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With English being the lingua franca of the business world, press releases that originate from the Asia Pacific region are often written in English by native Chinese speakers. But this choice comes with challenges.
A look at Chinese English (CE) highlights some challenges in interlingual communication — both from the writer and reader perspective.
Mastering American-style business English, especially when employing it as a bridge language, will help CE press releases receive greater pickup and allow for wide reach. This article will provide key points to understanding cultural differences between Chinese and English intercultural communication, as well as how CE communication can be improved to help your press release resonate and carry greater impact with your intended audiences.
First, it’s important to understand CE.
CE is defined by linguistic scholar Li Wenzhong as being based on standard English, expressing Chinese culture and sharing Chinese characteristics in vocabulary, syntax and content, but does not contain any grammatical interference that compromises meaning. Because target American English audiences likely do not have a deep understanding of Chinese linguistics and/or culture, this manner of translation can leave native English speakers confused by rhetorical choices employed by native Chinese speakers communicating in English.
Key linguistic differences arise during CE intercultural communication. Intercultural communication is a discipline that studies communication across different cultures and explores how culture affects communication. Many experts in intercultural business communication contend that culture determines how individuals encode messages, the medium they use to transmit them and how messages are interpreted. Therefore, it is paramount to know how linguistics affect the culture of your target audience when composing a press release in English.
For CE, one must also be aware of cultural influences such as high- versus low-context communication, holistic versus individualistic communication, and visual versus analytic communication.
High- Versus Low-Context Communication
The concept of high-context and low-context communication originates from the work of anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s Beyond Culture (1976). Hall’s research explores high- and low-context cultures. As language is inextricably linked to culture, high- and low-context communication is often applied to linguistic studies. High-context languages, like Chinese and Japanese, rely heavily on context. In contrast, low-context languages, like American English, rely on explicit verbal communication — the meaning is described in detail rather than implied by context. High-context languages often exhibit less-direct communication, utilizing reading more meaning into these less-direct messages. Low-context languages behave in the opposite way; direct communication is necessary to properly understand a message being communicated and low-context languages rely heavily on explicit communication skills.
Holistic Versus Individualistic Communication
As Mandarin favors high-context communication, when communicating in English sometimes problems with clarity may arise. In Chinese the subject can often be omitted, and the meaning is understood through context, whereas a subject is almost always necessary when communicating in English. Chinese tends to have short linguistic units that are separated by commas. In Chinese, an entire paragraph can contain only commas without a full stop until the very end. This is linked to a holistic approach of concepts being interconnected. English favors concise sentences expressing a single idea. Although longer sentences expressing a complex idea can be written in English without the use of commas, writing an entire paragraph in Business English without using a period would be considered a run-on.
Visual Versus Analytic Communication
Chinese/English syntax issues arise from fundamental differences in modes of thinking between English and Chinese speakers. According to scholars Ying Wang and Jin Chen, Chinese favors a visual thinking mode also known as the “empirical [synthesis] thinking pattern,” whereas English favors a rational analytical thinking mode. Wang and Chen explain that Chinese takes a holistic approach to linguistics that is based on the Taoist doctrine of the “yin and yang as one.” Chinese does not favor opposition but views individual aspects as unified, leading to the use of generalizations made without direct supporting evidence. English speakers, by contrast, stress specifics; each element in English is looked at separately and, to give a statement credibility, specific details are used for support.
Generalizing Versus Analytical Communication
Chinese starts from a general unit (holistic) and moves to smaller units. Conversely, English starts from a smaller unit (individual) and moves to a general unit. For example, in Chinese, a country is stated before a city, working from large to small. In English, a city is listed before the country, naming the specific location first, the smaller unit, and working to the larger unit, the country. The same applies to an introduction; in English, a specific name is mentioned first and then the writer lists the individual’s responsibilities and duties within the company. In Chinese, the opposite often occurs, with the duties and responsibilities mentioned before giving the specific name of the individual. This proves confusing for native English speakers who are used to low-context communication. Instead of knowing who the subject is, the English reader must parse out meaning from the context, taking in the information holistically.
Chinese English can be viewed as burying the lead. This can also compromise the credibility of the copy in the eyes of a native English speaker, because credibility stems from specifics in English. Without providing quotes, attributions and links to support your release, your story’s integrity is diminished. The fundamental difference of holistic versus individualistic communication in Chinese and English provides the largest obstacle in intralingual communication.
For these reasons, native Chinese speakers sometimes write great stories that are lost in translation due to cultural differences. The best way to remedy this is to always provide a certain composition which is easily understood by native English speakers.
