Loading Chinese Fonts on Your Multilingual Website

Loading Chinese fonts can be an overwhelming task, however, using your client’s native language is detrimental to being successful in foreign markets. We’ve discussed the topic already and you can read more about that here. Today we will take a deep dive into the technical issues on the way to having your content reach your Chinese audience in the best way possible and in particular loading Chinese fonts.

The Problem With Loading Chinese Fonts

If you’ve never been faced with the task of having a Chinese version of your website, you’d probably wonder what’s the fuss all about, after all, Chinese is a language like every other language, right? Right? Let me explain where the issue of loading Chinese fonts all stems from. Chinese has thousands of characters which means a font file would be considerably larger than a Latin font file. We are speaking megabytes (MB) instead of mere kilobytes (KB) here. In today’s world, loading speed is one of the most important technical requirements for a website. We can’t afford to make the user wait 10 seconds or more just so they can see the text on our website. They will most probably think something is wrong and just move on to the competitor’s website.

The Way Out

So the first step to achieving a better loading time with Chinese is generating a font file that contains only the characters your website uses (instead of the whole lot of them). There are different tools out there that would do that for you. And if you’re targeting a Chinese-speaking audience outside of China – like the large Mandarin-speaking and Cantonese-speaking communities in the US for example (each with more than 400,000 speakers as of 2010) – the easiest way is to go to Adobe Typekit. It’s a win-win because you get a piece of code you paste on your website and users will have no issue loading Chinese fonts directly from Adobe when they visit your website.

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Dynamic Subsetting

Thankfully we live in a world where this “magic” exists. When the script you added to your website loads in the user’s browser, it will detect the character usage of your page and request a dynamic subset for the glyphs needed. This means the font file to download will be as small as possible. Great, right?

China

Things are significantly more complicated if your target audience is located in mainland China. There’s this thing developers jokingly call The Great Firewall of China that basically requires you to have your fonts hosted somewhere in China if you want a reasonable loading time. The good news is today that is no longer such a tremendous obstacle as it used to be.

Here I’ll mention two Eastern-based alternatives to Adobe’s Typekit:

  • YouFont – previously known as Youziku. In their own words “Youfont is the world’s first Chinese web font service platform.”
  • JustFont – Chinese Web font Application. They are based in Taipei and also develop new fonts.

Both these services will dynamically generate a subset font file. They don’t have huge varieties of fonts, like say Google Fonts, but you’ll most probably find something that will suit your needs and most importantly expedite loading Chinese fonts.

A Quick Localization Guide to Chinese

loading chinese fontsLet’s summarize a few main points one should consider before localizing a website into Chinese:

  • What is your target audience? Where are they located, and are they using Simplified or Traditional Chinese script?
  • If there’s video or audio content to be localized, you should take into account what kind of Chinese your target audience is using – Mandarin, Cantonese, or other? (some of them are mutually unintelligible). A nice touch is to also consider the dialect. For example, in mainland China, there’s an officially accepted form called “Putonghua” 普通话 which means common language.
  • Chinese typography has its own requirements. You can read about what fonts to use here. But besides the different kinds of fonts, there are many other aspects to consider – font size, leading (the space between lines of text), tracking (the space between characters), and so on.
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Expand Your Business Today

I want to stress once more just how important it is to “speak” to your audience not only in their native language but also to shape your text content in a way that will look and feel natural to them. China opens up the gates to great possibilities for businesses and here I’ll drop a few facts and figures to prove it:

  • China has over 980 million internet users (the US has around 300 million)
  • Nearly 50% of app downloads (iOS and Android) are done in China
  • Chinese is the most natively spoken language and data shows that users will prefer content in their native language even if they are fluent in English.

So for anyone that wants to tap on the opportunities China presents localization is an absolute must.