Simplified or Traditional; which dialect is for you?

The Chinese languages are spoken by over a billion people. China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The vast majority of the Chinese-speaking population is in China (over 980 million), Hong Kong, and Taiwan (19 million), but substantial numbers are also found throughout the whole of Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Important Chinese-speaking communities are also found in many other parts of the world, especially in Europe, North and South America, and the Hawaiian Islands.

This economic growth combined with population growth and government deregulation creates a tremendous opportunity for companies around the world to expand their businesses. The first step a company must take when competing for Chinese business is to translate company and product information into Chinese. The following information is created to assist you in your decision to enter the Chinese marketplace.

Traditional Chinese Translation or Simplified Chinese Translation – which is for me?

Modern Chinese typically involves two main dialects or forms of writing; Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, an effort to increase the literacy rate resulted in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) making the decision to simplify the written Chinese language making it easier for the general populace. Thus two distinct versions of written Chinese came into being – Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Simplified Chinese Translation – the new system?

Simplified Chinese is simply a simpler version of Traditional Chinese. The Simplified Chinese writing system differs in two ways from the Traditional writing system: (1) a reduction of the number of strokes per character and (2) the reduction of the number of characters in common use (two different characters are now written with the same character). The Simplified is the standard writing form employed in the mainland of China and the Traditional form is mainly used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Although the majority of the population uses Simplified Chinese there is a trend towards returning to Traditional Chinese.

Traditional Chinese Translation – a return to the old.

The repeal of the Second Scheme in 1977 began the new trend towards Traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese Characters may become less differentiated from each other as a result of simplification of their shape. Traditional Chinese provides more legibility and distinctiveness. In addition, Traditional Chinese provides more guidance for pronunciation. Traditional Chinese also allows the use of writings before 1956, as well as writings from outside mainland China.

Traditional Chinese characters are seen throughout the region; advertisements, slogans, signs, and even television subtitles. A large portion of universities have switched to using and teaching Traditional Chinese because people were not able to understand the Simplified Chinese from neighbors such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Traditional Chinese Translation or Simplified Chinese Translation – geography based decision making.

If you are simply targeting a geographic region the decision to use Simplified or Traditional Chinese becomes very clear. Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China (PRC) and in Singapore. If you are targeting Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Malaysia you would use the Traditional Chinese method of writing.

Coding systems for Chinese computing.

Two different codes are used for computing in Chinese. Simplified Chinese uses GB encoding while Traditional Chinese uses Big5. A computer with a Traditional Chinese operating system can recognize only the Big 5 encoding. It will not display Simplified Chinese (GB).

Human translation – the only option?

Many clients ask about automated software which can convert between GB and Big5 encodings. General computing terms such as “Open” or “Save” can be stored and automatically translated. Any other translation, whether business, legal, marketing, or technological, has to be performed by a trained and experienced translator.

First, there is not a one to one relationship between Simplified and Traditional Chinese. A single Simplified character may have several Traditional characters which can be used, but mean entirely different ideas to the reader. Second, Simplified Chinese encoding simply cannot recognize the older and rarer forms of Traditional Chinese. Finally, terminology in different fields varies and cannot simply be automatically translated. No software can produce and accurate and appropriate translation.