3 Translators Every Chinese Language Student Needs

For when Google Translate fails you.


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The school year of 2020 will soon end. For Chinese language students, it has been another semester of reading and essay writing. 

If you’re anything like me, learning Chinese also means copying and pasting every other sentence of an essay into Google Translate to make sure it actually makes sense. But as we all know, Google Translate isn’t the most reliable. Here are three other translator apps I recommend to use instead.

  1. 1 Baidu

    Baidu is known as the “Google of China” because of its search engine. But unlike Google, Baidu also does many, many other things. One of Baidu’s most helpful services is its translator. 

    The Baidu translator can translate between English and simplified or traditional Mandarin characters. It also has Cantonese, as well as 197 other languages. Its setup looks a lot like Google Translate’s, so it should be familiar to first-time users. But it also comes with some bonus features.

    If you type in a word, under the translation box you will also find multiple example sentences using that word in both English and Chinese. The word I typed here was 翻译 (Fānyì, translate):

    If you type a paragraph into the search box instead, the program will highlight key words and their English definitions (重点词汇, Zhòngdiǎn cíhuì, means “key words”): 

    You can also upload a pdf, Word document, Powerpoint, Excel sheet or jpg and the system will scan it and translate it. If the AI translation just isn’t working, Baidu also offers a professional translation service done by a real person, but you have to pay by the word. 

    But what if you need to know a character you saw in a book or on a street sign, and you don’t even know the pinyin to type it?

  2. 2 Pleco

    Pleco saved my life when I was studying abroad in China. You can download this app on your phone and use the touchscreen to write any characters you don’t know. 

    Another way you can look up a word is by choosing a radical. From there, Pleco will give you a list of all the characters that use that radical. 

    Of course, you can always type in the Chinese or English word into the search bar. The result will give you the definition, stroke order, and example sentences. If the word is two characters, Pleco will also give a separate definition for each character. For example, if you search for 你好 (nǐ hǎo, hello), it will also give you the definition for 你 (nǐ, you) and 好 (hǎo, good).

    Pleco has a speech recognition feature, but it uses your phone’s built in speech recognition software, which might not be that good. You can also purchase add-ons that let you translate a photo and make flashcards. Depending on your needs, you can probably save money by drawing the characters with the touchscreen instead of using your camera. For flashcards, I just use Quizlet.

  3. 3 Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary

    What if you want to translate instantly while you are reading on a Chinese website? For this, I recommend the Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary. 

    This browser extension is available on Google Chrome and Firefox. When you hover over Chinese text with your mouse, it will give you the definition, as well as the simplified and traditional characters. 

    Pressing “g” on your keyboard then sends you to the page about that word on the Chinese Grammar Wiki

    This extension will save you from a lot of copy-and-pasting into an online translator. Plus, this way you can practice your reading skills and only hover over the words you don’t know. However, this only works if you are on the browser, not on a Word document or pdf. 


    These are just the three translators I use in daily life. What is your favorite translation app? Let us know in the comments!


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Erin Dumke

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