Should you Learn Simplified or Traditional Chinese Characters?
Updated: May 18
Learning to write isn’t always easy and can be more difficult when it is not your native language, even if it is your heritage language. Here is when you might start asking yourself if your child should be learning Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese characters as they learn Mandarin.
You will find that in Mainland China, they use Simplified Chinese —put in place there in 1946 to help improve literacy. It is also widely used in Malaysia and Singapore. Traditional Chinese characters are still used today in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.
So is one better than the other, and does it even matter? Choosing whether your child learns Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese characters can depend on a few things. Some of which can include your family background, learning goals, and might be easiest for them.
Learning Traditional Chinese Characters
When deciding if you want your child to learn Traditional or Simplified characters, you will want to consider how much your child will be communicating in writing and how much reading they will be doing in either script. Also, nowadays they can use Pinyin to communicate in writing and therefore will not typically be handwriting Chinese characters.
One major consideration you may have in choosing Traditional Chinese for your child to learn is if the family and friends they will be communicating with in Mandarin only use Traditional Chinese. Something else to consider is whether they will be traveling fairly often to places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Macau and want to make sure your child clearly understands the Chinese script when they visit.
The Influence of Chinese Migration
In 2021 migration from Hong Kong to Canada soared, but many Chinese people are expecting to migrate to Canada, not only from Hong Kong but also from Mainland China, in the coming years. Why do you need to consider migration, and how does it impact your child?
Essentially it means that there will likely be more exposure to people who know Simplified Chinese vs. Traditional Chinese in Canada. This can be a factor when deciding what your child should learn because it can influence the type of script they are exposed to.
Learning Simplified Chinese Characters
When deciding whether to teach your child Traditional or Simplified Chinese characters while they learn Mandarin, consider that teaching Simplified Chinese characters to your child may make it easier for them and keep their interest. They are less likely to become discouraged as there are fewer strokes to learn. Ultimately, the end goal is for them to learn to read, write and use the Chinese language.
One thing to remember is that once the child learns Simplified Chinese, it is possible for them to recognize the characters when exposed to Traditional Chinese. Chinese is logographic, meaning each symbol either represents a word or a unit of meaning. So seeing and recognizing the shapes of the characters can help someone familiar with Simplified Chinese somewhat decipher Traditional Chinese.
There is ultimately no wrong choice, just preference from family to family. One is not better than the other. The important part is that your child learns to recognize characters enough to read them and understand them.