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When Less Can Be More: How to Choose the Right Multilingual Fonts

How to choose the right multilingual fonts

Finding the right fonts for your marketing assets or your web presence is a task that can take up weeks of consideration, deliberation, and discussion. The font sets the tone, after all, and defines the character of your brand just as much as the logo you chose or the color scheme. And while it might be tempting to go with something unique and unusual to set yourself apart from the competition, it also increases the chance that you will run into trouble as soon as you take the next step and start to translate and localize your content.

Not all fonts translate well into other languages, some don’t work at all and may even produce false characters. Here is an example:

False Characters Multilingual Fonts

Picking the wrong font will also affect the layout and readability of your website, document, or video. In order to make sure that your content meets your standards and has a consistent feel in every target language you choose to localize, it is critical to think about the right multilingual fonts early in the process.

It is important to know that not all fonts support all languages, especially when it comes to glyphs or foreign characters. Cost is another factor to consider, especially since licensing Asian fonts can be quite expensive.

When you are evaluating fonts that are supposed to hold up to your global market push, keep these things in mind:

  • Make sure to identify every one of your target languages and check how the font you have in mind will perform. If it does not work in certain languages, you can either try to find a complementary font or one that is more versatile.
  • Understand that not all fonts work with every device and operating system. Especially Android devices like smartphones and tablets have had problems rendering certain fonts correctly in the past. Since that might reflect more than 50 percent of your target audience, be sure you are covered.
  • The width of characters in foreign languages can be another potential trip-up. While a wide font might work well in an English document, when translated to German, the longer words might not look as good. The same is true of tight fonts, especially for Asian languages.
  • If you use multiple fonts in the same document, make sure all of them are compatible with the target languages.

Asian languages present a special challenge for multilingual fonts. Unlike most Western languages that have a relatively small number of letters, Asian languages use ideograms (or characters) to represent words and syllables. For example, Chinese alone has thousands of characters, two types (traditional and simplified), and several regional dialects. Japanese is similar with thousands of characters derived from Chinese called Kanji, as well as two phonetic alphabets (Katakana and Hiragana). All three of these types are used in everyday text.

Many Asian websites also use a combination of Latin and Asian text, making it desirable to have fonts that match in style in multiple languages. Additionally, global marketers need fonts that look good both digitally (on any device) and in print materials, so they must be available for use in several different software programs.

Both the breadth and depth of Asian languages have made it difficult to provide an affordable comprehensive solution. In fact, it took Adobe and Google, two companies with some of the world’s most experienced software developers, five years to launch their multilingual font Noto sans CJK.

We hope that we gave you a good idea about how to solve the multilingual font challenges that are pieces of the puzzle you face when translating and localizing your content. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or suggestions, you can also get a free quote for your next project here.

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