With over 1.3 billion native speakers, Chinese is one of the most popular languages in the world. Although it's one of the easiest languages to learn in terms of grammatical complexity, you might get overwhelmed if not given a proper learning guideline to follow. Along similar lines, let's get introduced to your soon-to-be favorite language.
If you're looking to create content for Chinese speakers or are learning it to strengthen your communication with them, you might get confused about which of the two – Simplified vs Traditional Chinese – is best for you to start with. Please note that these classifications only exist in the writing systems, and spoken Chinese doesn't have anything to do with it.
Let's break down both of them for you to understand:
Simplified Chinese is an advanced version of Traditional Chinese, introduced with the hope that the less complicated script would encourage literacy in the Chinese nation. It has comparatively fewer characters and more minor brush strokes. This simplified version was an attempt to introduce Chinese to other cultures and expand the Chinese popularity and the scope of its literature to a broader audience.
Lufei Kui, a Chinese linguist, essayist, and publisher, was one of the early advocates of Simplified Chinese. He proposed that Simplified Chinese characters should replace the traditional ones, and this revolution should start with the inclusion of Simplified Chinese into the education system. Following that, some leaders of the May Fourth Movement in 1919 openly supported this idea, declaring the Traditional Chinese an obstacle to a progressive China. Some historians from the era believed the traditional characters to be the reason for the economic downfall that occurred at the time.
The People's Republic of China understood the need for this upgrade and made the simplified version official in 1949. They issued the "first round of official character simplifications" in two documents in 1956 and 1964, respectively, followed by the "second round of official character simplifications" in 1977.
Since Simplified Chinese has comparatively fewer strokes, it is faster and more practical to write. The simplified characters are more distinct and visually appealing, making the script easier to read. Because of that, those who are already familiar with Traditional Chinese can quickly adapt to the simplified characters. On the other hand, it also makes it favorable for those getting started with the Chinese language for the first time.
As of now, the schools in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia teach Simplified Chinese exclusively. However, Taiwan does not officially use it in governmental or civil publications, but it allows you to import and distribute the publications with simplified characters legally. Universities in Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea also prefer teaching simplified characters over Traditional Chinese, whereas the United Kingdom undergraduate institutions opt for teaching Simplified Chinese coupled with pinyin.
Wén-yán emerged to be the classical literary version of Chinese from 1500 BC onwards that unified all the language varieties existing at the time. It consists of a complex set of characters for each word containing more strokes than its counterpart in Simplified Chinese. Also, it's considered closer to Chinese origin due to its specialized literary vocabulary and grammatical style.
The introduction of Simplified Chinese brought some disagreements to the surface. The advocates of the traditional script argued that simplifying the characters would replace the meaningful vocabulary and damage its integrity. They called the simplified script arbitrary, and the extensive use of homographs is claimed to be why Chinese is often mistranslated in foreign languages.
Most marketing agencies and brands continue to prefer using the traditional script in their advertisements since the audience associates their products with the ancient history and considers it more reliable. The traditional characters are more visually-appealing when used in calligraphy. Nevertheless, when printed, they're difficult to read.
Even with Simplified Chinese being widely used in the modern era, there's no denying that Traditional Chinese was the original standard in all Chinese-speaking parts of the nation. Some world-class literary masterpieces were written in the traditional characters and are still read in the same script while maintaining their originality.
The Traditional Chinese script is widely written in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The teaching staff staunchly encourages the traditional characters to remain included in the curriculum, as it preserves exceptional cultural and historical value. The products and packaging made for the natives in Macau also follow the traditional characters to communicate better with their audience.
After having looked at the general information on where both Simplified and Traditional Chinese are used, here we give you an overview in the tabular form for your convenience. The table highlights the written (whether Traditional or Simplified) as well as the spoken (whether Mandarin or Cantonese) Chinese languages in different regions.
People’s Republic of China
Malaysia & Singapore
Traditional or Simplified
Mandarin or Cantonese
The characters look different in traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese. As the name implies, simplified characters are easier to read and contain fewer strokes than traditional ones. Some example characters of Traditional Chinese are 課, 試, 詩, and 詞. On the other hand, some example characters of Traditional Chinese are 课, 试, 诗, and 词.
As you can see from the above examples, the radical in the traditional characters is simplified in each word. Because of these systematic changes, if you learn one writing system, you may utilize these rules to learn characters from another.
But again, you must keep in mind that it's not that easy for everyone. Several hundred simplified Chinese characters differ significantly from their traditional equivalents. Many characters are sufficiently different that even competent readers and writers of traditional Chinese would need to memorize the simplified equivalents.
What you should choose between Simplified vs. Traditional Chinese depends on:
Why do you want to learn Chinese?
What demographics of people you'll be communicating with?
What locations and cultures do you want to interact with?
In the corporate world, we consider it to be the best practice to use the script that your target audience is more familiar with. If you want to learn it to explore the literature and history of the nation and language, the traditional script may be a better option for you to start with. In contrast, Simplified Chinese may be the best option for people unfamiliar with the written characters but who want to learn Chinese quickly.
Whether you choose to become a Simplified Chinese aspirant or have a passion for Traditional Chinese, we've got you covered. Taipei Language Institute has the most sought-after and expert-led courses on whatever you choose from Simplified vs. Traditional Chinese. We prepare the online and in-person pieces of training to make learning new languages possible for people in all professional and academic settings.
We helped our former student, Daniel, a Plastic Surgeon, learn Mandarin with a flexible lesson schedule. Besides, the journey of Jone William from being just a language student to falling in love with Chinese is a tale that everyone at our institute loves to talk about. If you'd like to be one of the many students getting enrolled to learn new languages, register today!