We’re often asked to help clients navigate the issues surrounding Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese scripts, or to identify which variant of Chinese has been used in a specific document. Here’s a crash course for the non-Chinese speaker on this increasingly important area. Why Simplified and Traditional? | Simplified Chinese was created to increase literacy by making it easier to learn to write the Chinese language. The most obvious difference between the two is that Simplified Chinese characters have fewer strokes than Traditional Chinese, hence the name “Simplified”. Generally, this is achieved through the simplification of radicals, the individual elements which make up characters. How Can I tell whether it’s Simplified or Traditional Chinese? | The easiest way to distinguish a Simplified Chinese text from a Traditional Chinese text is to look at specific characters. Here’s a list of characters commonly used in commercial documents. If you find one of these using a Search command on your computer you can be pretty certain which script you’re looking at.

If none of the above characters are visible, you can look at the radicals within individual characters. For example, the ‘speech’ radical shown below appears as the element on the left side of the character for ‘spoken language’ shown above.

Alternatively, you can always cheat and use an online language detector. How can I tell if a document is Traditional Chinese for Taiwan (ZHTW) or Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong (ZHHK)? | People in Taiwan and Hong Kong write and read Traditional Chinese although they speak different dialects of Chinese: Mandarin and Cantonese respectively.

Due to the political separation of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong for many years during the 20th century, the style and wording of the spoken Chinese languages have developed differently and so have their written forms. This is especially evident in vocabulary for new terms which have been coined in the last few decades, such as ‘computer’, ‘internet’, and ‘software’. We can see similarities in the way that US English and Canadian French differ from UK English or standard French.

It’s important to note that unlike Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, the differences between Hong Kong and Taiwan Traditional Chinese can be pretty subjective and it is often impossible to state categorically that a specific text was targeted for either Hong Kong or Taiwan. Perhaps the writer comes from Hong Kong but has picked up a few Mandarin terms, as an English person might use the American ‘truck’ instead of ‘lorry’. Or perhaps a deliberate effort was made to keep the text neutral and avoid using a strong Cantonese or Mandarin style. Get Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese translation services from Asian Absolute.

Do I need a translation into Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese? | Whenever you need a translation into Chinese, first ask yourself or the end-user of the translation for which region or country is the translation primarily targeted – Hong Kong, Mainland China or Taiwan, or perhaps for Singapore or Malaysia?

You can then select the appropriate written form:

For more information on Chinese translation, please visit our dedicated page. Note that many other dialects are spoken in each of these countries/regions, and indeed Sinologists will have spotted that we have omitted from this article many of the nuances of these issues for the sake of brevity!

Please feel free to contact us to discuss services you need, or enquire for a free quote.