Let there be light
– Genesis 1.3

Readers, I do not intend to start (another) Wiki on Chinese here. I want to use this post to shed light on some misconceptions about Chinese and Mandarin languages and present a localization landscape in terms of language and production workflow.

The language used by the Chinese nation – A short story

It was a job interview and the interviewee stated, “So, Ray, you speak Traditional Chinese.” I was puzzled and did not know what to say. Unable to ignore this inaccuracy, I uttered, “Correction: I do not ‘speak’ Traditional Chinese, but I write in Traditional Chinese.”

After this instance, I started wondering about what is actually ‘Chinese.’ Like everyone else, I Googled and checked Wikipedia, scouring the internet. Finally, I came to this conclusion:

  1. Mandarin (or Chinese): Refers to the spoken language that the Chinese nationals use. As long as the person can communicate in Chinese, he/she speaks Mandarin (or Chinese). There are many local dialects in Chinese nations*. For example, my mother tongue is not Mandarin, but Taiwanese. However, officially, whether you are in China or Taiwan, even Singapore and Hong Kong, people uses Mandarin as the official language for verbal communication.
  2. Simplified Chinese: In contrast to the verbal communication, Chinese in written form is divided. Simplified Chinese is one of the written forms. The division in written forms coincides with geographical locations and further defines the Chinese localization landscape. In a nutshell, Simplified Chinese is mostly used in China and Singapore. 
  3. Traditional Chinese: The other form of written Chinese. Traditional Chinese is the older written form. It is mostly used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

There, we have an entry-level understanding about Chinese as a language. Question: Why is this clarification is important?

Traditional vs Simplified Chinese

A little learning is a dangerous thing. – Alexander Pope

As project managers, we receive requests for many languages, including Chinese. It is not rare to see clients confuse Chinese (Traditional and/or Simplified) with Mandarin. An experienced project manager may go back to the client with questions like:

  • Do you mean Traditional or Simplified Chinese by Mandarin?
  • What is the target audience of the request? China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore?

All these questions are necessary for translation projects. Localization project managers, especially with today’s media rich content, receive requests for multimedia files. That means localization beyond translation, requiring other talents (e.g. voice talents, graphic designers, and video editors, etc.) to ensure a successful localization project.

In the event of Chinese (and/or Mandarin), an experienced project manager may not know that one (1) Chinese voice-over talent may be enough for the audio portion. The reason:

If the client does not distinct gender in the Traditional and Simplified Chinese audio, the spoken language (Mandarin) is universally accepted in Chinese nations.

In a business sense, if one voice-over talent can be re-used for 2 local contents, why require 2 talents and pay for the same work twice? Keep in mind that the audio cost is often a big line item in the quote. For instance, a 1-hour recording may cost up to a few hundred dollars per language, depending on the talent’s professional level, studio cost, and expected quality.

So, we can save costs in Chinese audio tasks, how about the written Chinese? Check back next week to find out!

*Chinese nations refers to different races and regions in a greater Chinese world.