Differentiating simplified and traditional Chinese

November 26, 2015

chinaWith globalization on the rise, China has emerged as a world power thanks to its growing economy and industrialization. As a result, the demand for traditional and simplified translation from companies like Translation Source is seeing a significant increase.

However, what is the difference between the two writing styles and when is the proper time to use them? The answer to those questions depends on several factors, but you should start with a basic understanding of simplified and traditional writings.

Traditional Chinese or TC

TC is alive and well in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In line with its name, the writing style has been used for millennia in China and the surrounding areas.

Although the mainland has strayed from this form of the written word, Hong Kong and Taiwan keep it alive as a symbol of political separation. TC is considered a little bit harder to learn as the strokes are generally more intricate.


Simplified Chinese or SC

SC is the written text used in mainland China and Singapore. It evolved after the civil war and formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, so it is considered to be a modern form of the region’s written word.

The country’s government developed the easier writing style to encourage citizens to learn to read and write. Essentially, SC was designed to make literacy more accessible to the nation’s common citizens instead of being reserved for the elite classes.

The Original and Theoretical Difference

Theoretically, there is no difference between TC and SC other than the actual method of drawing the characters. Originally, this was the case though the writing styles have evolved over time.

SC simply has fewer strokes, which is why it is easier to learn and teach. This was the only original difference, but with changing world economies and technological advances, new words like Internet and Computer are rendered differently in various Chinese-speaking regions.

The Practical Difference

Practically speaking, translators must know what region the translation is for in order to do good work. The political isolation between Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China has resulted in variations in speech patterns and diction that are reflected in the written word.

To add context for those unfamiliar with the dialects of the region, the difference is similar to the distinctions between American and British English.

Translating by Region

Luckily, once translators know what areas they are translating for they know exactly what writing style and dialect to use:

  • Mainland China: Mandarin style SC
  • Hong Kong: Cantonese style TC
  • Taiwan: Mandarin style TC
  • Singapore: Mandarin style SC

Generally, these categories will work though there may be some regional variation. If translators are unfamiliar with local geography or culture, they will usually verify the translating style before beginning work.

In China and the surrounding areas, TC and SC are the two widely used writing styles and both can be used to communicate with a broad range of individuals.

If the China region continues to grow and dominate the global economy, it will become increasingly important for more individuals to understand the nation’s language and culture, especially for those who are interested in international business, banking and/or finance.

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