If you’re headed to China to study abroad, the chances are that you’ve done some research on the place. It’s also likely that you did this research with a popular search engine, such as Google. While there is so much that China has to offer, Google is not one of them. In addition to getting used to a new culture, language, time zone, and entire way of life, you’ll also have to adjust to the internet culture of the world’s largest country. In this article, we’ll explore the top five apps that will help you navigate a semester or two in China and make the most of your smartphone as you live and learn on the other side of the world.
1: WeChat (Weixin)
Think about how often you communicate with Whatsapp, Viber, or Facebook Messenger. Now multiply that times at least ten. Now you have an idea of how integral WeChat is to Chinese communication. Since many other messaging platforms are limited or restricted by the Chinese government, WeChat is the most popular texting app in China; almost everyone uses it. It is also the most popular platform for sending messages to people in China, even when you are not in China yourself. In this way, WeChat is useful not only for making friends while you study abroad, but also for staying in touch after you’ve left the country.
It’s also a good idea for your family and friends who will be missing you from afar to download WeChat too. This way, they’ll have a surefire and reliable way to contact you.
Pleco is the most recommended Chinese-English offline dictionary app. It is easy to use for everyone, from beginner to advanced level Chinese speakers. What’s more, it features all of the Chinese entries in transliteration (called “pinyin”) so that you can get an idea of how to pronounce words without having to know Chinese characters. Pleco also introduces you to common phrases and handy sentences, as well as idiomatic expressions that could prove to be quite useful!
3: Waygo Visual Translator
This is definitely one of the coolest language apps on the market! Waygo uses your smartphone’s camera to analyze Chinese characters and then produce an English translation directly. This app is especially handy for translating things like menus, road signs, and other simple or straightforward messages. The best thing about Waygo is that it works offline, so even if you aren’t connected to the internet, you can figure out exactly what it is you just ordered!
Of course, you want to look like a local and blend in to your surroundings. But it doesn’t hurt to do some sightseeing while you’re in a big city for just a short time! The TripAdvisor app is especially useful for when you first arrive, since it features offline maps of many cities throughout China. This allows you to navigate a new city before you’ve even found a WiFi connection. Just be sure to download the appropriate maps and guides before you head out, and you’re sure to know the way to go!
In addition to taking advantage of TripAdvisor, take a look at what InternChina has to offer in terms of information. They have a fantastic 48 hour guide to Zhuhai, and once you get some time to yourself, you will want to visit some of their recommendations for places to visit. They are experts regarding the country, and you need the best information to make the most of your stay.
5: Air Quality China
The air quality in China has become increasingly unpredictable in recent decades, largely due to the heavy industry that has moved into cities all across the nation. Just like you should check the weather before you head out for the day, you should also check the air quality. Air Quality China gives you up-to-the-minute information about the smog and pollution levels of all of the major cities in China. This can be particularly useful for planning everything from outings to outfits!
Finally, when studying abroad in China, the most important thing to remember is that you’re there for the experience! While these apps were specifically designed to help people navigate new places and explore new cultures, don’t let the apps get in the way of actually navigating a new place and actually exploring a new culture.
There is no substitute for local friends and connections: the greatest learning experiences that you’ll have during your time in China will come from the people around you, not from the device in your pocket!
If you’re planning your trip to China, I thought I’d give you a little look at some of the most useful apps on the market to help you make the most out of your stay here. There are thousands of great apps available, so here are a few I have picked out:
1) Pleco – An incredible Chinese dictionary. Free download. There are possibilities to pay for upgrades, but the core dictionary is free (upgrade includes flashcards). It is quick, has an incredible amount of vocab and is very easy to use. It includes full-screen handwriting and a radical index. I use this for hours a day – highly recommended. Also has some great 成语’s(Chinese sayings) if you are interested.
2) Weixin / We Chat – This is essentially the equivalent of WhatsApp but for China. Another free app, you can send instant messages and voice messages at the tap of a button. Another quite fun extra is you have your own little page with your own pictures and status’, and can find and talk to people in the vicinity (after checking out their pictures…!) I’ve heard it is often used by Chinese singles looking to find potential girlfriends/ boyfriends. Probably worth a try!
3) Accuweather – A free, easy to use app with a nice interface. Has special pages for almost every city in China, and the rest of the world in fact. A nice tool for travelling and every day life.
4) XE Currency Exchange – Not much of a problem for the English in China (£1 almost exactly equals 10RMB), but for those who work in Euros and Dollars this app can be quite useful. Free download giving you up-to-date exchange rates. Each data set is stored on your phone to keep previous rates available even when you are offline.
5) China Air Pollution Index – It is no secret that China produces a lot of pollution. This app lets you know just how dangerous it is to be in 120 of China’s major cities. It shows you graphs of pollution trends and is even kind enough to let you know when it is wise to wear a mask!
6) Travel – There are loads of apps related to travelling/ city information for China. I have never downloaded any of these, but have heard that some of them are very useful. If you are interested have a look at these apps: “City Weekend Mobile”, “Explore Metro Guide” and “Dongdong Mobile”.
If you have any other suggestions please let us know!
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