This article was edited on Feb 20, 2007. The old one has some display problems with truncated content.
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First, please tell me some general information about Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.
At present, there are two distinctive Chinese writing systems coexistent in the world – Traditional Chinese (TC) and Simplified Chinese (SC). SC was actually simplified from the TC using a methodology that tries to maintain the basic features of Chinese characters while making it less complicated and easier to learn. As one of the countries that had the biggest illiterate population, the Chinese government thought, through simplifying the writing system and thus making it easier to write, more Chinese would be able to access education. But this simplification is based upon rather regular rules, and a large number of characters were not changed at all.
But how different are TC and SC? For example, can a person from Taiwan* or other TC areas read and understand an article written in SC and a person from Mainland China vice versa?
Generally speaking, people in Taiwan or other TC using areas would be able to understand articles written in SC. When reading, he/she should find some familiar but “new” characters intermixed with TC ones. Through context and good guesses, he/she would finally be able to understand the article. For a person from Mainland China, the experience could be very different.
Before we learn more about this, a little history would be helpful. The truth is, before the 1960s, mainland China used TC instead of SC. Books were printed in TC, and people were taught to use TC in schools as well. From the 1960s to 1970s, TC was still used in some places, and some books were printed in TC. Therefore, older people in Mainland China do have an advantage in reading and understanding TC.
However, the problem does not stop here. It is the dialectal uses, rather than character differences, that make TC and SC really different. For example, if we want to translate:
Through cooperation, we may acquire more useful information from the market.
TC would be: 透過合作，我們可能從市場獲得更有用的訊息。
SC would be: 通过合作，我们可能从市场获得更有用的信息。
If you observe carefully, you will find that of the nineteen Chinese characters, twelve are the same. This may help illustrate differences between SC and TC characters. Besides this differences, the words in bold were different dialectal translations.
If a translator only knows how to use TC or SC characters, but is not familiar with those dialectal uses. The translation would be unnatural and may sound strange in some cases.
O.K. Now I know the basics, but please show me something really useful when making wise choices: When should I use TC or SC?
To put it simply, if you want your article to be read and understood in Mainland China and Singapore, you would choose SC. If you stress a readership in Taiwan, Macao and Hongkong, you would opt for TC. TC is also widely used by Chinese people living in Southeast Asian countries, USA and some European countries. If you want to specifically target a readership in Hong Kong or Macao, you should also be careful that their dialect is not the same with that of Taiwan.
How to choose a translator?
Ideally, you would consider hiring a translator from Taiwan for mandarin (non-dialectal) TC translations, a translator from Hong Kong or Macao for specifically targetted TC markets and a translator from Mainland China or Singapore for simplified Chinese translations.
But sometimes, when a native TC or SC translator is not available to you (a number of factors including pricing, location, etc), you may consider using, for example, a Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macao, etc translator for SC translation, and a Mainland China or Singaporean, etc translator for TC translation, etc. provided he/she is experienced in the target system.
The fact is, almost all professional (full-time, experienced freelance) translators do both translations in the market. Anyway, the differences between the two systems (from dialectal point of view) are probably no bigger than those of the American English and British English.
*This article lists some major Chinese speaking countries and areas only. Obviously, in an article of this scale, it is impossible to list all the countries/areas that use TC and/or SC.
It is NOT the author’s intention to say only translators living in the countries/areas mentioned have necessary skills and/or resources to do TC or SC translations.