20 February 2019
Chinese characters

Table of contents

Chinese languages are among the most commonly used languages in the world. With around 867 million native speakers, the Chinese dialect of Mandarin, also known as Northern Chinese or simply Chinese, is much more widely spoken than English, for example.

In fact, 11.6% of the 7.5 billion people on the planet speak Mandarin as their mother tongue or second language. For this reason, there’s no doubt that Chinese also plays an important role in the translation industry.

Would you like to have your texts translated into Chinese? Then there’s only one question you need to answer: traditional or simplified Chinese?

Two different standard character sets

In addition to the numerous different dialects, the Chinese languages are distinguished above all by their writing system. As if the foreign characters were not alien enough for non-native speakers, there are also two different standard character sets: traditional and simplified Chinese.

Traditional Chinese script was developed more than 3,000 years ago from drawings that were simplified and made more abstract, and has over 100,000 individual characters. Of these, however, only around 3,000 to 5,000 are used in everyday life.

That is still a considerable number of characters and even if the simplest of them are written with just one stroke, there are also some that consist of more than 20 strokes – so it's only understandable that even Chinese speakers can lose track of things.

Simplification of the Chinese script

To promote literacy in the country, in 1956 the Chinese government decided to introduce a font reform to standardise Chinese writing. For example, in order to make the complex writing system clearer, characters with several different variants were narrowed down to one standard version.

Characters with a large number of strokes, on the other hand, were simplified to make them easier to remember. These simplified characters are also called long characters, while the more traditional, complex characters are called long characters.

Short and long characters: Don’t mix them up!

As a result of these and other reforms, there are now several thousand characters that differ between traditional and simplified Chinese.

The simplification was carried out according to various rules. While for some characters, complicated components were replaced with simpler symbols; for others, only one element was chosen, eliminating all the others. For some characters, one component was replaced by a symbol with the same pronunciation but a completely different meaning.

So it's no wonder that even a native Chinese speaker won't automatically know both systems – even if one is “simpler” according to its name. The simplified and traditional characters are sometimes distinctly different from one other. And because the writing systems cannot be interchanged at will, it is all the more important to select the variant that suits your target group.

Traditional or simplified Chinese: it comes down to the target group

The answer to the question of whether you should choose traditional or simplified Chinese is simple. Which variant is the right one depends which country your target group lives in.

While simplified Chinese has become the norm in the People’s Republic of China, Singapore and Malaysia, Chinese speakers in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau have retained the traditional long characters.

If your services or your new company flyer are intended to win over customers in China, or your online shop is addressing customers in Singapore, then you should opt for simplified Chinese.

If, on the other hand, your target audience consists mainly of customers from Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau, traditional Chinese is the right choice.

Make your decision now and order your translation!

You can find out more about German-Chinese translation here:

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