Download this app and learn how to use it before you go. Obviously learning the language would be the ideal solution but I feel like a person shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to travel and expand their horizons simply because they cannot speak the language. Will not knowing the language slow you down? Oh yeah…in a big way. But Google Translate can be a big help.
Now I have gotten some push back on this by others who suggest using an app called Pleco as it will help you learn the language, I must disagree. Pleco is a good app, is free, and can be used offline, however, it will only do one word at a time, it is a dictionary. If you are familiar with the language and are getting hung up on the pronunciation of a word here or there it is great but if you know nothing of the language you need something that will ask questions for you such as, “Where are the restrooms?”, “Where is the bus stop?”, “How much is this?”, “Can I order a …?” Google Translate is your friend.
If you type a question or phrase into Google Translate it will translate it into Chinese characters and pinyin. This can also help you learn the language! Biggest difference is Pleco is more of a dictionary and will give you definitions of the foreign words. That’s great assuming you know how to spell them…
This is what Google Translate looks like when you type something in. You can see what you typed and then below that the Chinese characters and pinyin so you can try to pronounce it if you are at that stage.
If you turn your phone sideways at this time it will display the characters in a large font to show to the Chinese person you are trying to communicate with. I assume this is so they can read it without you having to hand over your phone so they can make out the smaller font. However, I have noticed a lot of Chinese folk can read English rather well so if they watch you type it that is often all they really need.
Below is what the Pleco app looks like. Remember it cannot translate questions or phrases so just individual words is all it will help you with. I find it confusing. Based on my search which is the correct one to ask for green tea???
Google Translate can be downloaded and used offline so you can communicate when you are on the streets, in shops, and restaurants and not use up your mobile data or have to seek out WiFi. However, it does have some great features that can only be used with data or WiFi and the camera is my favorite. It is far from perfect probably because Chinese is a difficult language and maybe not something you would mess with out on the streets unless you are really lost, but here is my example. This is the remote to the air conditioner unit in our room:
The screen capture on my phone made it a little dark but I think you can see what I am saying. This is using the camera feature on Google Translate on that same remote:
Normally a person could muddle through and figure it out but we had some units work great and others that would run for about 5 minutes and then kick off and couldn’t figure out why. It has been 90-100 degrees for most of the two weeks we have been here so we wanted to figure out how these babies worked!! They have been true lifesavers!
Both of these apps are free so I would say download them both honestly. I cannot speak a lot of Mandarin even after two weeks and it comes down to grunting and hand signals so Google Translate has been very helpful. If its good enough for Dr Strange, its good enough for me LOL!