Hello Google Translate, my old friend | A blog post by Ces Lewis

Hello Google Translate, my old friend | A blog post by Ces Lewis

TPR (a fancy word for charades) is the core element of my job. It requires the modelling and acting of words, to encourage a complete understanding of a topic, without the need to translate. It allows the communication of an idea between two people who cannot understand each other through language.

It’s also the core element of my survival in Fuzhou.

Falling victim to Fuzhou flu, I very begrudgingly dragged myself to the pharmacist at the end of the road. My company are extremely supportive and would send the school admin to take me to the local clinic for a check over and medicine if I asked, but I felt it excessive to call him in on his day off just because my throat hurt.

As a personal policy, if I’m not dying, I can handle it myself.

Equipped with the google translate app which apparently doesn’t exist purely for the benefit of passing GCSE French (and no VPN needed once downloaded!!), I walked in. Coughing rather furiously and pointing at my throat, the pharmacist giggled at me. I definitely had his attention. I showed him the translation on my phone ‘Sore throat. Medicine please’, to which he nodded, and handed me several packets of brown balls to swallow daily.

chinese translation

(As a later note; I can confirm these miracle workers did exactly what they say on the packet, and I am once again at peak health).

Feeling triumphant, I chose against returning to my flat and staying a sick little hermit all day. 
Instead I ventured on further, entering the red shop with the word ‘SPA’ on it, confident from its self-explanatory name emblazoned on the front. Only months before the big move, I was unfortunate enough to discover the struggle of acne. The stress of preparing to move, mixed with the change in diet, new job etc has not helped my case, and throughout my stay, my face has increasingly worsened. Walking in, I pointed to my once clear chin, and looked solemnly at the lady.

Almost instantly, she sat me down. Between a healthy mixture of TPR and my translation app, she talked me through a 6 session treatment plan which even included my own little bottle of fancy moisturiser. Cheap even by Chinese prices, I eagerly signed on.

The whole process is terrifying, starting with being lulled into a false sense of security with a face massage and short facial. Then comes 45 minutes solid of being poked and prodded with the biggest collection of sharp tools under a blindingly bright light. However the ending facial helps me forget the pain enough to return weekly. The lady is also very sweet, and when our phones are not to hand, we can happily communicate through – you guessed it – TPR! (and the occasional “ok”!).

(For anyone else struggling with acne, I promise this shouldn’t put you off moving to an entirely different climate/culture/time zone. I’ve done more here to fix my face than I would have at home!)

So far, so good.

I have also downloaded the tinder-equivalent ‘TanTan’ very early into my stay here. The premise of the app is to find people with similar interests that you can talk with. Popular amongst the expats and having a seemingly large Chinese following, it appealed to me a great way to start learning the symbols of common phrases.

Tan Tan comes with its pros and cons, the most common questions focused around my height and skin colour (which I figure isn’t vocabulary I will be using too often myself?). To date, I have 5958 likes on the app, which for a city populated by 10 million isn’t many, but for a girl from a small town in Essex, is something worth mentioning. To my dearest mother, who I know eagerly reads these blogs, it looks like I won’t be forever alone after all! You can relax now.

One of the cons to the app is that I’m still not quite accustomed to the bluntness of the Chinese, and can be a lot more sensitive in conversation. One very confident male informed me that my goals of learning Chinese were irrelevant, as he could communicate with me despite no knowledge of English via translation apps. I started to consider, perhaps my whole venture to China was meaningless, as maybe translation is a dead end? Taking his comments far too seriously, I actually started to reconsider my life goals, and wondered if I should call it quits, return to London and work in an office.

Fear not readers, I was very quickly reminded how stunted translation apps are, and that although they help to aid understanding, they should never be fully relied on in lieu of actually learning the language.

“Do you have Wechat?”  he asked me.
“Yes” I responded, less than eager to continue communication at this point, but too polite to stop it.
“You should get it” he responded.
But wait… hadn’t I already told him I had it?
“I have it”
“Yes, you should get it because…” he continued. I won’t bore you with details of his reasoning, know only that I use it daily. But I rather smugly felt all my initial positivity return almost instantly.

He eventually came to understand me, but by this point, I chose to ‘unmatch’ him. He was a Sagittarius after all, and as an Aries, I couldn’t see our stars aligning anytime soon, leaving our prospects of friendship very unlikely.

So to conclude, at one whole month in, I’m very lucky to have found a tutor and set up a language exchange, also attending the weekly lessons provided by my company. This isn’t enough at this point though to avoid the need for translation apps at the beginning.

The Google Translate app has been my personal saviour, as once downloaded, the app can be used even when offline with no 3G. Simply download a basic English-(Simplified)Chinese dictionary to the app meaning you are never without the essentials. Even better, when online, the app shows both the pinyin (Roman character spelling of Chinese words) and the Chinese characters, AND offers the opportunity to play the message out loud in case reading isn’t an option.

But my personal favourite? For any questionable food labels, the camera application will translate words live on screen, making it just that little bit easier to branch out in the supermarket! There are multiple other possible apps, and to be honest, most Chinese people often have apps on their own phones to speed up the process. But upon arrival, know that any teacher will happily recommend you their go-to (and I promise you, they’ll have one).

I couldn’t be happier with how everything is falling into place and although miscommunications are still there, they are definitely happening less frequently as I become more settled in my surroundings. And with regards to the Google Translate app? USE IT!!

Just be aware that literal translations and cultural differences can still cause confusion (so don’t take anything too seriously!)

Ces is a British teacher working at our Da Ru branch. You can read more of her articles here: My Relationship with Chinese Transport and One Medical with a Side Dish of Competition. 

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