Traditional Chinese Vs Simplified Chinese: What’s The Difference?

Traditional Chinese Vs Simplified Chinese: What’s The Difference?

This is one of the most common questions that clients ask us at IDENTITY Communications. We’ve put together a quick guide.

China is already a major driver of world economic growth. Domestically, it’s important too. Around 650,000 people in Australia speak a Chinese language and Mandarin is now Australia’s most spoken language other than English (2011 Census), over 1m Chinese tourists visit Australia each year and China is our top source of international students.

Chinese lanterns

IDENTITY is a leading multicultural agency in Australia. Just about every campaign we do from NSW Government through to commercial clients like Toys”R”Us, Johnson & Johnson, Meat & Lifestock Australia (MLA) include Chinese as a target community. And yes, we get asked these questions a lot:

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

The year of the Rooster falls on Saturday 28 January, 2017. With the Lunar New Year almost upon us, we thought it’s timely for a post that answers these common questions.

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

It’s the writing system. 

Traditional Chinese writing 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 in many characters – 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, for example the Traditional Chinese character for million 萬, in Simplified Chinese is written as 万.
  • Because the characters are simplified, one Simplified character could have the meaning of several Traditional characters (polysemy) for example the Simplified character of 复 could subtitle a range of Traditional characters including 複, 復 and 覆. Context is given when they are read in conjunction with other characters.

However, not all characters have been simplified so readers may understand parts of a sentence, however, there is always a risk of misunderstanding.

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

It’s spoken Chinese.

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 a Cantonese speaker to learn Mandarin. Cantonese is more commonly spoken in southern China, Hong Kong and the more established Chinese diaspora.

Cantonese speakers and Mandarin speakers would have a hard time understanding each other given the huge difference in tones. That’s why when producing 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?


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 China use Simplified Chinese characters.

In Australia, Chinese language media are a mix of all of these, depending on their audience. So your communications 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 general rule, when it comes to ethnic media in Australia, Chinese print media are mostly in Traditional characters, for online it’s Simplified and for radio it’s an even 50/50.

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

Chinese temple

Here’s a list of spoken and written Chinese for key Asian countries with a large Chinese population.

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

Did you find this guide useful? Please share with your network.

For more resources on how to target Australia’s diverse communities, visit IDENTITY.

Should SBS Relocate To Parramatta?

Should SBS Relocate To Parramatta?

“SBS should move to Parramatta. That should be their head office. They could clearly differentiate the organisation and go to the – as we know – absolute centre of Sydney, which is the centre of all sorts of ethnic groups.”

With this statement, the chairman of FreeTV, Russel Howcroft, set the cat upon the pigeons. Howcroft, also GM of Network Ten and panellist on ABC’s ‘Gruen Transfer’, was defending SBS from a merger with the ABC.

SBS responded, telling advertising industry publisher Mumbrella: “With employees across different cities, SBS tells stories from around the nation. The location of our headquarters is of no consequence. We’re focused on investing our resources in great programs, not moving offices.”

As a Western Sydney resident and former SBS employee, I would love to see SBS jump at the chance to move to where its constituents live, to showcase the diverse voices in the West.

The argument against the move included the usual: Parramatta is too far to travel. Really? You’d queue 30 minutes for a Messina gelato in Surry Hills but a 23-minute express train from Redfern to Parramatta is too far?

…if you want a workforce that reflects Australia’s diversity, Western Sydney is a recruiter’s paradise.

And then there’s the argument that a Western Sydney location makes it’s harder to recruit good staff. Bearded inner-city staff sporting tattoos and ironic long tees with dreams of directing an indie movie or at least produce a ‘This American Life’-style podcast, maybe. But if you want a workforce that reflects Australia’s diversity, Western Sydney is a recruiter’s paradise.

SBS Migrant MapTop three birthplaces for immigrants in Sydney and SBS’s Atarmon location. Source: SBS.

Western Sydney is one of the most diverse areas of Australia, with 38 per cent of the population speaking a language other than English at home, and up to 90 per cent in some suburbs according to the Centre for Western Sydney’s profile of the Greater Western Sydney region.

According to the study, 87.7 per cent of the residents in Cabramatta speak a language other than English at home – the highest anywhere in Australia. Other Western Sydney suburbs Bankstown and Canley Vale (my home) are also over 80 per cent.

