese equivalent of Twitter) are quick to call out brands’ missteps as they try to enter the Chinese market.
For example, luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana offended Chinese shoppers in 2018 when they ran a marketing campaign that showed a Chinese woman attempting to eat pizza with chopsticks. Social media users complained, and many stores responded by removing Dolce & Gabbana from their shelves. The brand has never been able to regain its prior popularity with Chinese luxury shoppers.
The Importance of Working with Expert English to Chinese Translators
The solution is to work with expert English to Chinese translators who are familiar with the cultural landscape in China, as well as shifting regulations and linguistic nuances.
Working with a translation provider that specializes in English to Chinese translation can benefit your business in several ways:
They Understand Your Target Audiences and How to Communicate with Them
Many companies want to expand in one or more Chinese-speaking markets, but they need expert advice on which language variants to choose and how to prioritize them.
At Art One, we work closely with our clients who want to translate documents from English to Chinese to help them better understand their target audiences. We will assemble a different translation team for a project aimed at a Cantonese-speaking audience in Hong Kong than we would for a Mandarin-speaking audience centred in Beijing. Our team carefully considers the local context for each document that they produce.
Your Team Needs to Be Able to Avoid Cultural Missteps
Your English to Chinese translation team needs to be well-informed on local culture and customs so that they can help you avoid cultural misunderstandings that might cause offence.
Translators who are immersed in the local culture will flag potential problems early in the process, whether they adapt an advertising tagline or translate eLearning content.
Additionally, most Chinese-speaking cultures are what are known as “high-context cultures.” High-context cultures generally favour implicit communication that assumes a shared understanding rather than explicit, step-by-step guidance. They may also favour visuals when it comes to learning.
Your Chinese-language messaging needs to be tailored to be appropriate for the local culture and provide information in a way that your audience can easily process.
Experts Are Best Positioned to Understand the Chinese Legal System
One of the key arguments for outsourcing your English to Chinese translation to an expert provider has to do with the Chinese legal system. New laws regularly arise as the government faces challenges or implements regulations, and your English to Chinese legal translator needs to be aware of the latest developments.
If you find yourself in a position to file a lawsuit against a Chinese company, it will likely be filed in the appropriate Chinese jurisdiction, as China does not enforce judgments from foreign courts.
Therefore, it is of critical importance that the Chinese version of your contracts adheres to Chinese law and that the verbiage will hold up under lawyers’ scrutiny.
Using an inexperienced English to Chinese translator or a bilingual employee can cause problems down the line if you need to test your contract in the Chinese legal system.
Partnering with Art One for Your English to Chinese Translation Needs
If you are thinking about doing business in the Chinese-speaking world, Art One is your ideal language services provider.
We work exclusively with English to Chinese translators who are native speakers of the target language— Simplified or Traditional Chinese for an audience in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.
Our English to Chinese translators are specialists in their subject matter. Not only do we have qualified legal translators, but we also have experts in technical translation who can ensure that your user manuals and other documentation will be easy for engineers and technicians in China to understand.
We know that doing business in the Chinese-speaking world can be daunting. As your partner, we work closely with you to ensure your English to Chinese translations fit the needs of your business partners, regulatory bodies and end consumers alike.
To learn more about how Art One can help you with English to Chinese translation, contact us today.
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