Simplified or Traditional Mandarin
Should you learn Simplified or Traditional Mandarin?
Ricky at the fluentin3months forum asked the following:
“Simplified Mandarin as they say is used and spoken in mainland China. But traditional Mandarin is used on signs, history books, restaurants, newspapers, and possibly used more locally around US. Which has me in the middle.
I was thinking of just learning traditional as it would be easier to cross over to simplified. What do you guys think?”
The full post is on the link above. I’ve replied to it there, but feel that I can go into a bit more detail on Simplified or Traditional Mandarin here, outside the forum setting.
Firstly, there’s a misunderstanding here. Simplified and Traditional are not two different types of Mandarin. Rather, they are two different (but related) writing systems for using the same language.
So, the sound ‘yi’ in Mandarin is always the same. Pinyin, Simplified and Traditional are different ways of writing this syllable. ‘Yi’ is a bad example, because it’s them same in simplified or traditional Mandarin, but it makes the point.
Simplified or Traditional Mandarin: The Benefits of Learning Simplified
I’d say, and have said, the biggest time suck when learning Mandarin is learning the characters. Learn simplified, because you don’t want to make it harder on yourself than you have to. That said, if your goal is mainly to speak, you’ll probably get away with learning pinyin anyway.
My major reason for choosing simplified over traditional mandarin is twofold
1. Mandarin has a billion+ native speakers. Most of them will write to you, and you can write back, in simplified. It’s one of the true benefits of Mandarin: Many speakers. Traditional limits you.
2. Learner materials tend to overwhelmingly be in simplified. The best book I’ve found is Tuttle’s Learning Chinese characters, and it deals mostly in simplified. Also, the Chinese proficiency tests use simplified characters, so if you wanted an official benchmark for your progress, that’d be the best place to look.
Simplified or Traditional Mandarin: Benefits of Learning Traditional
You get a more fuller understanding of the development of the character system if you learn traditional. You’ll also have it easier should you wish to learn Cantonese or another language that uses the traditional character system in the future.
As Ricky says in the linked topic, signs can commonly be written in traditional symbols. So, take a step back and say, “Is my goal to learn to read signs?” If it is, (and it might be if you’re moving to rural China,) then learn traditional. If you’re going to Taiwan or want to consume Taiwanese subtitles, then learn traditional.
Simplified or Traditional Mandarin: The Alternatives
Just learn Pinyin and one writing system. Realistically, my advice to someone asking the simplified or traditional Mandarin question would be to say, “Learn simplified for the reasons above. Then learn the phrases, “How do you write this in simplified?” “How do you say this?” and “How do you write this?” That’ll cover all eventualities.”
That said, I don’t live in Taiwan, and don’t need to read street signs. Your needs may vary.