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Conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese

By Haiyang Ai | Published  06/20/2011 | Chinese , Translation Techniques , Software and the Internet | Recommendation:
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Haiyang Ai
Stati Uniti
Da Inglese a Cinese translator

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Conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese

Haiyang Ai


Chinese is a very complex system language family. Spoken Chinese are said to have more than eight major dialects. Modern written Chinese generally distinguishes between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese are used throughout mainland China, as well as in such countries as Singapore, and Malaysia, while Traditional Chinese are generally used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, and Chinese diaspora overseas. While some Chinese characters remain more or less similar, others look drastically different. Most Chinese people only read and write in one such system, without conversion, getting the main idea of a text can be difficult. Thus, when translating documents into Chinese, the first thing to make sure is which variety of written Chinese is needed. This can be done on the basis of the geographic location of your Chinese audience, as previously discussed. In Chinese translation industry, conversion between the two writing systems is not uncommon. For example, if both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese translations are needed, translating into one and then convert to the other, and make certain necessary adjustments is usually faster and cheaper than translating separately by two English to Chinese translators, one from English to Simplified Chinese, and the other from English to Traditional Chinese. Although translating separately with different translators generally yields higher quality, and we encourage it, the practice of translating into one and then converting into another is definitely not something unheard of, if not common practice. This article focuses on three levels of conversion: character level, word level, and professional level. We also discuss the qualitative differences between different levels of conversion.

Character Level Conversion

The first and probably easiest level of conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese is at the character level. In essence, there are about 2400+ charters that has a one to one correspondence between characters in the two system. Converting between the two simply means replace one from the other. Therefore, consulting the conversion table is what most algorithms do.

Google Translate, for instance, provides translation, or in what we call, conversion, between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Its conversion is at the character level, at this time of writing. It will be interesting to see if they would add more advanced level conversion in their later release of the software. At, we have also developed free web-based tools for this level of conversion: Simplified to Traditional Chinese, as well as Traditional to Simplified.

Word Level Conversion

The second level of conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese is at the word level. Although written Chinese does not have spaces to denote word boundaries, the concept of word in Chinese is nevertheless a very useful one. For example, the famous British soccer player David Beckham is translated into Simplified Chinese as “贝克汉姆”. In Traditional Chinese however, it’s translated as “碧咸”. Note that these two translations have unequal amount of characters, 4 in Simplified Chinese, while 2 in Traditional Chinese. This difference can be said at the word level: the two writing system use different words to express the same football star. This difference can not be compensated by character level conversion.

Typical software providing word level conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese includes Microsoft Office Proofing Tools. Microsoft has done a decent job in implementing the conversion by including many automatic adjustments at the word level. Still, there are quite some places that are left “unadjusted” and sound un-natural in the target language. It would be useful in Microsoft can update their word-level conversion table as more often.

Professional Level Conversion

Undoubtedly, the highest level of conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese involves flesh-and-blood human professional translators and specialists in the conversion process. This is the major difference between professional conversion and character- and word-level conversion. At this level of conversion, in-country native speaker experts are usually recruited to ensure the linguistic as well as cultural appropriateness of specific expressions. This leads to good quality of translation. However, due to the use of human experts in the process of conversion, professional level conversion is also the most expensive among the three levels of conversion. With that said, there are still softwares that are available to assist human specialists in order to make the conversion more efficient. STGuru, for example, provides conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese at professional quality.

Although character level conversion can convey the main idea of a test, most readers expect to read a text that at word-level and even professional level. For company who truly care about their product and services, we recommend professional level conversion, because this will ensure the highest quality , and will enhance the positive image of the company.


In this article, we discussed the difference between written Chinese, and explained three levels of conversion between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, including character-level conversion, word-level conversion, and professional level conversion. Along the way, we have suggested software packages and web-based free tools that can be used in assisting the conversion.

About the Author:

Haiyang Ai is a certified English to Simplified Chinese translator specializing in IT, business, finance and legal fields. He can be contacted at

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