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Chinese: Mandarin, Cantonese, Simplified or Traditional?

One of the most common areas of misunderstanding people have with regards to translation and interpreting is with the variations within the Chinese language. Many people are unaware that there are different Chinese dialects and different Chinese scripts. This article provides a simple explanation of these variations.

Spoken Chinese


There are many regional dialects and variations of the Chinese language. However there are two main strands which cause people a lot of confusion. These are Mandarin and Cantonese.

Mandarin is the most used dialect of Chinese as it is the official language of the Republic of China (mainland China). It is also used in Taiwan.

Cantonese differs from its mainland relative and is spoken in the Canton (or Guangdong) province in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao.

Chinese Language Map

Written Chinese


As there are differences in spoken Chinese, so too are there differences in written Chinese. Today, Chinese characters come in two forms. One is known as 'traditional' and the other 'simplified'.

The split came when simplified Chinese was introduced and promoted in mainland China by the government in 1949. This was done to improve literacy rates in the population. Mainland Chinese went on to use the modern version of characters whilst Chinese populations outside mainland China (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao) stuck with the original traditional script.

The basic difference between them is that the traditional form is still based on earlier characters and uses more strokes. The more modern simplified characters are a lot simpler.

Which Chinese do I need?


If you are still unsure as to whether you need Mandarin, Cantonese, Simplified or Traditional, please contact us for advice.