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Are you confused?

You don’t need to be a futurist to see that Chinese consumers, with their ever increasing wealth, will be even more important customers in years to come. Domestically, they’re important too. Over 600,000 people in Australia speak a Chinese language. Mandarin is now Australia’s most spoken language other than English.

But marketing your product or service to Chinese consumer may seem daunting at first. Cultural issues need to be considered. At the very least there’s the issue of language. Until we can communicate via image only, let’s tackle some of the most common questions:

  • What’s the difference between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese?
  • What’s the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?
  • When do you we use what?

Q: What’s the difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese?

This refers to Chinese writing – which is in characters.

Traditional Chinese characters date back 2,200 years ago to the Han Dynasty. During the 1950s the government in China implemented the First Chinese Character Simplification Scheme, with reduced number of strokes – this is what is now more commonly referred to as Simplified Chinese.

Key difference between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese:

  • Simplified Chinese has less stokes, i.e. Traditional: 萬 Simplified:
  • One Simplified character could have the meaning of several Traditional characters (polysemy) i.e. one Simplified character of 复 could subtitle a range of Traditional characters including 複, 復 and 覆

Since not all the characters are different, most of the time readers could guess the meaning by only understanding parts of the sentence. However, there is a risk of misunderstanding.

Q: What’s the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?

They refer to the two most spoken form of Chinese (there are in fact another 20 spoken dialects in China). Cantonese has nine tones while Mandarin only has four, which leads some to argue it’s easier for Cantonese speaker to learn Mandarin, but harder the other way around.

Cantonese speakers and Mandarin speakers would have a hard time understanding each other given the huge difference in tones. That’s why when producing radio or TV advertising or any other communication involving the spoken language, you should cater for the relevant language preference.

Q: So Mandarin speakers use Simplified Chinese and Cantonese speakers use Traditional Chinese?

Not really.

That’s a major misconception. Those from Southern China use Cantonese but write Simplified. Those from Taiwan speak Mandarin but write in Traditional Chinese. The only thing you can be sure of is that people from mainland China use Simplified Chinese characters.

Q: Traditional, Simplified, Cantonese and Mandarin – when should we use what?

Here’s a list of preference for key Asian countries with a large proportion Chinese speakers.

  • China: Simplified / Mandarin
  • Hong Kong: Traditional / Cantonese
  • Macau: Traditional / Cantonese
  • Taiwan: Traditional / Mandarin
  • Singapore: Simplified/ Mandarin
  • Malaysia: Traditional / Mandarin

In Australia, Chinese language media are a mix of all of these, depending on their audience. So your advertising material should match the language used. The Australian Chinese Daily uses Traditional Chinese characters, so your advertising should match that. Radio 2AC broadcasts in Mandarin. The majority of Australia’s local online publishers use Simplified Chinese.

As a very, very general rule, most Chinese print media use Traditional characters, for online it’s Simplified and for radio it’s an even 50/50.