Simplified and Traditional Chinese

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Simplified and Traditional Chinese Characters

One important thing to ask about a Chinese document is which form of characters are used. Whether you are translating into Chinese or from Chinese into another language, the first step is to figure this out. To do this, a very basic understanding of simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese characters may be useful.

Traditional Chinese text

Traditional Chinese text

A brutally short history lesson can explain the difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese. In China and the surrounding areas everyone used to read and write complex Chinese characters (these are what we call traditional Chinese – they are complex because they evolved over a long time). However, after the Chinese leftist revolution, the government wanted to increase people’s literacy, so they deliberately simplified the language. They issued new dictionaries showing how the characters were to be written, and designed them to be much easier to read and write. These characters are known as simplified Chinese characters. So even today, in the mainland People’s Republic of China, the official characters are simplified Chinese. However, Chinese speaking regions which were not under the control of the government during the revolution of the 40’s, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, continued to use traditional Chinese characters.

This is how the difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese was created. Mainland Chinese documents are almost always written in simplified Chinese characters, and documents from everywhere else that speaks the language are usually written in traditional Chinese characters. So if you are translating from English into Chinese you need to think about which territory you are targeting. When translating something from Chinese into another language, it’s a simple process to figure out which type of characters you are dealing with. We would be more than happy to have a look free of charge if you are not sure, just click contact us and get in touch. There are many words which are identical in simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese, one example is the word “Chinese” shown on the right. One resource for getting more into depth on the whole issue is a website like Omniglot which provides more detailed information on the various sub-dialects.

The good news is that nowadays lots of software can convert from simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese characters free of charge. There are numerous websites which offer this service. A good translation company like Constructive Translations will usually offer translation into traditional and simplified Chinese for something like 10% more than translation into only one of the two. There are agencies out there who charge twice which we believe is extremely unethical as in many cases the translator literally just needs to click a button on some software. There are cases where you will need the two languages to be handled separately though. For example, a contract written for the mainland of China (in simplified Chinese) may not be valid in Malaysia (in traditional Chinese) so research on the legal terminology will be required.