Not a month goes by without one of my new customers asking me to prepare an estimate for them in Chinese. Which always leads to my question, “Do you want Simplified or Traditional Chinese?” and instantaneously my question begs another question from the requester, “What’s the difference?”
Well there is a difference and it took me a couple of years and a little cheat sheet next to my phone to eventually save it to memory. Simplified Chinese, simply put and no pun intended, is the written language of Mainland China. Traditional Chinese is the written language of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
You see that was easy! Well not really because in healthcare how do you know what your audience wants? The hospitals and health plans I work with predominantly request Traditional but I’m beginning to see more Simplified with certain systems and geographies in the West and the Hawaiian Islands. So why do both? What’s the difference?
When it comes to Chinese it is important to understand that there is a distinction between the spoken and written forms of the language. There are dozens of dialects in China but the most widely spoken ones are Mandarin and Cantonese. We’ve discussed the two Chinese writing systems, Traditional and Simplified. Neither script is directly linked to a particular dialect. A Mandarin speaker for example may write in the Traditional or Simplified script. Interestingly enough, it is not uncommon for people who cannot communicate verbally in Chinese to be able to understand each other through writing.
Chinese is one of the oldest written languages, dating back thousands of years. A number of reforms have been implemented to standardize it. The most important one took place in 1956 when the government introduced the Simplified Chinese script in an effort to promote literacy throughout the country. As its name implies in this new script the characters were simplified by reducing the number of strokes. Generally speaking it is much easier for someone who reads Traditional Chinese to read Simplified Chinese than other way around.
So now we know the history but what is best for your audience? The easiest decision is selecting both but that can be costly, especially if you have a tight budget and numerous materials to translate. If in doubt, select Traditional. If you know that your audience may be less educated, select Simplified.
Healthcare Account Executive-West