The lunar new year always brings booming prosperity to all businesses around the world, especially in Asia. If your brand ties in with the Chinese demographic, you’d know that the festival is a golden opportunity to appeal to spending consumers. Shopping and preparations happen almost a month before the first day of the lunar new year, and it’s your time to strike while the iron is hot. And on that matter, every seasoned marketer knows that localization is the key to reaping lucrative ROIs. That means understanding the applications of traditional vs simplified Chinese. You don’t want your advertising efforts to fall on deaf ears after all. 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that “He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” Because of the trading era on the silk road, Mandarin has become an indispensable tongue that has since spread its influence worldwide. The orient is a gold mine of opportunities, with 49% of the world’s users online when it comes to the internet. And while adopting a digital strategy to penetrate new Asian markets is essential, it’s important to note that Chinese is the most natively spoken language after English. If you’re deliberating which version of the language to use or learn, this article will help you to deliberate between traditional vs simplified Chinese.


Why the Chinese Language is Important

By far, even Babel declares the Chinese language as the most difficult language to pick up for English speakers. Unlike most languages composed of basic letters put together, simplified Chinese consists of more than 54,678 characters. These numbers keep evolving as different country governments periodically moderate the language. In addition to the staggering amount of characters, Chinese is also immensely tough to speak due to its tonal nature (four tones per word), idioms, homophones, and aphorisms. But remarkably, the language is both poetic and musical. Is it worth the effort, you ask? Here, we provide some compelling reasons why the Chinese language can be a pivotal gateway to the world. 

Widely Spoken Around the World

Updated statistics reveal that over a 1.120billion people speak Mandarin-Chinese today. It remains the second most spoken language globally in 2021. While 922 million of these are native speakers, an increasing number of people are picking up Mandarin Chinese. By communicating in either traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese, you’d already be accessing 16% of the world’s population. Imagine that! 

Today, Chinese is recognized as an official language by 3 major countries (China, Taiwan, and Singapore), and it’s one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations. Other territories with large pockets of Chinese speaking communities outside of Asia include the US, Canada, UK, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, and Madagascar.  


Good for Business

The pandemic has been a whirlwind of chaos on the world’s economy, but not in China. While major economies are shrinking, China has seen a growth of 2.3% last year in its economy. The Shanghai stock market had been up, and so has its export and infrastructural industries. Then there are stable and highly developed Chinese-speaking business hubs, including Singapore, ranked by the World’s Economic Forum as the world’s most open economy. Other bustling Chinese markets include Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. 

While consumers in Singapore may be bilingual, the market in China is a different story. Only approximately 10 million in a total population of 1.3billion speak English. Here’s where localization is crucial, and marketing your product in the right language, be it traditional or simplified Chinese, is imperative.  


A Brief History of the Chinese Language

The Chinese language dates back to approximately 6,000 years ago. Archaic Chinese was typical from the 11th to 7th B.C and have been found on artifacts from the Zhou dynasty. Then came Middle Chinese used through the 7th to 10th A.D. Its pronunciation is derived from modern dialect variations and foreign transliterations. Contemporary Beijing Mandarin came into play during the last years of the Qing dynasty, and Mandarin has since become the standard taught in China’s education system.  


The Difference Between Traditional vs Simplified Chinese

All Chinese characters, also known as Hanzi (汉字-simplified/ 漢字-traditional), are derived from image-like symbols. They’re like graphic illustrations that represent the word’s meaning. In other words, each character contains abstract concepts that combine pictographs to create a definition. To begin communicating the right version of Chinese to your target demographic, you must first understand both systems’ differences. 

Chinese Pronunciation

Today there are about 200 spoken or colloquial Chinese dialects. Despite this, there are only two written language systems, which are traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese. Cantonese, for instance, is the primary language spoken in Hong Kong. Even though Cantonese is written in traditional Chinese, it is spoken very differently in its dialect compared to spoken Mandarin. The same traditional Chinese characters sound almost completely different in Hokkien, one of Taiwan’s main dialects. 

Consequently, if you’re in need of a Chinese translation, considering the content’s medium plays a vital role in translation. An audio ad may require a voice actor who can speak a very specific dialect for your target region. However, if you simply need written content, you only have to know which of the two written systems your region’s demographic adopts. But because of the complex tonal system of Chinese pronunciation, it is essential to hire a native speaker. Even though many have worked hard to learn the tongue, many still fall short in the pronunciation’s authenticity. That goes both with specific dialects and Mandarin itself. Articulation in the wrong tone can result in a complete change in a sentence’s or word’s meaning. 


Chinese Character Strokes

Chinese characters tend to be a mess of squiggles to the foreign eye. But a famous Chinese proverb rightfully communicates that “beginnings are the hardest.”

In simplified Chinese, this is written as “万事起头难”.  

In traditional Chinese, this is written as “萬事起頭難”.

Both versions are pronounced the same way in Mandarin

(Hanyu Pinyin: wàn shì qǐ tóu nán)

It is obvious that the main difference between traditional vs simplified Chinese lies in how characters look. The traditional Chinese character system consists of significantly more strokes. Time evolved that written system and simplified it to make characters easier to read and write. Although so, this is not quite the case for every character. Some originally simple-to-write words such as “人”, or “human” in English remain the same in both systems. The simplification process only changed approximately 30% of commonly used traditional Chinese characters. 