Key Elements to Composing a Successful Press Release (For English-Speaking Audiences):
Headline: Generally, headlines are clear and concise. The headline should focus on the main point of your release, and try to include your company name to further validate the news.
Note: The headline of the release should interest the reader. However, make sure the headline contains factual information; do not put any misleading information in the headline. Including overly sensational language will give the impression that the release is clickbait rather than legitimate news.
Introduction: The introduction is the first paragraph of a press release. The introductory paragraph contains the main point of the press release, and the reader should be able to understand the importance of what the press release is trying to relate. The majority of introductions are written in the third person. Press releases must contain the following information: the company’s name and location, the event and the significance of the event.
- Do not use subjective language that might influence the readers.
- Do not exaggerate events. A press release must relay the facts; writing a press release is not like writing a novel or an advertisement. The goal is to convey factual information first and foremost. Visuals are an excellent way to communicate interculturally. Selecting a visual aid will not only be informative, but also can bridge linguistic barriers.
- Note: Chinese and English have fundamental linguistic differences. When writing a press release in English, there must be credibility; do not use hyperbole and/or superlatives. For example, “always,” “most,” “in the world” and “best,” are superlatives in English and can be read as unspecific or even false by English readers.
Multimedia asset: It is important to note that while we are focused on verbal structure, that we do not forget about visual supplements to a news release. Today more than ever, it is imperative to include a visual asset such as a photo. This shortens the time it takes for reporters to cover a news story, but it also provides your readers an option to consume your entire story without words. When choosing your visual image, focus on your customer’s experience, not your logos. When including multimedia in your news release, provide a caption with your image.
The main body of the release: The main body should provide context for the press release, opinions of interviewees and other pertinent information that allows the reader to comprehensively understand the event. Each paragraph in the main body should have a singular theme that relates to the preceding and following paragraphs. It is generally better to write brief paragraphs that do not surpass 150 words each.
How to Lay Out Your News Content:
Write in order of the importance of the event. The first paragraph is the most important, and readers should understand the main information in the article by browsing the first part of the release. If they are interested, they will finish reading the rest. Don't just arrange the paragraphs in chronological order.
The careful selection of factual information may be used to add credibility and depth to your release. You may use your interview, the interviewee's statements, relevant data and historical data to support the content of your release. This does not mean that false or misleading information may be added to bolster an opinion or hyperbolize your product/service.
A Press Release Must Include the Following 7 Points:
1. Contact Information: Contact information must be provided. Contact information includes the full name, email and/or phone number of the person(s) who can speak to the information in the press release. Providing media contact information is extremely important so journalists can get in touch.
2. Dateline: A dateline city must be provided. A dateline includes the city, state/province and/or country in which your news takes place, or where your company is headquartered. This indicates where your story takes place and alerts journalists and audiences of regional-interest news.
3. Source(s): The source of most releases is the company issuing the news. It is extremely important for the reader to understand who the source (company) of your release is. If it is unclear who the source (company) of your release is, the impact of your news can be lost on audiences.
4. Attribution: When your release contains a direct quote, an attribution must be provided. An attribute includes who said the quote. Please provide the individual’s full name and their position/title. Providing attributions is very important because they give your release credibility. These can include words by the CEO or another designated company spokesperson.
5. Hyperlinks: It is best practice to provide hyperlinks to websites that support your release. These could include your company website, product pages and executive bios. Adding links into your press release gives your release credibility, which will help reporters pick up your release, and let readers learn more about your company.
6. Boilerplate: The end of the press release includes a boilerplate, which contains your company’s information. This may include information regarding your company's founding and background, the company’s creation date, the industry (or industries) your company is involved in, and even your website for readers to learn more.
7. Composition: Composition is another factor that is deeply influenced by culture. As mentioned, Chinese favors a holistic approach instead of specifics. In English, we want to know the “5 Ws:”
- Who is putting out this release?
- What is the main idea of this release?
- Where is this release coming from? Where is its effect?
- Why is this release important to reporters, users or the industry?
- When will this release be relevant?
In Chinese, articles can be written chronologically, giving lots of background information before getting to the main idea of the article, the “what and why.” In English, all the 5Ws should be answered in the first paragraph. In Chinese, these questions often won’t be answered until the concluding paragraph.
For more information about Business Wire’s international distributions or best practices in press release distribution, contact us today.
 Li Wenzhong. 1993. Chinese English and Chinglish. Foreign Language Teaching Research, Vol, 4: 18.
 Hall, Edward T., 1976. Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, A Division of Random House Inc., New York.
 Ying Wang and Jing Chen, 2013. Differences of English and Chinese as Written Languages and Strategies in English Writing Teaching, Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 647-652.
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