by Lesley Lyons

In the article, “Introduction to localizing for China and Japan,” authors Frank Lin and Angelika Zerfaß, discuss the challenges of localizing software for the Chinese and Japanese markets. As the second and third largest economies in the world, China and Japan are attractive markets for foreign products, including software technology. But before getting too excited about the size and promise of these two power markets, it is important for businesses interested in entering these countries to understand the complexities involved in translating and localizing software in Chinese and Japanese. In this blog, we present just a few of the challenges of software globalization in East Asia.

While the primary challenge associated with software localization for Chinese and Japanese is the need for multibyte encoding of the languages, the differences in linguistic and cultural conventions present equally demanding considerations. When it comes to the linguistic challenges, Lin and Zerfaß cite the Chinese and Japanese writing systems as the most intimidating factor. The countries share character similarity – hanzi in Chinese and kanji in Japanese – but the Japanese use two alphabet systems. Though the writing systems are similar, the two languages are very different linguistically – Chinese grammar is relatively simple while Japanese is more complicated. For example, in China, verbs do not have tenses and adjectives do not inflect; in Japan, verbs do have tenses and adjectives are inflective.

In addition to the writing systems, there are other linguistic challenges such as:
• Both languages are written vertically and horizontally
• Need to support both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese
• Sorting is more complicated because neither language has a pure alphabet

Software localization must also take into consideration the cultural differences present in the target country. More specifically, localization companies must consider the cultural sensitivity in the presentation and use of the software as well as local conventions that make the software more applicable and relevant to the local culture. In China and Japan, there are considerable cultural differences that further complicate software localization, including:
•Different perceptions and connotations of symbols, icons, numbers and colors
•Format of numbers and dates
•Standards for writing a person’s name and addresses

In addition to the linguistic and cultural challenges of translating software for the Japanese and Chinese markets, or perhaps because of the linguistic and cultural differences, there are technical challenges that must be addressed as well.

As previously mentioned, East Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese require multibyte support for the writing systems. As such, the natural choice of encoding methods is Unicode. While many of today’s most popular software development tools and programming languages are Unicode-compatible, there are still a large number of programs – especially legacy programs – that do not support Unicode. For these programs, Unicode support will need to be the first step in software translation. This can present a problem both technically and economically because many programs that can handle large amounts of data processing at byte and character level are susceptible to issues when ported to Unicode. Other technical challenges associated with software globalization for China and Japan include:
•Characters can be either one byte or two byte
•Lack of spaces separating characters
•Backward compatibility often requires the need to support six types of encoding
•User interface may require different font and point sizes

With the considerable amount of linguistic, cultural and technical hurdles to overcome in Chinese and Japanese software localization projects, it is not surprising that they typically require more engineering and testing work and, as a result, take longer and cost more than projects for other parts of the world such as Europe. Due to the complexity and expense of Chinese and Japanese software globalization, businesses should carefully consider partnering with a software localization company that fully understands the nuances involved in these markets. It is also important to find a partner that utilizes careful and detailed planning, analysis, design and execution processes to overcome the various challenges and manage a successful software globalization project from beginning to end. There is no debate that China and Japan hold a great deal of promise – the issue is whether or not you are prepared – or can find the right partner – to capitalize on the opportunities they present.