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Simplified vs Traditional Chinese – what’s best for your translation needs?

Simplified vs Traditional Chinese – what’s best for your translation needs?

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Most people in today’s time and age recognize the prominence of the Chinese language in the realm of business and beyond. Combined with the fact that there are over 1.3 billion Chinese speakers worldwide, one thing is clear – there’s never been a better time to tap into the Chinese market than now. But despite the countless opportunities the market has to offer, Chinese speakers are not the most proficient in English. Therefore, to leverage these enticing opportunities, Chinese translation is a must.

But if you are scratching your head thinking “How do I figure out which Chinese script to translate my content into?”, fear not. In this article, we’ll reveal the factors that can help you make a choice between Simplified and Traditional Chinese in an instant. But before that, let’s investigate how different these 2 Chinese writing systems truly are. Read on!

What are the differences between Simplified and Traditional Chinese?

As you can tell with a quick glance, the main difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese is that, of course, the Simplified writing system is slightly less elaborate than its Traditional counterpart.

Simplified vs Traditional Chinese – what’s best for your translation needs

To gain a deeper understanding of the key differences between the systems, it’s worth delving into the historical context in which the simplifications came to be in the first place.

The emergence of the Simplified Chinese writing system

The Simplified Chinese writing system was initially introduced as part of a larger government incentive to promote literacy in 1949. Given that nearly 80% of the Chinese population at the time was illiterate, the Chinese government thought it paramount to shift these numbers around. Thus, to make the language easier to learn and write, they simplified some of the more complex characters and standardized the writing system.
Altogether, Chinese linguists tampered with 2,000 Traditional Chinese characters by either:
● Eliminating certain characters which shared similar meanings,
● Reducing the number of character strokes, and/or
● Merging multiple characters together.
The primary differences that arose because of these simplifications are as follows:

Differences in the total number of characters

Since many characters were removed, combined or replaced, that led to an overall decrease in the number of commonly used characters. Generally, Traditional Chinese consists of approximately 20,000 commonly used characters, whereas Simplified Chinese consists of around 8,000.
To bring the number of characters down, in most cases, the linguists chose to eliminate a single character out of many Traditional Chinese variants (i.e., characters that mean the same thing, but are written differently). For instance, both and (pronounced as gòu) mean “enough”, but only made its way into the standardized writing system.

Differences in character shapes

Although most Traditional Chinese characters were left untouched, many of them underwent significant changes in how they were written. In most cases, linguists made them easier to write by simplifying one or more of their constituent parts.
To give an example, let’s take the character , which means “horse” and is pronounced as in Mandarin. In Traditional Chinese, the character has 3 strokes and looks like this: . Following its simplification into Simplified Chinese, the character was made to contain only 2 strokes, thus giving us the shape.
In the following image, you can see how similarly shaped and yet how distinct Simplified and Traditional characters appear:

Simplified vs Traditional Chinese – what’s best for your translation needs

Traditional or Simplified Chinese translation – which should you choose for your translations?

Now that you recognize the differences that exist between Simplified and Traditional Chinese, it’s time to consider where your audience is located, since that will help determine your choice for translation. Which leads us to the follow-up question…

Where are Simplified and Traditional Chinese used most?

Simplified Chinese

Simplified Chinese is used by over 1 billion people and is the most widespread form of written Chinese. If you are expanding to mainland China, Malaysia, or Singapore, translating your content into Simplified Chinese could be your next best move.

Some natives from these areas can still comprehend Traditional Chinese writing. Nevertheless, Traditional characters are still bound to cause confusion and it’s recommended to avoid them altogether.

Age is another useful factor to consider. If your Chinese audience is younger and U.S.-based, it’s best to localize your content using the Simplified script. But if your audience is older, the Traditional script is likely to be a better option.

Traditional Chinese

Traditional Chinese is used by 30 million people in Taiwan (the Republic of China), Hong Kong, and Macau.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan, Simplified characters are understood relatively well by the general population. However, using the Simplified script is often frowned upon, since that’s perceived to be politically incorrect.

If you wish to tap into these markets, note that the writing systems of Taiwan and Hong Kong differ slightly in how the characters’ strokes are drawn. Natives from these countries are perfectly capable of understanding each other’s writing – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cater to these individual speakers’ needs. Instead, translating your documents in the script they are most familiar with is more likely to help you win these markets over.

Don’t confuse the writing scripts with Chinese dialects!

Here’s a final caveat to keep in mind: The Chinese writing scripts are separate from spoken Chinese, like Mandarin and Cantonese. When Chinese dialects are concerned, things get slightly more confusing.
That’s because speakers from each region speak their own regional dialect. The dialectal differences from one region to the other are not slight either – they are in fact quite striking. That means that if you are localizing your voice-over in Chinese, you have to know which dialect to target. To figure that out, you can check out our list of the most widely used Chinese Dialects.

Chinese Translation

Need help with translating your content in Chinese or navigating this fierce market with more ease? If so, Pangea Global’s professional translation team is here to guide and assist you as we speak! Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.
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