English to Chinese Transitions and when to use Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese
When a client has a request for English to Chinese translations, there are two key questions that we ask: ‘Who is the target audience?’ and more specifically: ‘Where is the target audience located?’ This is due to the differences in Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.
The Chinese writing system has been in continuous use for more than three thousand years, making it the oldest writing system in the world. However, even languages are susceptible to change. As our word has evolved, so has the Chinese language. Just think of new words that are used daily today: Google, Internet and iPhone.
The Government of the People’s Republic of China introduced simplified Chinese characters in 1946. Their main goal in introducing Simplified Chinese was to increase literacy. Simplified Chinese is now used in Mainland China, Malaysia (in official publications) and Singapore. Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Chinese communities outside of China are now seeing a gradual shift to Simplified characters, most likely due to new immigrants from Mainland China.
Simplified characters are based on Traditional characters, but Simplified Chinese characters, as its name suggests, have fewer strokes than their traditional equivalent, making them easier to read, write and to learn.
The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared during the Han Dynasty, (206 BC – 220 AD) and have been more or less stable since the 5th century. There are 1,000’s of Traditional Characters.
Within the Chinese-speaking world, you may hear ‘Traditional Chinese Characters’ being referred to by various names, such as: ‘Standard characters’ (government of Taiwan), ‘Complex characters’ (Hong Kong, Macau), ‘Old characters’ which is often used by those who write in Simplified characters and finally, ‘”Full Chinese characters,” which is often used by users of Traditional characters.
Since the introduction of Simplified characters there has been an ongoing debate from both sides as to which is the superior method. The good news is that one can usually learn the other system, if they are already familiar with and educated in one system.
Translating into Chinese: Simplified or Traditional?
When it comes to translating your documents into Chinese, it all comes down to geography.
- If your target audience is in: Mainland China, Singapore or Malaysia then your text should be translated using Simplified Characters.
- If your target audience is in: Taiwan or Hong Kong then your text should be translated using Traditional Characters.
A Human Touch
Just as in any translation, it is possible to translate a document from Simplified Chinese into Traditional Chinese and vice-versa. For those experienced in both systems the task is doable, but tedious. Using a computer or machine translator to translate into and out of the two systems is not recommended because there is not a one-to-one equivalent of a simplified character to a traditional character. It may only take one Simplified character to convey what is being said in five Traditional characters. A human translator is needed to ensure accuracy.
Fun Facts About China and the Chinese Language
- About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over one billion people, speak some form of Chinese as their first language.
- There are seven main Chinese dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Wu Min, Xiang, and Gan. Mandarin is the official national language of mainland China and is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world.
- The common language in Hong Kong is Cantonese. (more on Mandarin v. Cantonese in future posts)
- The official languages of Taiwan are Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Hakka.
- According to Word Population Statistics, the current population of the People’s Republic of China is estimated to be about 1,390,510,630.
- China’s population makes up around 19.3% of the world’s population.
- China is the most populous country in the world.
If your business goal is to tap into the Chinese market, translating your marketing materials is key. Contact Accurate Language Services to discuss your translation needs and to enhance your global business development strategy.