Asian markets are among the most important and influential in the world. For this reason, companies that are not yet involved in the major Asian markets strive to establish a business presence there, while those that are already well established in Asia seek to increase their market shares.
Chinese, also known as Mandarin in the West, as zhongwen for written Chinese, or as putonghua, hanyu, guoyu or zhonguohua for spoken Chinese, is the most widely spoken language in the world, with roughly 900 million speakers – far more than English, with its 450 million speakers worldwide. The written Chinese language consists of tens of thousands of characters – at least 56,000 of them have been identified, of which more than 3,000 are used on a regular basis.
Since 1954, China has been simplifying how these characters are written to make the writing system easier to use. However, the older characters, known as “traditional” characters (as opposed to the “simplified” ones that are now officially used in continental China) are still widely used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Japanese, also called nihongo, is the 10th most widely spoken language in the world, with about 122 million speakers. This puts it just ahead of French, with its 120 million speakers. The Japanese language uses three alphabets: hiragana (simple, rounded characters – 46 syllabaries), katakana (simple, angular characters – 46 syllabaries) and kanji, which are in fact Chinese characters. Japanese uses much fewer kanji characters than does Chinese: there are 1,945 official characters, known as the jôyô kanji.
Korean is the 15th most widely spoken language in the world, with 72 million speakers. This puts it just ahead of Italian and its 63 million speakers. For a long time, Korean used Chinese characters (called hanja), but these are now mostly reserved for Korean literature. In 1446, a new alphabet (Hunmin jeong-eum) was created using the science of phonology and phonetics. It was then reviewed in 1912 and renamed Hangul or Hangeul.
This alphabet consists of 24 radicals (jamo), 10 vowels and 14 consonants, which, when put together, create phonetic syllables.