Diversity is more than reflecting it from the North Shore or inner city.

Brexit and the Trump election clearly demonstrate that much of the media is living in one huge echo chamber. Their values don’t necessarily reflect Australia’s views. People are rejecting the establishment and will vote for change that reflects them and their values.

Western Sydney is home to 44 per cent of Sydney’s population.

Diversity extends to understanding the day-to-day experience of Greater Western Sydney residents. People like me who get up at 6am to catch a packed train and don’t get home until dark, and who still aspire to a green lawn while greenies in the inner city think it’s a drain on the environment. Others who brave Parramatta Road, the Great Western Highway, the M5 or M7. People who eat at modest Ma and Pa restaurants who have never heard of heirloom tomatoes and don’t get excited about foraged food.

But arguments against moving away from the city are not new.

Earlier this year, Sydney’s elites came out against the NSW Government’s relocation of the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta. They claim the move would ‘destroy’ the Powerhouse.

That’s insulting.

Other supporters of the status quo banded together to form the Powerhouse Museum Alliance. Collectively, they workshopped 10 Reasons to Save the Powerhouse Museum (presumably from the clutches of Western Sydney).

None of these reasons address why cultural institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum shouldn’t relocate to the West and be accessible to families and school children of the West. Isn’t Parramatta the geographic centre of Sydney anyway?

Sugar-coat the defence of keeping services inside the echo chamber all you like. The glaring truth is the media and advertising industry live in an inner-city bubble. And they want to keep it that way.

Outdoor company Adshel commissioned a survey of advertising agency staff which found “only 24 per cent of people have been to Parramatta while 62 per cent have been to North Bondi Italian”.

According to the survey:

  • 41 per cent of Sydney agency folk live in the city or inner city, compared to just 4 per cent of the public.
  • Another 25 per cent of agency staffers are in the eastern suburbs, compared to just 5 per cent of the general population.
  • Agency people travel 6.8km to work on average while the general public commutes 21.7km.

A survey of the wider media industry would show similar results, I reckon.

In the end, opposition to relocating services comes down to self-interest. The argument is the same whether it’s in Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane.

Now is the perfect timing for SBS to go west. Next month, Multicultural NSW is relocating from the CBD to Parramatta to join many other NSW Government agencies including NSW Police and Fair Trading NSW.

Out here, in the West, the struggle is real. And location is everything.

Thang Ngo served as a local councillor in Fairfield for nine years (1999-2008). He is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, a multicultural marketing agency that is part of the global IPG Mediabrands network. He also publishes the noodlies food, travel and lifestyle blog.

Originally published by SBS.

Photo credit, Gabriele Charotte, SMH.

Reducing This One Factor Of Voting Could Lead To A Different Prime Minister

Reducing This One Factor Of Voting Could Lead To A Different Prime Minister

Informal votes should not be a third force in Australian politics – but they could change the result of the election on July 2.

The last federal election in 2013 should have been the most engaged in Australian history – with a cast of Game of Thrones proportions.

Full of intrigue and bloodshed: Australia’s first female prime minister, cut down by the man she deposed three years earlier, they face a ferocious warrior, an opposition leader with a polarising personality. But the open warfare between Gillard and Rudd turned the Labor Government into a lurching Hodor, destined to be torn down by an unstoppable Abbott and his army of White Walkers.

The political war made for lead stories on the evening news, countless column centimetres in print and online, as well as damning commentary on talkback radio. You would have expected the intense coverage to translate into record engagement at polling booths. But it didn’t.

In 2013, the House of Representatives turnout rate – the percentage of enrolled voters who turned out to vote – was 93.23 per cent, just 0.01 per cent higher than the previous 2010 election. Apart from 2010, this was the lowest turnout rate since 1925.

While the turnout rate was low, the House of Representatives informality rate – the number of incorrect votes as a percentage of total votes – was 5.9 per cent, the highest in three decades. To be formal, voters must number every box with a series of consecutive numbers starting with ‘1’ being the first choice on the green ballot paper.

NSW was the biggest contributor to the national result, accounting for all of the top 10 electorates with the highest informality rates. Chifley, Werriwa and Barton recorded rocketing informality rates in 2013, with increases of 2.2 per cent or more between the 2010 and 2013 elections.

