I have received several questions from people learning Chinese, if they should learn Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese. I”m delighted to answer this question because it’s important! Who wants to get knee deep in learning something just to find out that something else would have been more useful! Before I answer the question we need to go over the difference between these two written languages.
Firstly, both simplified and traditional Chinese only refers to the written language only. Isn’t that something? There are two different ways to write! Anyway, simplified Chinese is pretty self-explanatory. It is the result of of a long process of simplification from the more complicated pictographic characters to what is most commonly used in northern mainland China. These characters have fewer strokes and are therefore more simply and efficiently written. This was done in response to the countries rather anarchic linguistic state wherein many different regions possessed their own dialectal language. The rise of Mao brought about a linguistic reform where scholars and linguists introduced “Putonghua” or the ‘common language’ also known as Mandarin and the simplified writing system to unify the differing linguistic groups. What actually happened was more of a linguistic colonization, but that’s another story! Basically, simplified Chinese is the ‘standard’ writing system used in the mainland.
Now on to traditional Chinese. Traditional written Chinese is used in southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and also used as part of the Japanese syllabary known as Kanji. In addition, students on the mainland who learn simplified Chinese also learn traditional Chinese. So based on this, it sounds like you should learn traditional Chinese, because it’s more widely used, but hold your horses!!! Which one you learn depends on your goals and motivations for learning Chinese. I’ve laid out exactly what you should do based on your situation!
If you plan to live in, study in, or do business on the mainland:
Learn simplified. All the signs are in simplified, menus and most books are written in simplified.
If you plan to live in, study in, or do business in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or southern China:
Learn traditional Chinese. Almost everything is traditional Chinese and if you don’t know it, you could be in trouble!
If you plan to also study Japanese:
Learn both traditional and simplified. That way you are learning simplified Chinese for regular use and then traditional Chinese to help you get a leg up for before you start learning Kanji. It will help ALOT!
If you just want to learn Mandarin in the easiest way possible:
Learn simplified. It’s easier and won’t take as much time to learn how to write. It will still take you a while but it will be less than traditional Chinese.
So basically, if you have the time and motivation to learn traditional Chinese you should in addition to simplified because it would only serve to benefit you! Otherwise, studying just simplified is just fine!
Hope this was helpful! Happy learning!