Over 25 million foreign tourists visited China in 2015, and although most are from other Asian nations such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam, almost 5 million came from Europe and 570,000 from the UK.
Of the half a million Brits that take a trip to China each year most will have the holiday of a lifetime. However, issues stemming from miscommunication can be a serious concern for visitors. In the English Proficiency Index 2015 China was labelled as having a ‘low proficiency’, ranking a disappointing 11th out of 16 Asian countries studied.
Despite huge efforts by the Chinese, including having over 50,000 English language schools, the language barrier between locals and Westerners is very real. Could Translation apps bridge the language gap between East and West?
This year has seen a plethora of translation apps all claiming, or at least aiming, to break language barriers. However, translation company Global Voices doubt the practicality of the apps, especially in Asian countries where the language, alphabet, and sentence structure differs drastically from European languages.
Those planning on lingering a little longer in China should really consider a crash course in Mandarin, for those monolinguals among us, we’ve rounded up some of the most useful translation apps to use when travelling China.
1. Skype Translator
Skype is not only useful when calling friends back home, but thanks to the recent launch of Skype Translator, you can communicate with friends and colleagues in China. The app can currently only translate 7 languages, fortunately one of them is Mandarin.
However, despite the fact that there’s over a billion Mandarin speakers, many people in China speak local dialects, most of which are not intelligible with Mandarin. People in the South East, including residents of popular tourist destinations such as Hong Kong and Macau, tend to speak Cantonese rather than Mandarin.
2. Google Translate
Although much has been made of China’s relationship with Google, the search engine is available in China, returning this year after leaving in 2010 because of censorship issues and cyber attacks.
Google Translate is available too, however, Google is only China’s third most popular search engine. Baidu is the largest search engine in China and has it’s own translation app that uses similar technology to Google Translate.
The technology behind Waygo works in a similar way to Word Lens, the augmented reality translation app bought by Google in 2014. Smartphone users need only aim the camera of the phone at an sign and the translation is almost instantaneous.
However, Waygo goes one step further for travelers and tourists in Asia as it’s the only app that offers instant visual translation of Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters. Should Waygo be your translation app of choice in China? They certainly think so, claiming that they have the “app that is changing the way expats, tourists, and business travellers experience Asia.”
Waygo doesn’t even need to be online, which is a good job as almost half of the population of China doesn’t have access to the internet. China can be overwhelming but, as long as you’re prepared, whether that’s by finding the right translation app or taking a crash course in Mandarin, it may well be the most rewarding holiday you’ll ever have.