2013 Election Informal Rate

Watson recorded the highest informality rate at 14 per cent, more than double the national average. The electorate is represented by Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for Finance, and takes in southwestern Sydney suburbs that include Ashfield, Greenacre, Campsie, Lakemba, parts of Canterbury and Bankstown. The 14 per cent informality rate translates to 12,814 informal votes. If informality was a party, in 2013 it would have come third in Watson behind Labor’s Tony Burke (39,126) and Liberal’s Ron Delezio (30,617), and triple the vote of The Greens (4,171).

The Liberal party’s most marginal seat of Barton is held by Nickolas Varvaris on a waver thin margin of 0.3 per cent. The Barton electorate takes in Hurstville, home to more Chinese-Australians than any other suburb in Australia, where more than half the population are of Chinese ancestry. Both Liberal and Labor candidates polled over 32,000 primary votes at the last election. The 12 per cent informality rate in Barton, which is 10,948 in actual numbers, could have changed the result in that electorate.

Similarly in Parramatta, Labor’s second most marginal seat on a margin of 0.6 per cent, if the 9,474 informal votes were cast correctly and they were directed to one party, it could have resulted in a Liberal win, or turned it into a safe Labor seat.

It’s yet to be seen if changes in 2016, such as printing logos on ballot papers will affect informality in the House of Representatives, or if the Senate voting reforms will reduce or increase the Senate informality rate.

Why is informality so high in NSW?

NSW is Australia’s most multicultural state, where almost one in four residents speak a language other than English at home. There is a clear correlation between the rate of informality and low English proficiency – seven of the top 10 low English proficiency electorates are also in the top 10 electorates that have the highest informal vote rates.

2013 Election High CALD Electorates

An analysis of informal voting in the House of Representatives conducted after the 2010 federal election by the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) found “a statistically significant link between English language proficiency and informality rates. Divisions where higher proportions of the population have lower levels of English language proficiency are likely to have higher levels of informal voting.”

The AEC found a stronger correlation between English language proficiency and informality than other commonly cited contributors, such as the number of candidates, differences between federal and state voting systems and proximity of state or local elections to federal elections.

So what?

Many migrants flee totalitarian regimes in search of democratic freedom. Ironically, record numbers of these migrants have not been able to fully exercise their democratic privilege.

Where marginal seats are in areas of high cultural diversity – Barton and Parramatta are just two – reducing the informality rate could see a different House of Representative candidate elected. In closely contested elections, and the polls are indicating 2016 will be a tight race, reducing the informality rate could potentially lead to a different party in government.

Reducing the informality rate isn’t a “warm and fuzzy” initiative to educate migrants with low English skills on how to vote. Informality should not be a third force in Australian politics. It’s about upholding Australia’s democratic system, making sure the will of the people are reflected at the ballot box by electing the government they want at the end of the day.

Thang Ngo served as a local councillor in Fairfield for nine years (1999-2008). He is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, part of IPG Mediabrands, and publishes the noodlies food blog.

This Opinion Piece was published on SBS on 21 June 2016.

How We Should Be Calling Racism out: Radio 2SER

How We Should Be Calling Racism out: Radio 2SER

Should we be calling out racism?

Thanks to social media these days, anyone with an opinion has a space to express it. No topic is too taboo, and there’s nothing really there to censor what is said online. When people are talking about sensitive topics like racism, you’re sure to find some heated debate. Sometimes, it seems that being called a “racist” is the biggest cause of dispute. So, should we be so quick to call people racists?

IDENTITY’s Thang Ngo talks to The Daily on radio 2SER, this morning. Listen here.

Why I Don’t Label People ‘Racists’

Why I Don’t Label People ‘Racists’

In 1977, we were the first wave of Vietnamese to hit suburban Sydney. My hair was the first thing the kids at school noticed. Thick, wiry, unencumbered by products, my plume fanned out like a black lacquered miso bowl turned upside down. It was a source of tactile intrigue; just about everyone in my class had a go at patting that bowl. Eventually most of the primary school had a go.

Once the novelty wore off, it was my eyes. Ordinary to me, but apparently they slanted — “socket head”, “slant eye”, “slanty eye”, “ching chong”, “slap head” — I bore the painful slurs and queer looks daily for the first few months.

