Should I Learn Simplified or Traditional Chinese?

Simplified Chinese vs Traditional Chinese – What’s Best For Me?

Don’t worry, you are in the same boat as virtually every Chinese learner at some stage!

Knowing where to start is hard so let’s try and help.

Why did Simplified Chinese come about?

Simplified Chinese actually has a very recent history. Originally the idea came about in the 1920’s but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Simplified Chinese was actually born.

Biang - The Traditional Character. Not so simple!
Biang – The Traditional Character. Not so simple!

But why did China fee the need to implement a simplified system? The reasons are two fold:

In the 50’s a huge 80% of the population was illiterate, an astounding number. Therefore, by giving them an apparently easier way to learn their language, it allowed the number to decrease rapidly.

On the contrary, Taiwan, Macau and Hong-Kong kept using the traditional characters they have been using or thousand years.

They say traditional Chinese characters needs to be preserved because they better reflects Chinese heritage and legacy.

Others thinks traditional characters are more beautiful, and the more strokes the less ambiguity on the meaning it conveys.

Where do you want to study Chinese?

Breaking it down quite simply for you:

If you want to study in mainland China, or even Singapore, study simplified Chinese.

If you want to study in Hong Kong or Taiwan study traditional Chinese.

PS – we have a school in Taiwan!
LTL Classes in full flow
LTL Classes in full flow

To be frank as a Chinese language learner, whether you choose traditional or simplified Chinese, it won’t make much difference in the long run.

Both sound exactly the same when spoken, and in many cases there are plenty of similarities to the characters.

If you are certain on your destination being Hong Kong or Taiwan it makes perfect sense to start with TRADITIONAL CHINESE as that’s what you are going to be faced with day-in day-out.

If you are uncertain of your destination, or it could vary, go with SIMPLIFIED CHINESE because the chances are, you’ll be spending more time in places with simplified Chinese than traditional Chinese.

FUN FACT – 98% of new Chinese publications worldwide are in simplified characters.

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12 Untranslatable Words in Chinese

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Take advantage of Pleco

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or just haven’t gotten stuck into Chinese yet, you’ll no doubt know what Pleco is, but just in case you don’t…

Pleco is an online Chinese dictionary which is a saviour for pretty much any foreigner out there.

Pleco - Learn Chinese
Pleco – Learn Chinese

Not sure of the Chinese word?

No problem, Pleco will help you out with numerous translations for any given word. Just type in the English and your problems are solved!

What does this have to do with Simplified of Traditional Chinese?

Here’s why…

Pleco not only provides the simplified Chinese (which most other apps would only provide), but it also provides the traditional counterpart, which means no matter which you decide to learn, you won’t be caught short without a Chinese dictionary.

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Pleco Review – The Complete Guide (2020 Update)

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Simplified Chinese vs Traditional Chinese – What’s The Best To Learn?

You can certainly make a case for learning both in tandem.

It will do more good than harm, BUT if you are starting out as a Chinese beginner, it’s probably best to simply get used to the characters themselves first, the radicals, the stroke order etc.

These are essential in understanding how a character is built.

You’ll notice that traditional characters are WAY more complex than their simplified counterparts in some instances. It’s no good putting yourself through that at an early stage, but still…

… there is no reason why you cannot get familiar with some of the more basic examples and ease yourself in from an early stage.

For example one of the earlier characters you’ll probably get to know when studying Chinese is the word for Gate which is 门 Mén.

Now take the traditional version of this – .

Oliver and his Chinese teacher
Oliver and his Chinese teacher

Not exactly much of a sweat is it!

Once you know the simplified, you’ll be recognising the traditional with absolute ease and this can be said for a number of other characters.

Another common word you’ll learn is the word for Now which is 现在 Xiànzài.

The traditional counterpart is – 現在.

Again, it’s not exactly difficult to pull these apart.

The point being here is that familiarising yourself with some basic traditional Chinese is absolutely worthwhile and it’ll give you a head start if that’s the path you so wish to take in the future.

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Ultimately though this comes down to your study goals, everyone’s situation is different, everyone has a different end goal.

So on that note…

If you don’t believe traditional Chinese to ever be of any genuine use to you, why would you learn it?

Is Traditional Chinese always more complex than Simplified Chinese?

In most instances yes, but sometimes there are some rather odd exceptions!

Here is one of our favourite examples, take the Chinese character for “enough”

NOTE – the traditional version is in brackets, to the right of the simplified version.

Back to front!
Back to front!

See what they did here, the traditional version of the simplified character is exactly the same, but just flipped from left to right.

It’s not always crazy complicated!

That said, we’d be lying if we said all examples were like that, because they are not!

And then there were more

Simplified or Traditional Chinese? Can you guess what these are?
Simplified or Traditional Chinese? Can you guess what these are?

This sets the tone (sorry, pun intended), but that shouldn’t scare you. Right now, it might look like a crazy mess of squiggly lines, but once you get to know it, you’ll see everything breaks down quite logically and sometimes, bizarrely, it’s even easier to recognise the traditional character, because there are more parts to the character.

Students of Chinese have many very weird and wonderful ways of remembering simplified and traditional Chinese characters. You don’t have to understand it, it should just work for you.

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Simplified Chinese vs Traditional Chinese – FAQ’s

Why did Simplified Chinese come about?

Two reasons:

1 – To help promote Chinese culture
2 – Make it easier to learn how to read and write Chinese

Should I study Simplified or Traditional?

There is no right or wrong here but keeping it very general for you:

If you want to study in mainland China, or even Singapore, study simplified Chinese.

If you want to study in Hong Kong or Taiwan study traditional Chinese.

Are Simplified and Traditional characters completely different?

In many cases yes. Traditional is much more complex going by stroke order alone, but also there are some cases where the character is very similar or even exactly the same.

Due to the fact traditional has more strokes some learners actually find it easier because you can tell apart certain characters easier which can be awkward in Simplified.

Are Simplified and Traditional spoken the same?

Yes despite the different nature of the characters on paper they will sound the same.

Do note, that although Hong Kong uses traditional Chinese, because locals there speak Cantonese, it will not sound the same at all. Cantonese and Mandarin are completely different.

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  • LTL Avatar Irene Magnosi
    Irene Magnosi, Student Advisor

    Welcome to LTL Mandarin School!

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