“Traditional or Simplified Chinese?”

Do I need Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese for this product brochure translation?  May I have my business card typeset in Cantonese or Mandarin? What dialect of Chinese is used Taiwan? We constantly receive questions like these from our customers regarding the most widely spoken language in the world.

Well, first of all, let’s clarify a couple of concepts. When we talk about Simplified Chinese vs. Traditional we are talking about two distinct sets of Chinese characters with some overlap; we are not talking about spoken language.  Simplified Chinese was a written form developed in the 1950s as the result of an effort by the Chinese government in Mainland China to promote literacy. This new written form took the characters used in Traditional Chinese, which have not changed since about the 5th Century, and simplified them both structurally and through the reduction in the total number of characters. 

As for Mandarin vs. Cantonese, this draws into question the spoken Chinese dialects. In general, Mandarin is considered the official dialect in China, a dialect understood by populations living in all regions of China. On the other hand, Cantonese is the dialect spoken only by the people in the southern province Guangdong (formerly Canton) and Hong Kong. Due to high population and emigration from these and other coastal area, Cantonese became widely spoken by Chinese living outside China. The choice between Mandarin and Cantonese is a proper question to ask in looking for interpreting service, but not for written languages. Believe or not, someone speaking Mandarin can be totally lost when attempting to speak to someone who only speaks Cantonese, but the written language of the two dialects is exactly identical except for a small number of expressions.

In conclusion, if your target market is mainland China, you will want to translate your documents into Simplified Chinese; if you are headed to Hong Kong or Taiwan you will use Traditional. We recommend translating into both languages if you will be covering both markets. However, if your budget does not allow you translate into both versions, our recommendation is to translate into Traditional Chinese. The reasoning here is that both written formats will be perfectly understood in just about any region, but you may find that your customers who use Traditional Chinese will be more sensitive to your language choice.

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