Not content with patting my head, commenting on my eyes, now they wanted me to talk. The first questions were always, “where do you come from? China? Japan?”. Painfully shy, I always disappoint mumbling, “Vietnamese”. Blank look all round. Not knowing what to do, they decide on stretching out their own eyes and continue to cry “slant eye” until they got bored and walked off, leaving me a trembling mess.

Too often we rush to “call out” racism. But how much of that is ignorance?

Then in high school it was the gay thing: “you like disco, don’t you”, “you’re a faggot, aren’t you?” I’d keep my head down, hug my backpack and walk through them as fast as I could. Once I attempted to get fit by jogging around the block. Within five minutes, the lads in a passing car screamed out “you run like a faggot”.
This is where you’d expect me to call out Australia for being a racist and homophobic country.

I won’t. Because it’s not true.

Being Asian didn’t restrict my opportunities in Australia

Overwhelmingly, Australians have been kind, generous and afforded me a fair go. Neighbours, friends, school and uni mates make more of an effort to stay in touch than I do. As a child from a penniless family, I have benefited from public housing and free university education. Today, I run an advertising agency that is part of a global communications group.

I reckon being Asian didn’t restrict my opportunities in Australia. In contrast, my step-sister in Vietnam, during the darkest years, had to pick through the rubbish tip for scrap to sell. She didn’t get to go to uni. With a little help from us, her family is now in a much better place, though her health never recovered from those hard years.
So you think I’m one of the few exceptions, a strong-willed survivor? My partner will tell you I’m a wimp, that I have a ‘girly’ voice and that I’m overly sensitive — far from being a fine, survival-of-the-fittest specimen. There are many success stories judging by the names at the top of the HSC honours list. While I get around in a Hyundai i30, others in Cabramatta are floating past in beaming Mercs.

My partner’s grandfather isn’t a racist, though the first meeting was awkward. From Far North Queensland, Granddad fought against the Japanese in WWII. He hated the Japs and he wanted me to know he hated them. After visiting with us for a few weeks in Sydney, his attitude changed. He got to know someone from an Asian culture and found, surprisingly we’re not all that different. Years later, back home, during the rise of Pauline Hanson, he became a vocal defender of the “Asians”. It was the same at primary and high school, many of the “racist” students, once they got past the physical difference, became my friends.

Playing the victim gives them power. It’s defeatist, an admission that attitudes can’t be changed.

Too often we rush to “call out” racism. But how much of that is ignorance? Ironically, by rushing in with the racist slur, we divide rather than unite. It’s easier to revert to labels than to understand the cause — Is the person worried about their job? Do they understand other cultures and religions? It’s an easy option to call it out and disengage with them. I believe people’s attitude can change when they are engaged and when they are exposed to people of different cultures. One in three people in Sydney speak a language other than English — diversity is the norm for our children. They are already engaged. The future is bright.

For now, playing the victim gives them power. It’s defeatist, an admission that attitudes can’t be changed. When I was a local government councillor in Fairfield, the residents claimed the authorities and police were “racist” by containing the drug problem in Cabramatta. The improvements in policing didn’t come from labelling the authorities racist. It came when we united and engaged and successfully lobbied for a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Cabramatta Police resources in 2000.

While I appreciate well-meaning people calling out racism in solidarity, sometimes we need to think twice. Stephen Fry quit twitter recently, disillusioned because that community has become “a stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended — worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know”. The current US Presidential race is a case in point. Despite seemingly anti-Latino policies such as building a wall along the US-Mexico border, Donald Trump won the Latino vote in the Nevada caucus (admittedly the exit polling sample was low). Howard’s anti-asylum seekers policy were backed by the Vietnamese community leadership because they believed them to be economic refugees.
When we visit my family in Vietnam, my partner is a constant source of attention. The children run up to poke his belly, stretch his chest hair and rub his head. Fluent in Vietnamese he frequently overhears people remark how obese and clumsy he is.

Racism? Or ignorance?

Thang Ngo served as a local councillor in Fairfield for nine years (1999–2008). He is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, part of IPG Mediabrands, and publishes the noodlies food blog.

Originally published at on March 2, 2016.