Should you learn Simplified or Traditional Chinese characters?

When starting to learn how to write Chinese characters, you may wonder if simplified or traditional Chinese characters should be your first point of call. 

A lot of people will think this is a no brainer and say:

“Start with simplified Chinese first, it’s easier!” 

Our take? 

It isn’t as simple as that. 

So before you pick up your pen and start learning stroke order, read through our take on simplified and traditional Chinese characters. 

What’s the difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese? 

In short, traditional characters (繁体字 fántǐzì) contain more strokes than their simplified (简体字 jiǎntǐzì) equivalents.

As a result, they look more complex and, in theory, are harder to learn.

But there’s more to it than that, of course!

As the name suggests, traditional Chinese characters have been around for much longer. 

Simplified Chinese was introduced in the 1950s in the People’s Republic of China, as a way to increase literacy rates across the country.

But not all characters were simplified.

Whilst a lot of the traditional characters you’ll encounter differ from their simplified forms, you’ll be pleased to know this isn’t always the case

That’s right: 

Some characters are exactly the same in traditional and simplified Chinese. 

A few examples include: 

Simplified ChineseTraditional ChinesePinyinEnglish
you
rénperson
zhōngmiddle
hǎogood
xiǎosmall
big
tiānday

Now, back to the differences! 

As mentioned, traditional Chinese characters tend to be more complex. 

Here are a few examples on simplified and character their traditional counterparts: 

Simplified CharacterTraditional CharacterPinyinEnglish
cóngfrom
àilove
guócountry
chēvehicle
dǎoisland
wénsmell
area
kāiopen

As you can see, whilst they all contain more strokes in their traditional versions you’ll notice common elements, such as radicals, in each character. 

The more traditional and simplified characters you learn, the easier it will be for you to identify patterns. 

A few common patterns include: 

Characters with 贝:

  • 页 (yè / page) 頁
  • 财 (cái / wealth) 財 
  • 赚 (zhuàn / earn) 賺 

Characters with 车:

  • 软 (ruǎn / soft) 軟
  • 轻 (qīng / light) 輕 
  • 轮 (lún / wheel) 輪 

Characters with 门:

  • 问 (wèn / ask) 問
  • 闭 (bì / close) 閉 
  • 闹 (xián / noisy) 鬧

Characters with 钅:

  • 错 (cuò / wrong) 錯
  • 铁 (tiě / iron) 鐵 
  • 钱 (qián / money) 錢

Characters with 马:

  • 妈 (mā / mother) 媽
  • 骂 (mà / curse) 罵
  • 吗 (ma / question particle) 嗎

Which parts of the world use traditional Chinese? 

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and some overseas Chinese communities use traditional Chinese characters.

Simplified Chinese is mostly used in mainland China and Singapore, but you’ll also find overseas Chinese communities using it too.

Is Mandarin Chinese traditional or simplified? 

Simplified and traditional Chinese are writing systems, whereas Mandarin is a dialect of Chinese – a way of pronouncing Chinese characters.

You can read both simplified and traditional Chinese characters in Mandarin. 

Cantonese, on the other hand, tends to be more commonly written using traditional characters – the writing system they use in Hong Kong. 

Which should I learn first, simplified Chinese or traditional?

There are certain scenarios where we’d recommend traditional over simplified – for example, if you’re planning to binge on Taiwanese TV dramas and want to read the subtitles! 

Whereas if you’re focused on mainland China, you’d probably want to start off with simplified. 

Here are a few more pros of starting with either traditional or simplified Chinese:

Advantages of learning traditional Chinese characters first include:

  • Simplified characters should be a breeze for you to learn later on
  • You’ll get a more accurate understanding of how a character came to represent its meaning
  • Even in places where they predominantly use simplified characters, you’ll still come across places where traditional is used for artistic or historic purposes 
  • You get bragging rights

Advantages of learning simplified Chinese characters first include:

  • Depending on how you learn, you’ll probably find simplified Chinese easier to remember
  • If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, you’ll have more opportunities to practise using simplified 
  • There’s a lot of Chinese learning resources that uses simplified

And that’s your crash course in traditional and simplified Chinese characters! 

