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Simplified or Traditional Chinese Characters?

By March 19, 2009

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A recent forum poster to the thread Simplified characters - Learning Mandarin Chinese suggests that simplified characters are more useful to Mandarin students than traditional characters.

I don't get a lot of feedback about this from readers, so I'd like to know what you think - do you prefer to learn traditional or simplified Chinese characters? Please take the poll and/or post any comments here.


March 23, 2009 at 1:31 pm
(1) Byung-Yong Kim says:

Actually, I know most Chinese people currently use simplified character. That’s why we need to learn simplified character in studying Chinese language. However, traditional Chinese characters are still used in many other countries, such as Taiwan, Korea and Japan. So many of Korean like me want to learn Chinese Mandarin with both of characters and it is very useful to learn both and understand the meaning of the word more efficiently by comparing the characters.
Many thanks always.

March 23, 2009 at 1:32 pm
(2) Henrique says:

I have sure that Mandarin is learn in the most chinese school outside China. :)

March 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm
(3) Bala says:

Written language (traditional, simplified, with accents, grammatical genders, complicated grammar ) will always co-exist with shortcuts,abbreviations and total disregard for spelling. This is not a cultural hiatus. People who eat fast food give it up or sometims not at all. I think that we can and should learn every variation.No one can lose weight by pushing on the TV remote control

March 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm
(4) Brandeline says:

I prefer the Simplified characters personally because they are less busy, and so much easier to read as the size of the print gets smaller. However, since the actual number of characters that have both variations is comparatively small, I plan to learn both eventually as I would want to be able to read a newspaper, wether it comes from Taiwan, or Mainland China.

March 23, 2009 at 8:32 pm
(5) Larry Murray says:

I previously wrote expressing my opinion that Simplified characters were being studied by more people than Traditional and requested that your responses to questions should not be limited to traditional characters.

Simplified characters are “not” more important than Traditional characters.

To the best of my knowledge, almost all American universities offering Mandarin courses only teach Simplified characters; students wishing to learn Traditional characters are encouraged to do so on their own.

March 24, 2009 at 3:16 am
(6) Arthur says:

I’ve always preferred the classical characters; I want to remain able to read the classical literature, and especially poetry. Luckily they’re still abundantly available.
To my astonishment modern movies from the PRC are also exclusively using the simplified characters in subtitling. It seems to me a subtle but effective way of forcing readers of Chinese all over the world to learn the simplified forms. No problem, they’re much easier, so more people can become literate in a shorter time.

March 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm
(7) Winslow says:

No fair making us choose one or the other! “Both” is the obvious answer. (And there’s no question learning traditional first would be the easiest method in the long run.)

March 31, 2009 at 7:49 am
(8) Don says:

I’m currently studying Mandarin, and am being taught to use Simplified characters, which, frankly, I prefer at this stage of my learning; compared to the Latin, or even the Cyrillic alphabet, memorising (let alone writing!) Chinese characters is challenging enough without having to deal with Traditional characters at the same time. Interestingly, in London, where I live, almost all of the half-dozen free Chinese newspapers that one can pick up in Chinatown, are written in Traditional characters, presumably the legacy of the long British association with Hong Kong. As far as I’m aware, there is only one free Chinese newspaper here that uses Simplified characters.

April 1, 2009 at 11:27 am
(9) Linkailong says:

I want that poll to have a fourth option: Both!

Here’s an article about the simplified vs. traditional decision.

May 11, 2009 at 3:27 pm
(10) Yan says:

The traditional Chinese characters are the real Chinese words. Simplified characters have missing meanings and symbolism. If you want to learn Chinese properly, you should study using traditional Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese is for simplified minds.

July 7, 2009 at 5:11 pm
(11) 張善天 says:

U.S. universities, as far as I am aware, generally require students to learn both the orthodox (traditional) characters and the Chinese government’s simplified characters. Since the majority of overseas Chinese people in the U.S., along with the entire Chinese-speaking nation of Taiwan and the Chinese SAR of Hong Kong, use full-form characters, teaching only the simplified variants would be incredibly short-sighted. At my school, even professors straight from PRC China teach traditional Chinese characters, even emphasising them at the first-year level.

January 4, 2010 at 4:17 am
(12) Anita says:

I prefer Traditional Chinese and I think anyone interested in learning Chinese should learn Traditional Chinese.

There is no doubt that Simplified Chinese has its shortcoming esthetically compared to Traditional Chinese and a lot of the Simplified Chinese have lost their original meaning.

