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Simplified Chinese characters versus Traditional Chinese characters

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Simplified Chinese characters vs. Traditional Chinese characters slide show

Does your document need to be translated into Simplified Chinese characters or traditional Chinese characters? Whenever translating an English document into Chinese characters, expect to be asked this very important question.

Most westerners think that the Chinese language is made up of just one writing system, but the truth is there are two sets of Chinese characters: the traditional and simplified versions. While they may look similar to non-Chinese speakers, they are in fact two different writing systems. An average traditional Chinese reader would have difficulty reading Simplified Chinese text and vice versa. A very important note is that the words Mandarin and Cantonese refer only to the accent or the way you would pronounce words, not the writing system. Therefore, choosing the right Chinese character set for your translations is key to ensuring that your audience will be able to read and understand the translated file.

The traditional Chinese character set is believed to be 3000 years old and consists of thousands of complex characters, many made up of over 30 strokes each making it particularly difficult to learn. In the 1970s the Chinese government implemented Simplified Chinese characters in an effort to lower the learning barrier and to lower the high illiteracy rate.

So which character set should I use when translating my document into Chinese?

Some people wrongfully refer to Traditional Chinese as Cantonese, and Simplified Chinese as Mandarin. It can cause confusion and you should try to avoid referring to it in this way.

While it may be complicated in some cases, you can generally determine whether you should choose Simplified Chinese characters, traditional Chinese characters, or both, by asking where your audience is geographically located.

1. Mainland China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc…), Singapore, Malaysia
The Simplified Chinese characters are the norm.

2. Hong Kong, Taiwan
The Traditional Chinese characters are the right way to go. These regions historically were not under mainland Chinese governance when the Simplified Chinese characters were introduced and enforced.

3. Overseas Chinese communities (United States, Canada, European countries etc…)
This is where it gets a little bit complicated.

In overseas Chinese communities such as in the United States of America and Canada, the traditional Chinese characters were the de facto standard until very recently. It was due to the fact that the older generations of Chinese immigrants left China before the Simplified Chinese characters were introduced; they use the Traditional Chinese characters which many have passed onto their foreign born offspring. Now the tide seems to be changing, with the recent economical development in China, more and more rich affluent Chinese from mainland China are moving and settling abroad. These new rich immigrants have grown up with the Simplified Chinese characters. In an attempt to tap into this lucrative new market, more organizations, ranging from real estate companies to chocolate stores, are going that extra mile and translating their marketing ensembles into Simplified Chinese versions. Up until about ten years ago, all signs were written in Traditional Chinese characters, but now more and more are being written in Simplified Chinese characters. This can be seen in many places all across North America.

This being said, there are hardly any cases where one of the Chinese character sets will satisfy the needs of a particular overseas Chinese community. Unless your audience is very specific and homogeneous (e.g. new immigrants from mainland China), it may be a good idea to translate your document into both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese for maximum exposure.

Finding a good quality Chinese translation company

As China’s economy races to become the world's largest, more and more North American based businesses are taking steps to forge links with companies in China. Whether you plan on translating your website into Chinese, or are looking to create a business portfolio to send to potential Chinese clients, finding a good quality Chinese translation company is vital to making a good first impression. is a well established translation company fast becoming well known as the best choice for English to Chinese and Chinese to English translation services. Our translators specialize in a wide range of subjects from legal or medical to finance and resource industries and many others. We serve both individuals and corporate clients.

If you’re unsure whether you require a Simplified or Traditional Chinese character translation, let one of our knowledgable staff help you.

Simplified Chinese characters vs. Traditional Chinese characters slide show