Whichever you decide to learn first, we’d highly recommend gaining enough exposure to both during your Chinese studies. 

加油!jiāyóu!

(you’ll be pleased to know this is the same in both traditional and simplified!)

3 easy ways say thank you in Chinese

You’ll be pleased to know that you have plenty of options when it comes to saying “thank you” in Chinese.

Whilst some ways are more direct than others, learning how (and when) to express your gratitude is always a good first point of call in any language. 

After all, who doesn’t like being polite and showing appreciation to others? 

But when it comes to the Chinese language, it’s important to understand the weight that different levels of “thank you” carry. 

Why?

Well, using the wrong type of “thank you” could come across as a little heavy in certain situations – which to others can sound exaggerated, sarcastic or insincere. 

So read carefully and take note! 

Here are 3 different ways to say “thank you” in Chinese and exactly what they mean. 

1. 谢谢 (xiè xie) thank you

In Chinese, 谢谢 is very much the ‘textbook’ way to say thank you. 

It’s what most learners come across in their first chapter of a Chinese textbook, or in an app to learn Chinese. 

And for good reasons: 

谢谢 is without a doubt the most common way to express your appreciation in Chinese. 

It’s also the safest way, too. 

By safest, we mean you can use it between friends and strangers alike, in all types of scenarios. 

You don’t need to worry about it being overly formal or polite, or too casual either. 

For example: 

  • 我很好,谢谢!(wǒ hěn hǎo, xiè xie!) I’m good, thanks!
  • 我不需要那个,谢谢。 (wǒ bù xū yào nà ge xiè xie) I don’t need that, thanks.

Whilst the ‘you’ is understood when you’re saying 谢谢 to someone, in some cases you might want to add 你 (nǐ) ‘you’: 

谢谢你 (xiè xie nǐ)

By adding 你, you’re putting emphasis on the fact that you’re thanking someone, which makes it a little stronger than just 谢谢.

In formal situations, swap 你 for 您 (nín):

谢谢您 (xiè xie nín) – a thank you that emphasises the you, and is more formal and respectful. 

2. 多谢 (duō xiè) many thanks

Notice something similar with 谢谢?

That’s right: 

Both use contain the character 谢. 

On its own, 谢 means “to thank”. 多 means “many”. 

So put the two together and what do you get? 

“Many thanks!” 

多谢 is used similar to how we use “many thanks” or “thanks a lot” in English, as a proclamation. 

Use it as a quick, casual way to express your thanks. 

For example:

  • 多谢,哥们!(duō xiè gē men) Thanks a lot, pal!
  • 我走啦,多谢!(wǒ zǒu lā duō xiè) I’m off! Many thanks!

Just like 谢谢, add a 你 or 您 to the end of 多谢 to add emphasis to your ‘thank you’: 

  • 多谢你 (duō xiè nǐ) 
  • 多谢您 (duō xiè nín) 

3. 感谢 (gǎn xiè) thank / gratitude

On its own, 感 means ‘to feel’ or ‘feeling’. 

So you can think of 感谢 as literally meaning ‘to feel thankful’.

Think of it as a more formal way to say thank you in Chinese than 多谢 or 谢谢. 

Similarly, you can add a 你 or 您 to the end of 感谢 for a bit more weight. 

  • 真是太感谢你了。 (zhēn shi tài gǎn xiè nǐ le) Thank you so much, really! 
  • 首先我们要感谢各位老师为学校的大力支持。(shǒu xiān wǒ men yào gǎn xiè gè wèi lǎo shī wèi xué xiào de dà lì zhī chí). First, we want to thank every teacher for their tremendous support for the school. 

For a standalone expression, you can also add 非常 (fēi cháng) before 感谢 to say:

  • 非常感谢 (fēi cháng gǎn xiè) Thank you very much!

Now that was easy, wasn’t it? 

Next time a Chinese pal does you a favour, or you give an acceptance speech at an awards ceremony, you’ll know the best way to express your gratitude in Mandarin. 

谢谢大家!

xiè xie dà jiā!