Key Differences Between Traditional and Simplified Chinese

Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the globe. About one out of every five people understands the Chinese language. However, are you aware of the fact that not every Chinese speaker uses the same written Chinese text? For instance, people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau prefer using Traditional Chinese while people in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia commonly use Simplified Chinese.

Traditional Chinese, as the name implies, is the traditional version of the Chinese written language that has been in existence for thousands of years. In all honesty, it’s actually a complicated writing system and learning this version of written text is difficult even for the natives.

On the other hand, Simplified Chinese refers to a simplified version of the Chinese script that was almost just complex as Traditional Chinese. Its popularity grew when the Chinese Republic decided to systematically simplify the written Chinese characters and symbols so that the general populace could have an easier time learning how to read and write.

Here are other key differences between Simplified and Traditional Chinese when learning Chinese.


As suggested earlier, Traditional Chinese is more complex while Simplified Chinese is simpler. With Simplified Chinese, many subtleties were eliminated and the characters simplified to more basic units, hence, it is easy to learn Mandarin in Singapore. As a result, Simplified Chinese characters feature fewer strokes than their Traditional Chinese counterparts. For example, the Traditional Chinese character representing a million is 萬, while in Simplified Chinese it’s denoted as 万.


Given that the characters have been made simpler, a specific Simplified character may possess the same meaning as a few Traditional characters. For example, the Simplified character of复may well have the meaning of a series of Traditional characters like 覆, 復 and 複.

Newer words

The 20th century has brought with it more new words and concepts such as the Internet, Software, Mobile Phone, Laser and so on. Of course, these new words are referred to differently or have different terms in China, Singapore, and Taiwan. As taught in Mandarin classes in Singapore, the use of correct terms is typically the primary concern when a particular version, either Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese, is stated as the target translation language.

Variations in style and wording

The political separation between mainland China and Hong Kong and Taiwan for several decades also brought about some small variations in the style and wording as witnessed in their written forms. You may relate the situation of Simplified and Traditional Chinese with the variation between written styles of UK English and US English. For example, the word ‘entertainment’ is written using two different characters in Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

Phonetic Symbols

In terms of pronunciation, there are different phonetic systems to contend with when learning the Mandarin language. With Traditional Chinese in Hong Kong or Taiwan, people begin with ‘phonetics.’ There are about 37 phonetics all representing a sound. For instance, to pronounce the word ‘dad’ which is uttered as ‘ba’, you use the phonetics for ‘b’ and ‘a’ as well as the proper tone. Kids typically learn phonetics during Chinese lessons for kids before learning characters. When it comes to Simplified Chinese, it’s rather simpler. For pronunciation, Mainland China employs the use of Pinyin, which uses a romanised alphabet to compose or make up the proper pronunciation of every character.

How to translate

Because of the above-mentioned differences, translating Simplified Chinese into Traditional Chinese or vice-versa requires greater focus. Firstly, you need to understand your target audience. Are they from Taiwan and Hong Kong where Traditional Chinese is predominant or from Mainland China where Simplified Chinese is widely used? Remember, directly switching a translation from one version to another won’t work due to the changes in characters, wording, and even grammar. You are likely to end up delivering the incorrect meaning to your audience. Nobody would like such a scenario to happen to them.

In conclusion, it’s very important to note the differences between the Simplified and Traditional Chinese versions while studying Singapore’s Mandarin courses. Remember, the differences come with their own taste and cultural implications. Knowing these differences will assist you to choose the proper Chinese version for the area and relay the correct message to the target audience.

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