What are the best voice translation apps for China travelers? Perhaps you’re not an omniglot who can speak multiple languages fluently. Maybe you’re a bit worried about traveling around China without speaking Chinese. Many of us have those feelings when we travel abroad and now thanks to the computer in our pocket, it’s possible to use a good translation app while traveling in China.
It’s important to note that I’m going to focus on here is specifically voice translation apps.
There are a number of great Chinese dictionary apps or apps that can help you translate Chinese menus or signs using your phone camera.
But that’s not what this is about.
The purpose of these apps is to allow you to speak English (or your native language) into your phone and have it immediately translate and speak the Chinese phrase.
Conversely, a Chinese person could speak to you through your phone and the app will automatically translate English to you.
For tourist and business travelers, these voice translation apps can be a life-saver. As I’ve written before, it is possible to travel China without speaking Chinese, and this use of technology is a primary way to do so.
Currently, all of these apps operate using an internet connection for voice translations. Offline mode only works for text-to-text translations. This means that if you want to effectively use a voice translator in China, you’ll need to make sure that you can use your phone on a Chinese network and if not, figure out how to get a Chinese SIM card.
I could inundate you with a list of 10-20 apps. Instead, we’re going to focus on these five popular apps that I’ve had experience using:
Hopefully you’ll find one that works best for you. Enjoy!
Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use one of the services listed. I only recommend what I’ve personally used, and I appreciate your support!
The Baidu Translate app (available for iOS devices and Android) is honestly not my favorite voice translator app, but I list it here first for one reason…
…it’s a China-approved app.
What this means is that you won’t have any problems using the app within China. It isn’t blocked by Chinese censorship and it (probably) never will be.
The interface is very simple to understand even though a lot of it is in Chinese. Most people shouldn’t have a problem. Check out some of the screenshot examples below:
Based on my experience, translations through Baidu Translate are fast and surprisingly accurate. In conversation mode (which you can see on the right above), I like how it uses a text message-style approach to chat history.
There are numerous features (or “mini-apps” as they call it) within the app, but since the app was designed for Chinese people to use, most of them won’t help you.
For example, there’s a Phrase Book mini-app, but it only translates from Chinese to English/Japanese/Korean. There are no English to Chinese phrases.
There’s only one problem: it’s one of the many Google apps that is blocked in China.
This means that if you want to use Google Translate in China, you’ll need to use a VPN. I personally use ExpressVPN, which allows me to not only access Google Translate but also Instagram, Facebook and many other blocked apps in China.
Google offers voice and conversation translation, as well as the ability to star certain phrases that you want to save for later. Check out the Google Translate screenshots here:
In addition to the voice translation functions, Google Translate offers a great handwriting function (to write in Chinese characters for translation) as well as a camera function.
Unfortunately, in my personal tests the camera function on this and most other apps didn’t work well.
There are a few apps on this list, including Google Translate, that offer an “offline mode” where you download a Chinese language pack. The only downside to this offline mode is that it only works with text, not voice. For voice translations, you’ll still need a network connection.
iTranslate is the voice translate app that has the best user experience by far of any others listed here. The only downside is that it’s not free.
As you can see in the screenshots below, the app offers both conversational voice translation as well as a helpful phrase guide with audio pronunciation.
iTranslate functions like many of the other apps on this list, which means that you can type, speak or point your camera at text to get a translation.
For a truly voice-first experience, I recommend you check out the iTranslate Converse app. This app takes the ease of voice translation to a new level.
The idea is that you hold the phone upside-down like a microphone and just press the screen to talk. It automatically detects which language is being spoken and translates.
If I were to give an award for design and ease-of-use on this list, Converse would win without question. It’s also one of the only apps that even has an Apple Watch app.
If you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, you might want to invest in this app as a good voice translation for China.
Although similar to Google Translate, Microsoft Translator has one distinct advantage: it’s (currently) not blocked in China. This is part of what makes it a great voice translator for China.
The app itself is quite simple, but I like how it gives you the option to not only hear the translation but also see it in Chinese characters and pinyin.
Another feature that makes Microsoft Translator unique is the over-the-network conversation mode.
This means that if multiple phones all have Microsoft Translator, you can connect them with a code and have everybody join the same conversation.
I can see how this might be useful for a multilingual team that needs to communicate easily. You can see the start page for both the over-the-network as well as the in-person conversation views in the screenshots above.
Honestly, I hesitate to mention Speak & Translate, an additional option as a voice translator for China. It’s highly rated in the app store, however it doesn’t do anything better than all the other voice translation apps listed above.
You can see below that the user interface is colorful but a bit clunky.
The app is only available for Apple iOS devices (sorry, Android users). It’s a freemium app, which means that you can use it for free (10 translations per day) with tons of ads and annoying popups.
Or you can pay for the full, add-free version.
In the end, my recommendations boil down to this:
Most of these apps operate in a similar way, so I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with any app in particular here.
They key is making sure you can use your phone in China on the network to use the voice-to-voice translation features.
Once you have that squared away, these apps make it super easy to make your way around China even if you can’t speak a single word of Chinese!
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