Total Number of Chinese Characters

We’ve mentioned above that there are a whopping 54,678 Chinese characters. While this is the case, a modern dictionary usually only contains up to 20,000 characters. As you can see, the complexity of the Chinese written system cries for simplification. Hence entered simplified Chinese! The new general standard Chinese character system of simplified Chinese has minimized that hefty number to just 8,105 characters. How so? Simplified Chinese sometimes use the same character to represent words that are pronounced the same way but have a different meaning. One example is the word “面” which means “face.” The same word is used for the word “noodle” in simplified Chinese, whereas it is written as “麵”, a different word in traditional Chinese.

The big question remains: Is it possible to learn it all? Technically, nothing is impossible. But it might have to take you a lifetime! After all, Chinese is ranked the most difficult language in the world for a reason. The average fluent native speaker knows an average of about 8,000 characters. Chinese scholars, on the other hand, have a significantly more extensive vocabulary. But the great news is that you’ll probably “only” need about 2,000 to 3,000 to read a Chinese newspaper!

traditional vs simplified chinese

FAQs About Traditional vs Simplified Chinese

You’re probably completely befuddled, flabbergasted by this point! Speaking from experience, learning the tongue is no easy feat, even for a native speaker. Pretty much everything about the language is based on memory, and fluency does not come easy without practice. Chances are, you probably have a million questions. But here are some frequently asked ones when it comes to traditional Chinese vs simplified Chinese.  

Do I Use Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese? 

This is the king of all questions, and the answer lies in your audience’s demographic. The region plays an important role when it comes to written translation. Here are some main markets and their Chinese systems to give you an idea of where to begin: 

In China
  • Official Written – Simplified Chinese characters
  • Spoken – Mandarin (Official) among countless dialects
In Singapore
  • Official Written – Simplified Chinese characters
  • Spoken – Mandarin (Official), Hokkien dialect, Teochew dialect, Hainanese dialect, Cantonese dialect
In Taiwan 
  • Official Written – Traditional Chinese characters
  • Spoken – Mandarin (Official), Hokkien dialect, Hakka dialect
In Hong Kong
  • Official Written – Traditional Chinese characters
  • Spoken – Cantonese dialect (Official)
  • Official Written – Traditional Chinese characters
  • Spoken – Mandarin (Official), Cantonese dialect (Official)


Do Online Translators Work for the Chinese Language? 

Naturally, the first option today’s tech-savvy generation turns to is the online translator. They’re quick, free-of-charge, and pretty much available on every mobile device. But is this a reliable means of translation from another language to the Chinese language and vice versa?

We really wouldn’t recommend it, and for a good reason. Most online translators convert the original language to English before translating it again to Chinese. Many fail to realize that the Chinese language runs on a completely different sentence structure and grammatical system. For one, the Chinese language almost entirely lacks inflection, meaning that words tend only to have one grammatical form compared to the many in English. Another factor to consider is that the Chinese language can be quite poetic and descriptive. More often than not, only a native speaker can carry forward appropriate nuances during translation. 

Here’s an example of a simplified Chinese to English translation from Google Translate: 

Simplified Chinese: 险区观景,注意安全

English: Observe the dangerous area, pay attention to safety

While the general meaning is captured, the translation comes across as grammatically awkward and somewhat curt. Therefore, while online translators may work for informal purposes, we don’t recommend them for official translations. That goes especially if you’re going to splay a humongous ad over a giant billboard!


Can I use Online Translators to Translate Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese & Vice Versa?

We say yes! Since simplified Chinese was birthed from traditional Chinese, there’s no problem with this. Although if you are looking for a Chinese dialect translation, we recommend hiring a human being!


Where Can I Find a Reliable Native Translator? 

You’d think that the bulk of native Chinese speakers are in China. And you’re not wrong. But here’s a setback: Big tech companies like Google, Bing, Twitter, and Facebook are not accessible in China. This poses a huge problem, especially for marketers looking for reliable and affordable translators over the net. And although Google is freely accessible in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, Traditional Chinese is the official written system in those regions. Hence, looking for a simplified Chinese translator might be tough. 

Your next logical option would probably be to hire a translation firm, which rings in hefty costs more often than not. Truth be told, there are other more affordable, practical, and trustworthy translation means around that. Professional platforms like this one provide quality-checked written translation in both traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese. Need an audio ad? The site also works with legit and professional native Chinese speakers to produce video projectsaudio commercialsdubbing, and voice-overs. All with a speedy turnover time and at affordable rates. 


Always Better To Be Safe Than Sorry

When it comes to the debate on traditional vs simplified Chinese, the rule of thumb boils down to understanding your audience! And that’s sound advice for anyone looking to penetrate new markets either way. We say when it comes to translation, haste doeth make waste, but brand reputation is everything. Therefore, an ounce of prevention on a ridiculous translation mistake is worth a million more than a pound of cure. Take it from the native speaker: Always go professional. Or at least have your DIY online-translated text proof-read by a native speaker to be sure!