How to live in China without knowing Chinese

Living in another country is an interesting and rewarding experience for sure but it does have its drawbacks when you don’t speak the language. People often ask how life is in China without being able to speak Chinese and the answer for most is that it’s challenging and frustrating, especially if you don’t have a full time translator. Luckily nowadays there is plenty of help around to make communication a little easier throughout your day. I’d like to share with you some tips, apps, and books that I hope will help you live your life in China with a little more ease


1. Using your smart phone correctly can make your life far easier. There are a bunch of great apps available that can help with daily living. Taking pictures can be really helpful. You just ran out of medicine? Take a picture of the box and go to the pharmacy. Doing this can save the stress of having to act out your illness every time when buying medicine. This could be embarrassing with some conditions. You can also have a friend, text you important addresses in Chinese and English. Afterwards just save these text messages and showed them to a taxi driver whenever you need to go there. If your Phone has internet connection you can have people directly type in google translate to try to figure out what their meaning is.
2. Find a Chinese friend that can speak English. When looking at this you may think this task would be hard, trying to find an English speaker Chinese person. However if you use an app such as Wechat, and post online that you are looking for a friend, you are bound to get some replies. In China the majority of the younger generation wants to learn English. They will jump at any opportunities to practice their English with a native Speaker. You will often see many foreigners walking down the street with a Chinese person on their left or right speaking English. Were they friends before China? Very unlikely, is it true friendship? Who can say, but the most important thing is that is a mutual benefiting agreement, where one party answers questions about Chinese culture and translate while the other party improves there spoken English.
3. Making friends with other expatriates in China can also be beneficial. Since they may have been in China for a longer period of time. They may be able to answer questions since they have gone through the same experience. If they are able to speak some Chinese, they may be able to help you when you are lost and all else fails.
4. Have an Electronic Phrase book or a hard copy, this way you can practice your Chinese (if you want) and ask any questions when they arise. When I first came to China, this was an essential part of everyday life.
5. Learn how to read peoples gestures, often when giving directions to a foreigner. You will notice big bold hand moments illustrating the way to your destination. Even if you cannot understand their Chinese or English, you may be able to understand their hands.
6. Get English Speaking Ayi. It may be worth the extra money to get an ayi that can speak English. Then you have someone you can also call that should be readily available to answer any questions you may have. Instead of paying 10 RMB per hour for a non English speaking you can invest around 30RMB per hour for an English speaking one.

Ayi Survival Guide
Everything you want to know about hiring, communicating, and training your ayi can be found in this book. If you choose a non English Speaking Ayi this book has conversations that are both in Chinese and English so you are able to just point at the sentence to show your Ayi.

These taxi cards have addresses of common places in Shanghai that you can show your taxi driver. Almost no taxi drivers are able to speak English and very few understand Pinyin so having addresses in Chinese characters is essential.

WeChat- This app allows you to check nearby people in the area which makes it perfect for finding an English speaking friend. This app is widely used in China so don’t be surprised if a Chinese asks if you if you have a wechat account.
Explore Shanghai – This app is perfect for anyone needing to navigate through the metro system. The app will give you an estimated time from one stop to another and the best possible route. It also has maps of the station exits.
Pleco- This is probably the best dictionary out there for cell phones. It includes many features such as character recognition by taking a picture, and the ability to use your finger to write characters.
Cityweekend- Cityweekend has created an amazing app that tells you some of the greatest venues in the city.

Helpful Chinese sites
Dianping – When trying to find the best deals in the city, this is the app for you. It is equivalent to Groupon on a larger scale. This app also allows you to look at reviews of restaurants, hotels, and spas. The only downfall is it’s all in Chinese.
Taobao – Taobao is China’s biggest online shopping website. Anything can be found here. If you are wanting to do any online shopping this is a must visit this website. The Chinese version has unbelievable deals; there are also English agents that have their own sites of Taobao that have slightly higher costs.


Adrienne black top - smallAdrienne Farrelly is one of Shanghai’s most experienced expatriate Property Agents helping expats find new homes since 1994. You can reach her at  +86 13122 810 421 or Connect with her on Skype at shanghaiproperties8. Shanghai Properties



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