The difference between simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese are two varieties of the Chinese languages used in China and some Chinese communities in the world. Acknowledging their differences is essential for foreign companies thinking about entering the potential Chinese market with over 1.4 billion people. In general, Chinese people attach importance to their mother tongue; thus, to succeed in this market, your company have to speak their native language.
But that’s when you encounter confusion. China uses Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese in different locations. Thus, to make sure which type of Chinese languages you should translate your content into, take a look at their differences below.
Traditional Chinese used to be the standard language in all Chinese-speaking regions. However, in modern life, it is the written script used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Guangdong province. Within Traditional Chinese, the languages used in Hong Kong and Taiwan have some differences, mostly in pronunciation and style.
There are two common verbal Chinese dialects, namely Mandarin and Cantonese. The former is widely used in Taiwan while the latter is the predominant dialect in Hong Kong. What’s more, some unique characters are found in Hong Kong Chinese while they don’t exist in Taiwan Chinese.
Meanwhile, Simplified Chinese is used by over 1.4 billion people living in Mainland China, Singapore, and the Chinese community in Malaysia. While only a small number of old people in such locations can understand Traditional Chinese, a majority of Chinese people in Hong Kong and Taiwan can read Simplified Chinese characters.
2. Writing systems
Simplified Chinese is the simplification of the Traditional Chinese by cutting down the number of brush strokes and merging characters together, making it much easier to read and write. Take the Traditional Chinese character 興 meaning ‘prosperous’ as an example. In Simplified Chinese, 10 strokes were reduced, turning it to 兴.
The question is why Simplified Chinese was simplified Chinese invented in the first place? In the 1930s and 1940s, the discussion on character simplification was put forward by the Kuomintang government with the aim of boosting Chinese’s people illiteracy rate which was less than 20% in the 1940s.
As mentioned before, with the simpler writing systems, Simplified Chinese was used to encourage people to learn how to read and write. In 1990, the rate increased to 87% for men and 68% for women, proving the efficiency of the new writing system to the number of literate people. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 99.78% of Chinese youngsters from 15 to 24 years old are literate.
3. What should you choose – Traditional or Simplified Chinese
To make the decision of translating your business content into Chinese or Simplified Chinese, you should take location into consideration. If your target audiences are in Hong Kong or Taiwan, then Traditional Chinese should be used. Otherwise Simplified Chinese will be the answer. Whichever is your choice, don’t forget to take cultural sensitivities into account. Chinese is a rich culture which means if you are not careful with your translation and localization, you can cause offence that leads to losing your target audiences.