The Difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese

November 8, 2016 Wendy Chang

Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world. Approximately one in six people speak Chinese. But did you know that not all Chinese speakers use exactly the same written Chinese language? For example, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau use Traditional Chinese, whereas Simplified Chinese is used in China, Malaysia, and Singapore. This blog will mainly focus on the difference between Traditional Chinese (Taiwan) and Simplified Chinese (China).

As far as communication is concerned, we can communicate with each other without any problems if we are using Mandarin (dialects, such as Shanghainese, Taiwanese, are a different story), but we can always detect different accents, terms and phrases used, style, and handwriting.

Here are some differences between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese:

Character

The most obvious difference is the appearance of the characters. Simplified Chinese, as it indicates in the name, simplifies each character, so they are easier to write and memorize. Traditional Chinese, on the contrary, keeps the original forms which have evolved over the course of a thousand years. Therefore, it is easier for people who understand Traditional Chinese to pick up Simplified Chinese, but it will be more difficult for people who understand Simplified Chinese to learn Traditional Chinese. Some examples include:

Character

Traditional Chinese

Simplified Chinese

Turtle

Orchid

Dragon


Style

Just like British say "chips" and Americans say "French fries," there are many terms and phrases that differ in meaning between Traditional and Simplified Chinese. For example, potatoes in Simplified Chinese means peanuts in Traditional Chinese.

The Chinese phrase "窩心" has completely the opposite meaning in Traditional and Simplified Chinese. Its literal translation is "nested heart."  In Traditional Chinese, it means heartwarming feelings (you feel so touched that the feelings reach the deepest parts of your heart), but it means someone is upset because he/she is wronged in Simplified Chinese (you feel like all your anger and grievances are gathered in your heart).

Phonetic Symbols

We have different learning systems when it comes to pronunciation. In Taiwan, we start with "phonetics (bopomofo)." We have 37 phonetics, and each of them represent a sound. For example, if we want to pronounce爸 (dad, which is pronounced as "ba"), we have the phonetics for ㄅ (b) andㄚ (a) plus the tone ˋ. Children are required to learn phonetics at elementary school prior to learning characters.

For Simplified Chinese, once again, it's a bit simpler. China uses "pinyin" for pronunciation, which utilizes a Romanized alphabet to constitute the pronunciation of each character. Therefore, "ba" is the phonetic symbol for "爸". However, not all the alphabets are pronounced exactly the same as they are in English. Take "q" for example, in pinyin, the pronunciation of "q" is more similar to that of "ch."

Summary

As a localizer, it is extremely important to understand the differences between languages even if they are minor deviations. As far as Chinese in concerned, keep in mind that there are also Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong) and Simplified Chinese (Singapore) and so on. Each of them differs from the others and has its own flavor and cultural implications. Chinese in each country can be so similar yet so different. Understanding these differences will help you select the suitable resources for the locale; and more importantly, convey the correct meaning to the target audience.

Translation and Localization Resources

You may gain further insights into global e-business, global SEO, website translation, country specific cultural facts and related topics by reviewing some previous blogs and resources written by GPI:

Please feel free to contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com with any questions about our language and technology services.  Also let us know if you have any interesting blog topics you would like us to cover in our future blogs.  You may request a complimentary Translation Quote for your projects as well.

About the Author

Wendy Chang

Localization Project Manager. Wendy is a native Chinese speaker from Taipei, Taiwan. She has extensive experience in localization, translation, and project management. As a Project Manager and business consultant, she has led projects in quality management, DTP automation, and website localization; helping companies optimize and create success in their localization processes. Wendy has worked for private sector and public sector clients, starting her localization career at the World Bank in Washington, DC. She holds a MA in Translation and Localization Management from Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Wendy has translated a number of published children's books from English into traditional Chinese and enjoys teaching (or, at least attempting to) Chinese to pre-kindergartners!

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