A Year in China – Using Translator Apps – by Matthew Breeze. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[My roommate Tyrone trying to buy a phone using only translator apps, facial expressions and hand signals.]
One important aspect of going to a new place, especially a new country, especially when living in a new country, is to be able to communicate with other people. Communicating with other people is one of the most important parts of being human. I am living in China for ten months and I do not speak Chinese. I am taking Mandarin classes while I am here in Zhuhai, a small Chinese city of about 2 million people, but I do not speak nearly enough Chinese to talk to the average person on the street. Yet I still must talk to people. I need to go to the market and buy food to cook, I need to buy water to drink and food in restaurants to eat. All of this requires communication.
Using translator apps on my smartphone is one very convenient and accessible way to talk to people who do not speak the same language as you. Here in Zhuhai I use translator apps almost every day. Google translate is useful if you can get it on your phone, Pleco is another amazing English-Chinese translator app. This app allows you to write Chinese characters and see what they mean, it allows you to speak into the app and then it translates it into spoken Chinese and of course it allows you to write words or phrases in one language and translates them into the other language.
The speaking functions is especially useful when trying to buy things whether that be fruit or phones. My roommate Tyrone needed to buy a phone about a week after we arrived in China. His phone that he brought from home would not accept a Chinese SIM card and thus he needed to buy a Chinese smartphone. Luckily my phone was able to take a Chinese SIM card and thus I was able to use my translator apps soon after arriving in China. These apps became absolutely necessary when Tyrone and I went to one of the local phone stores to try and buy a Chinese phone for Tyrone.
The store that we chose to try and buy a phone is near to where we live in the Zhuhai neighborhood or district called Tangjia. When we arrived at the store there was a lady behind the counter who was immediately ready to help us. She spoke no English and after being in China for only about a week, my friend and I spoke no Chinese. We were able to express through hand signals and pointing that we were there to buy a phone, but from there on out we needed translator apps. I took out my phone and the woman behind the counter took out her phone, she also had a translator app that was very helpful, and we began to communicate via our phones.
My roommate and I struggled with the translator on my phone because we needed to phrase things in a certain way to get a proper translation. There were many times where we would write something or say something and then translate it and show it to the lady and she would read or listen to it and then have a puzzled look on her face. She would then speak or write something into her translator and show us and we would be equally as confused. Luckily both she and my friend and I found the humor in the difficulty of this scenario and there was much laughter during the whole process. Eventually we were able to effectively use our translator apps to figure out how much things cost, what the best phone was for what we were looking for and a number of other crucially important things a person wants to know when buying a phone.
[My roommate Tyrone and a street vendor lady with looks of joy when buying stuff using translator apps goes well.]
Using translator apps to communicate, in this instance and others since I have been in China, has been a first for me. The simple fact that people all over the world have smartphones now makes this possible. I really am amazed by this technology that allows people to communicate in real time with people who do not speak the same language. The technology is not perfect, as was evident in our experience of confusion in using translating apps to buy a phone, but it works well enough to be effective. I have also learned that when you do not speak the same language as someone you are trying to communicate with, especially when trying to buy something or barter, everything will take more time. I have learned to give myself plenty of time to buy things because I now know that communication that would be quick and easy in an English speaking country is going to take much more time when one has to use translator apps.
Going to a place where I do not speak the language has been eye opening and amazing. I would recommend it to anyone interested in other countries and cultures. However, there are difficulties, such as communicating with others. This difficulty can be extremely frustrating, but translator apps have made the language barrier less of a problem than I originally thought it would be. My friends like Tyrone and I have been able to buy everything we need without many issues, and usually with lots of laughter.
Matthew Breeze serves as a senior editor for The North Star Reports.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu