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What’s the difference between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese?

Welcome to our new blog mini-series: An introduction to localizing for the Chinese market. In this first part, we look at one of the questions that brands looking to enter this market ask us most often: what’s the difference between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese?

(Our forthcoming blogs will tackle other issues such as the difference between Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese dialects as well as our top five tips for localizing in China).

Are Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese different languages/dialects?

No. Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese are actually both writing systems rather than languages or dialects. 

In fact, these are the only two writing systems (or scripts) used to write a variety of different languages/dialects used in China (such as Mandarin or Cantonese). 

So, for example, you could use either Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese to express the same word in Mandarin, but they may look very different. 

What are the differences between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese?

As its name suggests, Simplified Chinese is an easier way of writing the Chinese alphabet than Traditional Chinese. (We’ll look at exactly why there are two writing systems a bit later.)

The variations between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese vary from character to character and from word to word but some of the main areas of difference can be summarized as follows.

  1. Fewer strokes

There are usually fewer strokes (lines) to write the words in Simplified Chinese compared to Traditional Chinese, which makes it easier to read and write.

2. Fewer characters

In Simplified Chinese, there are far fewer characters than in Traditional Chinese. In Simplified Chinese, for example, the same character may be used to represent the same phonetic version of a word which has several meanings. In Traditional Chinese, by comparison, each meaning has its own character.

In total, Simplified Chinese has around 8,000 characters compared to about 50,000 which exist in Traditional Chinese (of which usually only around 20,000 are listed in a modern Traditional Chinese dictionary).

Why are there two systems for writing Chinese?

In the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China decided to try to tackle the low level of literacy among its largely rural population by introducing a new system which would be easier to read and write. Devised by academics and linguists, the new writing system – known as Simplified Chinese – was first introduced in 1956 with a second round of revisions added in 1965.

Where are Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese used?

In general, Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore. Traditional Chinese is used on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. If you’re confused about whether to use Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese, your localization provider can advise you on the most appropriate solution.

If you enjoyed this and found it useful, hang tight for the second instalment of our new blog mini-series: An introduction to localizing for the Chinese market. If you have any thoughts, concerns or confusions, get in touch with us via lifestyle@thisisalpha.com.