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Simplified vs Traditional Writing System

I learn simplified Chinese while my father learnt traditional Chinese (繁体字). To be able to read his writing, I have learnt, without any formal lessons, how to read traditional Chinese characters. However, if you want me to write traditional Chinese characters, I will take a very long time and there is high possibility that I will write the simplified characters.

The name 简体字 implies 简单 (simple) for simplified Chinese; students love simplicity. Not going into history, we can make a guess that simplified Chinese was created to make life easier for students to learn Chinese language. I am neither a linguist nor a policy maker, but I would like to share some problems with having two writing systems for one language.

1. Many characters remain unchanged.

People love to do things in a simple way. With the creation of 简体字, people are happy. After 20 years, when the young generation is born, the young people want even simpler characters. That’s not very possible, and so the younger generation starts complaining.

With latest technology, the younger generation can use the computers or mobile devices to learn new languages. Some of the questions that my students asked me:

— Why do we need to learn to write Chinese characters when we have keyboards to help us?

— Why do we need to learn Chinese language when we have Google Translate?

There is one student whose answer makes me wonder if we really need to learn traditional Chinese — Her Chinese language teacher is a Taiwanese and sometimes write traditional Chinese characters. I encourage her to learn the traditional characters. My reason is that maybe one day she will visit Taiwan and she will be “surrounded” by traditional characters. Her answer: It is the job of a tour guide.

2. Simplified characters are used in People’s Republic of China.

But not everywhere in the world. Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong learn, write and use traditional Chinese characters, while Singapore and Malaysia are somewhere in between. Somewhere in between? Aren’t Singapore students learning simplified Chinese? Yes, but we still see traditional characters around.


Traditional Chinese characters found in Singapore

3. Different generations, different writing systems

As mentioned above, my father and I learn different writing systems. I know how to read traditional Chinese characters because there is a need. But the case is different for my students, their parents learn simplified Chinese characters and thus they think traditional Chinese characters as “aliens”, something that they do not understand and they don’t even bother to understand.

I can understand how they look at traditional Chinese characters because there is no need to know the characters. Even if they have a chance to visit Taiwan or other countries that use traditional Chinese characters, they have gadgets or the tour guides to assist them.

I do not blame my students. Nonetheless, I hope that they can see the beauty of traditional Chinese characters one day and be interested to learn to read. Do you like traditional Chinese characters?


Before we start the story, let’s learn a few related words.

Chinese Language Learning Corner

  • 冰 — ice
  • 水 — water
  • 老虎 — tiger
  • 北极 — North Pole
  • 熊 — bear
  • 北极熊 — polar bear
  • 森林 — forest
  • 热带雨林 — tropical rain forest
  • 哪里 — where?
  • 盒子 — box

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This is a short story about the missing ice. We know that the ice has melted and become water. Using this short story, you can teach children Chinese language and Science at the same time. If your children are kinaesthetic learners, you can also let your children put some ice on a plate and see them melt.

Enjoy the story!

Writing Chinese Language Sentences

You have been learning Chinese language for some time, you have read some interesting Chinese language story books / novels, you have learnt about the grammar and 数量词… And now, you want to challenge yourself to start writing a journal or diary in Chinese Language.

In this post, we start from short sentences and slowly go for longer sentences.

Chinese language sentences are in the format of subject — verb — object, thus we can start from what we eat, what we wear, what we feel and slowly go for more complex sentences.

Examples of simple sentences:

  1. 我吃饭。 — I eat rice.
  2. 我穿衣。 — I wear clothes.
  3. 我很开心。 — I am very happy.

Examples of longer sentences:

  1. 我今天吃鸡饭。 — I eat chicken rice today.
  2. 今天我穿白衣和黑裤。 — Today, I wear white shirt and black trousers.
  3. 我很开心,因为可以出去玩。 — I am very happy because I can go out to play.

From the examples of longer sentences, we add in more details of when (今天), what (鸡饭, 白衣, 黑裤) and why (因为可以出去玩). We can also add in where, who and how, like the below examples:

Other examples of longer sentences:

  1. 我今天在学校吃鸡饭。 — I eat chicken rice at school today.
  2. 今天我穿白衣和黑裤,哥哥穿白衣和蓝裤。 — Today, I wear white shirt and black trousers, while my brother wears white shirt and blue trousers.
  3. 我很开心,因为可以坐巴士出去玩。 — I am very happy because I can go out to play by bus.

Once you can add in more details and write longer sentences, you are on your way for writing a good journal or diary. Keep it up!