Here’s What You Need to Know about Chinese Languages

Here’s What You Need to Know about Chinese Languages

by Translation Guy on March 17, 2017
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First thing, that “s” in Chinese languages is no typo.

China is the biggest country in the world, the second biggest economy in the world and the people of China represent one of the fastest-growing markets on the globe. So these folks need talking to if your message is seriously global. How best to communicate with them? In Chinese, right? Yes and no.

What Westerners know as the “Chinese language” is actually a group of languages composed of different dialects, many of which are not mutually intelligible. (In other words, many “Chinese” speakers can’t understand each other.)

To promote national unity, a Beijing-based dialect of Mandarin (often referred to as Standard Chinese or Modern Standard Mandarin) is used as the country’s lingua franca.

However, “even Chinese authorities quietly admit that only about 70% of the population speaks Mandarin, and merely one in 10 of those speak it fluently,” says Peter Neville-Hadley, reviewing David Moser’s book “A Billion Voices: China’s Search for a Common Language.”

How to Influence Chinese Speakers

It’s not all bad news though. You can still reach Chinese speakers and Chinese markets – just not as universally as you might like.

If you are looking to target a specific Chinese region, or if you can afford to target Chinese speakers on a region by region basis, then do so using the most common language there. Opt for Cantonese in Hong Kong and Macau, Yue in Guangdong province, Wu in Zhejiang province, Jin in Shanxi province, etc.

If you must choose one dialect for your message to all of China, then opt for Standard Chinese. It’s not a perfect solution, but it will reach more people than any other standalone dialect will.

Foreign-Language Experts

Do you need more guidance about connecting with Chinese speakers and Chinese markets? Responsive Translation specializes in helping companies reach global audiences. We work in over 150 languages and dialects with an extensive network of experienced translators and in-country experts. Please get in touch at 212-355-4455 ext 208 or kclark@resptrans.com.

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