Two languages are commonly referred to as "Chinese": Mandarin and Cantonese. Both are official languages of China.
Mandarin is by far the more popular of the two. Mandarin is spoken throughout most of mainland China as well as in Singapore and Taiwan. Cantonese is a regional Chinese dialect that's recognized as a separate language. It's commonly used in the peninsula and island of Hong Kong as well as in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangdong, also known as Canton.
Some people living in Canada, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the U.K., and the U.S. also speak Cantonese. Mandarin speakers can be found outside China as well.
Although there are some similarities between Cantonese and Mandarin, they're not similar enough for the speaker of the one to fully understand the speaker of the other.
Here's where things get more complicated: Mandarin and Cantonese are the names of spoken languages. The two written languages are Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.
Traditional Chinese is an older, more complex way of forming Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese is exactly what it sounds like. The simplified characters have fewer strokes and are easier to read. Beginning in the mid-20th century, the Chinese government promoted Simplified Chinese because it's easier to print and read. Today, Simplified Chinese has evolved to include different vocabulary and style, so it's no longer a direct alternative to Traditional Chinese.
Ready for another twist? Mandarin and Cantonese don't pair up neatly with their written counterparts. In other words, Mandarin and Cantonese speakers may write in either Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese, depending on where they live.
But you're more likely to see one writing system in a particular area. For example, Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan — even though the spoken languages are Cantonese and Mandarin, respectively. Many Chinese expatriates also use the traditional characters.
In Mainland China and Singapore, where Mandarin reigns supreme, most citizens write in Simplified Chinese. Chinese speakers in Malaysia also rely on the simplified system.
If you wish to communicate with an audience in Hong Kong, Guangdong, or Taiwan, you'll need a Chinese translator who's an expert at using the Traditional Chinese system.
Both Hong Kong and Taiwan are big exporters. So, if your business involves trade with Asia, you'll most likely need professional translation of your English documents into Traditional Chinese.
Of course, your incoming communications will require translations from Traditional Chinese to English.
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