English is English, Spanish is Spanish, Portuguese is Portuguese, Belgian is Belgian, Swiss is Swiss and Chinese is Chinese – true? Well not quite. For starters, two of these six are not languages but instead describe great chocolates! This article explains some of the choices you must consider when translating into some languages that are used in multiple countries.
Belgium is a relatively “new” country formed in 1830. Dutch (Flemish) is spoken in the north, and French in the south. Belgians understand their neighbors’ languages. Belgian Dutch tends to retain traditional Dutch words whereas the more liberal Netherlands Dutch more readily adopts English words. Belgian French and “standard” French are very similar to each other and standard French generally serves both.
Switzerland has four languages: German (spoken by the majority), then French, then Italian, and about 1% Romansh. Although the spoken Swiss-German is quite different from what is spoken in Germany and Austria, it has no written equivalent. The variants of all languages for Germany, France, and Italy work fine in Switzerland meaning there is no need to generate separate Swiss language translations.
In a consumer-oriented environment, if you are taking a consumer product into new foreign markets, you have to be culturally sensitive and consider the language variants that would not come up in business to business transactions. British and American English should be treated as separate locales. Canada probably has a preference for British English, but is more used to American than their transatlantic counterparts. Other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also probably have a preference for British English, but American English will be understood and generally accepted.
European French differs from Canadian French with some terminological and stylistic preferences. But the more technical the subject matter, the fewer the differences. The similarity between the two variants of French lends itself to being a “make-from” language.Once content has been translated into one or the other versions of French, it is feasible to edit the translation in order for it to be acceptable in the alternate geography (as opposed to translating from scratch).
Spanish needs additional consideration. Each Spanish-speaking country has its own variant and usage of words. However, especially at a business level, it is possible to translate into “Latin American Spanish” that will be generally accepted throughout Central and South America. European Spanish should be your choice if your target is Spain. One may also translate into a “Universal Spanish” that is generally acceptable worldwide.
Portuguese is a different story! Brazilian and European Portuguese have drifted far enough away from each other that you should translate for one or the other. There is no “Universal Portuguese.” So if you are targeting Brazil and Europe, you will need two separate Portuguese translations.
China has numerous spoken languages and dialects, Mandarin being the most universal and common. However, there are two modern written versions of Chinese: Traditional and Simplified. Traditional Chinese was the written Chinese prior to the formation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Simplified Chinese was derived from Traditional Chinese by the PRC in order to simplify many of the ideographic characters and promote literacy. Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan. Although Hong Kong has seen more Simplified Chinese since its re-incorporation into PRC in 1997, Traditional Chinese still dominates. Singapore has adopted Simplified Chinese. Oddly enough, because these two languages use different character sets, translators generally find it easier to translate using English as the source rather than from one into the other
To some extent, the above is over-generalized and over-simplifies some cultural issues. It is not to say that language variants (Belgian French and Dutch) are unimportant or insignificant, but the aim is to take a practical approach to the localization effort required to take products internationally, and while the Belgian French might prefer their French, they would prefer standard French to English!