Simplified Chinese VS Traditional Chinese

The Chinese language is known to be one of the most widely spoken languages on the globe. About one out of every five people understand the Chinese language. However, are you aware of the fact that not all Chinese speakers use the same written text? For instance, people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau prefer using Traditional Chinese, while people in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia commonly use Simplified Chinese.

These two forms of Chinese look very different. Simplified Chinese is most commonly used nowadays and contains far fewer strokes than the traditional system.

Remember that these two variants of the language were simplified in different ways: Simplified Chinese was created by removing fewer characters and simplifying others, while Traditional Chinese retained nearly all of its original form.

Let’s learn more about the difference between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese!

Difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese

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As the name implies, traditional Chinese is the traditional version of the Chinese written language that has been in existence for thousands of years. In all honesty, it’s actually a complicated writing system and learning this version of written text is difficult even for the natives.

Many believe that the Traditional Chinese writing system is more complex than Simplified Chinese because it contains more strokes for each symbol. However, you should note that not every character has different forms in both styles; some traditional characters can be written with less strokes in Traditional forms than the Simplified system or vice versa.

Also, some characters have drastically different meanings. The pronunciation stays the same, but these characters are written with completely different symbols.

On the other hand, Simplified Chinese refers to a simplified version of the Chinese script that was almost just as complex as Traditional Chinese. Its popularity grew when the People’s Republic of China decided to systematically simplify the written characters and symbols to have an easier time learning how to read and write.

Here are other key differences between Simplified and Traditional Chinese when learning Chinese.


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You have to understand that not all characters in Chinese have the same character meanings. Simplified Chinese has far fewer strokes than Traditional Chinese when it comes to Chinese characters. In fact, Simplified characters are, on average, about 33% shorter than Traditional Chinese characters.

Additionally, the number of strokes in a Simplified writing system is generally uniform, whereas a Traditional character can have anywhere from 4 to 20 strokes.

Another big difference is that Traditional Chinese characters are written in complex scripts that are difficult to learn, while Simplified Chinese characters use simple and easy-to-learn radicals (or basic elements). This is why Simplified Chinese is more popular in mainland China and other countries where people are not as familiar with Traditional Chinese scripts.


Words that have several meanings are called polysemes. They are very common in written languages because the same word may be used for different objects or concepts depending on context.

For example, Simplified Chinese has fewer words with more than one meaning; therefore, it is less versatile and specific than Traditional Chinese, which makes it difficult to learn.

On the other hand, Polysemy can make learning Traditional characters or any simplified character more fun! You never know what new character you might encounter next.

If you see a new word that you don’t understand, chances are there’s another character out there that sounds similar but means something completely different. This adds some excitement to learning how to read and write!

Newer words

After many years, the Chinese has picked up new words and concepts that didn’t exist before. New words in Traditional Chinese are usually written by combining two characters or more.

Simplified Chinese has a suffix (-suan) that is added to the names of sciences and disciplines to represent the root word. For instance: physics (物理 – wuli), mathematics (数学 – shuqiu), and biology (生物 – shenwu).

The latter part of this difference is not much different than what you would find in languages such as English. There are always newer words being created when newer technologies enter society, so it’s no surprise that there might be a bit more variance between what each language might look like when it comes to their written language.

Variations in style and wording

There are also some differences in the variety of words used in a Simplified script (standard script) or Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. For instance, there are many different ways to express yourself depending on your tone when you’re using Simplified Chinese.

The same can be said for the Traditional form because it has four tones, but the number of variations that can be expressed is greater than what can be done with just three tones.

It’s often said that learning Mandarin Chinese requires effort because the language has multiple levels of formal settings that depend on who you are talking to, where you are talking about an event, or under what circumstances.

However, both Simplified and Traditional refer to the “proper” version of written text while also having more casual versions of dialogue or informal Chinese writing systems. It all really depends on the context of the conversation or writing systems that will determine which written form is used or should be used.

Phonetic Symbols

In Traditional Chinese, some words that sound similar have different meanings and cannot be differentiated by just reading them as a word. One example is 屙 (lì) and 魯 (lǔ). They both mean “to carry excrement”, but they have different pronunciations, so they do not share a character.

In Simplified Chinese, more effort was spent to make characters more distinct from each other even though only a few changes were made to the existing simplified script. For example, the words for ‘scold/rebuke’ (唾), ‘trample on’ (蹂), and ‘ashamed’ (羞) all have the same phonetic component to them, but they are distinguishable because of minor changes to their radicals.

How to translate

The last difference is that there are different ways to translate between the Simplified Chinese System and Traditional Chinese. It’s not simply a matter of changing all the characters to their corresponding counterparts (i.e. 打 => 拍).

You might want to check your simplified Chinese texts or traditional Chinese translation with a Chinese-speaking friend to make sure it sounds natural!

You could also use an online translator, but keep in mind that this type of traditional Chinese translation or simplified form of the translation may be unintelligible or have other problems associated with them.

Should You Learn Simplified Or Traditional Chinese?

Every beginner in a Chinese class has problems distinguishing between traditional and simplified Chinese. Both will be challenging to a learner, but you can always opt to learn one of them before going for both.

Most people in Chinese speaking countries use simplified writing despite it being in the world for less than a century. This is different from traditional Chinese, which has existed for thousands of years.

When picking which one you want to learn, there are many factors to consider. If you are studying literature written in Traditional Chinese, it would be logical to learn the traditional version so that your readings will match what was originally written.

On top of this, if you plan to study abroad in both Taiwan and Hong Kong SAR, Simplified Chinese may not be as relevant because many people still use traditional writing.

While both Simplified and Traditional Chinese are being used in present-day China, it’s important to know that Mandarin, also known as standard Chinese, has become the language of choice for many speakers.

That’s why most teaching materials advised by the Chinese Government are based on Standard Mandarin (standard Chinese) – it simplifies the language learning process significantly.

Which one is easier?

The answer to this question varies from one person to another. It is easier to write, memorise, and understand traditional Chinese characters for some people, while others, like those from mainland China (mainland Chinese), will always go for the Simplified Chinese. Therefore, you can consider looking at the two separately before choosing your favourite option.

It’s also important to understand that both Traditional and Simplified Chinese can be used in the same place. For instance, 中文 (zhōng wén) for written Chinese is a general term and can be understood as “Chinese language” with different variations according to whether it is Simplified or Traditional.


Traditional and Simplified Chinese are both used in different countries for various purposes. It is very important to understand that Simplified and Traditional Chinese are forms of written Chinese language, but Simplified can be seen as a newer version of modern Chinese when viewed from a historical perspective. It is most popular with people from mainland China to the point that it has become their official language.

They have different uses in Chinese speaking countries, so you should always consider which one is more relevant to your audience or learning goals before making a decision. It’s also important to understand the two styles and their differences before choosing between them.

So, which form of Chinese should you learn? The answer is both! At Linda Mandarin, we teach students how to read and write Traditional Chinese as well as Simplified Chinese. With our help, you can be confident in your ability to communicate with people from all over the world in their language. Contact us today to get started on your learning journey!

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