Need to know both scripts!

(Here are some traditional characters I thought were pretty.)


(I’m sure you simplified learners are like, “Uhhh, that’s ok. I’ll stick with simplified thanks!” Haha)

Hi everyone. I have been rather busy this week and haven’t had much time to put a lot into a new post. Therefore, I would like to talk to you all about something that has been bothering me quite a bit lately. I’ll get right into it. (It begins as a rant but turns into a lesson of sorts)

There are two types of Mandarin learners: those learning simplified characters, and those learning traditional characters. Many choose to learn both scripts, but I am going to categorize those learners with the “traditional learners” and I will tell you why.

From my experience, whenever a traditional learner comes across anything written in simplified characters, he will look at it and say, “Oh, that is ‘xxxx’ in traditional.”.

However, whenever I type anything in traditional to a simplified learner, all I get is, “Uhhh I can’t read that.” Not even difficult characters either. Most don’t even try! I’ll give you an example. I wrote this the other day to someone who is learning Mandarin, 「你學中文學了多久了?」Which means, “How long have you been learning Chinese?”. There is only one character that differs from the simplified script, 學(学). Now first of all I think from the context one could figure it out, from the shape one can definitely figure it out, and if all else fails…one can look it up. However, the first thing that pops out of his mouth is, “I’m sorry, I can’t read traditional characters.”.

So why is it that someone learning traditional characters can more than 9 times out of 10 read something written in simplified characters yet it very difficult for simplified learners to do the same with traditional characters? Keep reading.

There are about 80,000+ different characters that have ever been in existence. Obviously most are no longer used, there is a list of 4,808 commonly used characters. University students know around 6,000+ characters. The simplification process changed 2235 characters. So only 2235 of the characters out there were simplified. That means that the rest stayed the same. And of those 2235 characters, a very great majority are characters that have only had their radical simplified. So when a simplified learner says, “I don’t want to learn traditional characters, they are too hard to write. Simplified are easier!” This only applies to the 2235 characters that were simplified. The rest have not changed. So basically they are saying, “The 2235 characters that were simplified are easier, but the rest are too difficult to learn.” I beg to differ.

TC:強 SC:强 Is this simpler? There is an extra stroke.

Ok, so I won’t go into “simpler”, but let’s go into “simple”. If your reason for not wanting to learn traditional characters is that “They are too difficult” or “Simplified are easier” then think again.

Let’s take another look at those characters that I wrote at the top of the post. Here they are typed so that you may copy or look them up as you please. 矗戄攫蘸髓麒麟黴囊懿霾巍灌蘗蠢醺霸霹露魔黯嚷嚼壤攘蘑

So they look difficult, huh? Well they are and they aren’t. They do however have a lot of strokes, between 20 and 24 each. Why am I showing these to you? Because they are the same in simplified as well. Simplified does not mean simple! There are a LOT more of these, but I just took a few to show you as examples. You may not use all of these words in your life, but a lot of them are rather common. I would say that I have learned about half of these characters from reading them in actual content.

So, now it is a new question… Do you want to learn Chinese characters? If your answer is yes, then I encourage you to learn as much as you can about BOTH scripts because they are BOTH used in all sinophone countries, even China. You may not see traditional on a daily basis in China, but it is there nonetheless. There is plenty of media on the Internet and on TV that is only written in traditional that you need to be able to recognize, and the same goes for simplified.

To sum up my thoughts and my rant: You need to have at least a general knowledge of both of the Chinese scripts. If Chinese people can read traditional characters along with the simplified they were taught in school, then so can you! If the reason you are not learning traditional characters is because they are too “hard”, then you probably shouldn’t be learning Mandarin at all. A very large number of characters are complicated and have a lot of strokes, this is not only true of traditional characters.

I’d like to end on this little note: Simplified characters are FASTER to write, but HARDER to read. Traditional characters are SLOWER to write, but EASIER to read. Because of the simplifications, many characters now look very similar to one another and make reading harder.