Language adaptation for the Asian market

Asia is a growing market and more and more brands choose to translate their legal documents, sales and marketing to Chinese or Japanese, in particular. But what does that really mean? What are the cultural specificities to know for successful language adaptation?


First, there is the fact that the Asian languages are written in special characters, which therefore require special fonts. The Japanese, for example, requires several types of characters: phonetic characters (which represent sounds), ideographic characters (which represent an idea), Latin characters sometimes and Arabic numerals.

Besides the issue of character, there is also that of the reading direction. For Japanese, like Chinese, there are several possible directions of reading for different types of texts. For example, in Japan, text is written horizontally from left to right (western direction) in some magazines, on a computer screen or in some small handwriting. However, vertical writing from top to bottom and from right to left (Traditional), is often used in books, manga, official documents or daily newspapers. The linguistic adaptation of a text must take account of these features.

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There is of course the key point of cultural specificities. The Japanese are generally very picky and demanding. They are also quite modest people and translation of marketing texts’humor containing a little daring can be very complex. A brand of underwear for men, for example, had focused its marketing around the moon and the fact that through their products, we could see the “moon” of a person when it is falling. The Japanese translation required a significant effort to adapt to keep the humor but without shocking the audience.

Another difference is the holidays, especially those year-end. Western new year does not match that of China and the Japanese do not celebrate Christmas the same way as US. The promotional materials focused on the western end of year holidays will have to be tailored to the Asian market, either by explaining the context of the source culture (European, American, etc.) or adapting promotional campaigns at local festivals calendar .

Attention should also be paid to advertising translations (slogans, posters, TV campaigns …): a literal translation would certainly not work and can even sometimes be offensive or lead to misunderstandings. Japan is a highly codified country, commercial content must not contain images that seem innocuous but can have a vulgar or disturbing character in Japanese culture (such as being too expressive, speaking loudly, blowing one’s nose in public, etc. .).

In summary, the linguistic adaptation to the Asian market needs to turn to the market experts, the facts of the target culture, who will advise you best to avoid making odd decisions, which would have a disastrous effect on your positioning in Asia.