Mobile apps to help you and your family settle In China

Are you planning to move to China, either by yourself or with your whole family?  In the past, in order to learn more about a new area after a big move, you had to buy a lot of books, take language classes, hire a tour guide, and so much more.  However, with the invention of mobile phone apps, moving around the world has become a lot easier with abundant resources available on your mobile phone.

Chinese translation dictionary

The first app that should be on everyone’s “download shopping list” when moving to a new country is a translation dictionary.  You may remember scrambling through the pages of a dictionary, trying to tell a waiter, shop assistant, desk clerk, or just someone on the street what they wanted while the other person waited patiently for you to find the exact words you needed. These translation apps take out the hassle of multiple-page flipping:


This app is a great dictionary to have on your phone.  It provides translations to Chinese characters and also to Pinyin.  What sets it apart from other applications is that it will provide you with a selection of words that it thinks you wanted.  This is because there will be several different Chinese words that technically can be used for every English word, but it will change depending on the type of person you are talking about and in terms of the sentence you are trying to say.  Below are some of the app’s other features:

  • Chinese character and Pinyin translations
  • Find Chinese word meanings in English
  • Speech recognition
  • Hand writing recognition
  • Translation into traditional or simplified
  • Storage of your word search history

Google Translate

This is a very popular app to have on your phone, even if you’re not coming to China, as you can use it to translate words into any language.  What sets Google Translate apart from many other translation dictionaries is that many others will only translate to English.  I would recommend having this app, as well as a complementary one, because Google Translate will only translate using a word-for-word method, which doesn’t work well with the Chinese language.  But, at the same time, it is one of the only apps you can use to translate whole sentences.  Another cool feature is that you can take a photo of Chinese characters and it will translate them for you.  To review, the features of this app are:

  • Translating into multiple languages
  • Translating entire sentences
  • Photo translation
  • Hand writing capacity
  • Voice recognition
  • Audio pronunciation of the translated words

Learning Chinese

Having a dictionary is handy for when you are stuck in a situation and you need a quick answer; however, these apps won’t help you learn Chinese.  You need to know how to pronounce the words, which involves knowing character sounds and the tones you need to use.  This is where having a Chinese learning app will come in handy.  It is advised that you use the following apps together with taking Chinese lessons, since they are very good for helping you study when you are not in the classroom:

Easy Learn Chinese

This is a great app for beginners to learn Chinese because it provides very clear pronunciation of the basic words, letters and tones. The app helps in learning how to say pinyin words correctly and with the right enunciation.  It is perfect for those who do not have someone else to correct them on their spoken Chinese.  This app has the basic words for a wide range of topics, from restaurant talk to directions to body parts.

Daily Chinese

This app is similar to the Easy Learn Chinese app above, but it has a slightly different use. It is designed for users to look up phrases that you are likely to need in practical situations, like in a restaurant, during shopping, or on a trip.

Social Media

As most foreigners already know, there is an Internet block on a lot of Western websites in China.  Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are all blocked; however, some platforms, such as WhatsApp, can be used as long as it’s installed on your phone before coming to China.  As a result, a lot of people in China don’t use these platforms very often. In fact, some of your Chinese friends will probably never have heard of these platforms. However, there are several social media sites that are similar to their Western counterparts:


WeChat is the Chinese version of WhatsApp.  Since its launch it has been hugely successful in China, and is starting to develop a global audience as well.  It has all the same features as WhatsApp, plus a few extras that actually make it better (in my opinion).

  • Free messaging
  • Free photo and video sending
  • Voice messages sending
  • Live chat sessions with friends
  • Group messaging
  • A sharing “Moments” section (similar to Facebook’s Wall)
  • Talk to people in your area

The Chinese app market is different to the rest of the world.  Companies are not allowed to charge for an application to be downloaded, but some of these sites bypass this rule by selling a professional version of the app. In the modern era, phones have allowed people to travel light without the unnecessary weight of informational books.  In the past, it could take minutes to find the word you were looking for; now it takes mere seconds.  In this modern world, you can take advantage of mobile app technology, allowing you and your family full access to helpful information about your new location.



About the Author:

Oliver Smith  is a writer working on behalf of Yew Chung International School.  He has been working and living in China for the better part of a year.  He is originally from the United Kingdom and is currently living in Beijing. Learn more about YCIS at Yew Chung International School of Beijing,  and how we want to help parents and families adjust after moving to China as quickly as possible, and we have recommended several apps to help you do so.

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