In my last post, I wrote of Pilot, a new device from Waverly Labs that would allow the wearer to receive an instant translation of a foreign voice in their ear. At the time of writing, Chinese (in any form), was not included among translatable languages.
But there is another way for those who need Mandarin or Cantonese translated while in China, and it’s an eminently sensible one. It’s the old way – simply asking someone – brought to the 21st century through WeChat, China’s current digital obsession.
While living in China, I often struggled with the language. I have more than one story of sheer linguistic frustration, from being stuck in a cab outside Suzhou and making choo-choo sounds to the driver, to having to deal with someone from a utility company knocking on my door at around 7am on a Saturday morning.
The only solution, I found, was to call a very understanding friend – rather like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? And so, my friend very patiently spoke to the taxi driver / utility lady / handyman, and kindly translated my washing machine for me.
Interestingly, I wasn’t the only foreigner doing it this way. A young speaker I met last month at a WeChat conference in Hong Kong, Swan Huang, told that me she started her business Ringy001 as a result of expats asking her for urgent translation support.
Through finding and following “Ringy001” on WeChat – the most comprehensive and sophisticated messaging app in the world, that does everything apart from make toast – non Chinese-speakers can request a free translation or instant communication from a native speaker, by sending a message.
Of course, there is a better solution still: learn the lingo. If you have any intention of moving to China and staying in China, do the right thing and take language and cultural orientation classes. An app can only take you so far.