If you have ever tried to use google translate for Chinese, you probably noticed that there are two kinds of Chinese to choose from – traditional and simplified. Are they the same language? The answer is yes, and no.
Yes, they are the same language, because that simplified Chinese characters are basically a parallel set of characters to the traditional ones. They are just… simpler to write. Still, if you know one set of characters you cannot necessarily understand the other. In this aspect, Taiwanese, who write using traditional characters, will have a hard time reading simplified Chinese written in the mainland and vice-versa. In conversation, they do speak the same Mandarin Chinese.
The simplified system was made according to old ways to write faster manually along with modern adjustments to the Chinese pictographs.
No, they are not the same language. Except Taiwan, only Hong Kong and Macau write Chinese with traditional characters, but they speak a different kind Chinese, called Cantonese.
Cantonese is completely unintelligible to Mandarin speakers and vice-versa.
So for the next time you try to impress a Chinese businessman with a business card or any other written or spoken greeting, make sure you use the right kind of Chinese!
Hong Kong is usually thought to be more “western” than Mainland China. But as for writing, they use the traditional, more complicated system.
Renmin University in Beijing. Writing entry signs in traditional letters is common also in the Mainland – it has a “classy” appearance
Written by: Ilay Golan, Researcher of Chinese and Taiwanese religion and history in Tel-Aviv University. Tour Guide abroad for Geotours Israel and Tripology.