Adventure, Tech, Travel Tips

The Wonders of Wechat and Waygo

The App Store boasts so many chat applications, I often wonder what the differentiating factors are. Why so many apps for the same purpose, isn’t that segment of the market already flooded? How can they be successful?

I didn’t ever determine the answers to my questions until now.

While David and I travel across the less traveled roads in China, English speakers are pretty much non-existent. We’ve made do with charades and the use of sounds (moo – to ask if something is beef or baaaa – to ask if something is sheep, etc.). Some things however are not as easy to communicate (no picture readily available or gesture to reference) and in those cases, we’ve found our greatest allies to be two of these communications applications: Wechat and Waygo.

Branding is a beautiful thing. I’m not just saying that because I was a marketing director for the vast majority of my career, but because you can simply show the Wechat icon here to nearly any Chinese local and they understand the meaning. Wechat is a brilliant application and has been a lifesaver for us on more than one occasion.

How does it work and why is it different?

Download Wechat from the App Store, make a basic profile and then you are set to find and chat with others immediately. You can search for others by showing who is near you now, scanning their Wechat QR code with your Wechat scanner or by typing in their Wechat ID. Now most of the people we are looking to communicate with here only write in Chinese characters, so we cannot look them up by ID (without having the Chinese characters on our iPhone and understanding their meaning). So, for us, scanning the unique QR code has been the fastest method with the language barrier.

Once you are connected to another person in the app you can have a conversation with them just as you would when texting friends.

So what, you ask? What is so special?

Here comes the major differentiator.

Everything you text to another person through Wechat is written by you in your language, but then translated for them in their language. Wechat is a seamless chat translator. It is almost like having a fluid conversation with a local. We’ve communicated with hotel staff, restaurants, train conductors, banks and postal workers with the app and it has been flawless every time! In our case we are writing in English and it is translating into Mandarin for them and vice versa. The app supports many languages though, so there are many possibilities for translation!

In addition to enabling communication, Wechat allows us to connect with locals in a way that would have been nearly impossible in the past. All of our interactions through the app have been entirely positive and often times humorous. The locals enjoy asking us questions and there are always lots of smiles and laughs.

When Wechat is not an option (if there is no connectivity) or the conversation we need to have is of a more basic (quick) nature, we chose Waygo.

What on earth is Waygo?

Waygo is a newer application that provides you with a small scanner window to place over any Chinese characters to translate them into English. Again we’ve used this to read signage, translate labels in the grocery store, read maps, subway stops, menus, and read written Mandarin in communication with locals.

Locals love to watch the use of this app and are amazed at its functionality. To be honest, we are quite impressed as well! At the current time you only get 10 free translations a day though, so if you plan to stick with this version, use the translations wisely. The app currently only supports the conversion of Chinese and Japenese, but as of summer 2014 it has been rumored they plan to roll out translations for additional languages  within the year.

Wechat and Waygo are applications you should not miss while traveling abroad in China.  They are great resources that represent key technological advancements to bridge the international commutation gap. Never had I imagined it could be this simple to talk with a non-English speaking local!

So the question that becomes, how else can these apps be utilized? I recall in my conversations with those in the peace core, a big issue for them was communicating with the locals since there is most often a language barrier. They often said if they’d had the ability to communicate better that the projects would have been more successful. Of course the apps require equipment to operate and Wechat needs service/wifi, but the possibilities appear to be endless.

For more information on the technology you can read about and/or download the apps here – WechatWaygo.

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