I also believe “Simplified Chinese is easier to learn” is a MYTH, NOT TRUTH.

In Simplified Chinese a lot of the words were not only “simplified” in strokes but replaced completely with another word (character) that just has the same pronunciation. English and Chinese writing systems are very different but just to give you an idea, it’s like creating a “Simplified English” replacing all “Their” with “There” and replacing all “hear” with “here.” Imagine how senseless the sentences will become?

Having learned Traditional Chinese, reading a sentence written in Simplified Chinese is like reading a sentence full of spelling errors. It bothers me to teach someone to write with the system where “wrong spelling” is part of the system.

Another main reason why I find Simplified Chinese characters harder is that in many cases two different radicals get simplified into one. So many simplified characters end up looking a lot more similar to each other than the traditional ones. This makes it harder to distinguish between two different characters.

July 25, 2010 at 12:11 am
(13) Patrick W. Caballero Jr. says:

I see nor desire no need to be so restrictive. If fluency is the ultimate goal why not, to more comprehensively reach that goal, learn each in its full capacity– pinyin, Traditional and Simplified. . . it can only enrich and make more profound the ultimate experience.

September 30, 2010 at 3:42 am
(14) Westwood says:

Simplified characters are used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. Those who plan to travel to or work in these places should start with simplified characters.

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities all use traditional Chinese characters. Students interested in these areas should start with traditional characters. Students interested in historical documents can start with traditional characters.

For more information, please read

Why Learn Both Traditional and Simplified Chinese Characters? Which to Begin with?


September 30, 2010 at 3:47 am
(15) Forest says:

It is great to know both if you want to truly understand Chinese language around the world.

March 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm
(16) Don says:

I guess there’s a kind of analogy (although some might say a spurious one!), with the two primary forms of written English: American English and British English. British English is obviously an older (i.e. more Traditional) form, and American English a newer form (i.e. Simplified). No one’s ever going to persuade Americans to use British English, but equally, there’s no chance of British English users adopting American forms wholesale. I’d guess a significant majority of foreign learners of English opt for American English (unless they learn their English in a country where British English is the norm), but both forms have equal legitimacy.

July 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm
(17) Jen says:

Don, I am frankly appalled that you would compare the development of American English to the simplification of the Chinese written language. I am furious that someone interested in a lingual and historical debate with modern cultural relevance can even bring this so-called ‘analogy’ to the table. Americans have a different sort of ‘dialect’ from their linguistic ancestors, but have effectively broadened the expanse of the cloud of similar words we share with the British through our own country’s development. Think of a tree with a sturdy trunk, and two strong limbs in a ‘v’ shape. They both come from the same place, and although they reach in different directions they remain grounded with the same roots of years ago. The British and the Americans will never completely merge, because each is unique- one is not a spin-off of the other. Did the limb grow from the limb or did both come from the trunk? Did Americans come from modern Brits or were our ancestors one in the same? So then the language itself has grown in the same way. It has never been condensed, reduced, or abridged- it progresses as we speak.

February 21, 2012 at 3:19 am
(18) Kev says:

Both should be taught, but in the order of teaching traditional first, then the simplified version. So people can actually appreciate how the language was developed and the cultural values in each Chinese characters may represent.

June 27, 2012 at 2:00 am
(19) 愛星星 says:

I am learning Chinese through traditional characters. At the same time I am aware I can’t ignore simplified characters when more than 95% people who speak Chinese use them.

In case you are wondering where the figure 97% came from, here is the answer:

Add the population of China and Singapore, and compare that to the combined population of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

@ Jen

The Americans were British who declared independence and then simplified the orthography (plough – plow) and grammar (learnt -> learned) a little. There is no denying that so don’t be appalled.

September 4, 2012 at 11:56 am
(20) Jacob De Camillis says:

As a life-long student of Japanese, I’ve found that a background in traditional Chinese characters extremely helpful in enabling me to read complex Japanese texts, i.e. news articles, pre-WWII Japanese literature, and scientific material. I have taken courses in Mandarin and find that after a solid background in traditional characters, it’s relatively easy for me to guess simplified characters without too much trouble.

I should note though: the Japanese do use Chinese characters differently than the Chinese themselves do in many instances. However, traditional characters none the less are a window into history and civilazation for both peoples.

September 5, 2012 at 1:16 am
(21) Maria says:

Hello!I have a question!if I know tradiotional characters will I be able to understand the simplified??

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