With their complex writing systems, getting around in Japan or China can be stressful for even the most seasoned of tourists. Sure, you could carry a travel dictionary in your pocket while you go sightseeing, but how are you supposed to look up all those funny looking sticks and squiggles when you don’t even know how to pronounce them? Often the locals try to be helpful by providing an English translation, but there are reasons why that doesn’t always work out. If only there was a way to just wave your magic smartphone over some unintelligible text and have it provide a reliable translation on the spot. Well, as we discovered over at Shanghai Listthere’s an app for that.

Translator/Dictionary Chinese and Japanese by Waygo is available via the App store and Google Play and claims to reliably translate Japanese or Chinese by simply asking you to focus your smartphone’s built-in camera on the text in question and watch as the translation pops up, complete with pronunciation guide. The really cool thing about Waygo is that you don’t even need to be connected to the internet for it to work! Forget about paying through the nose for expensive pocket wifi rental or dashing from one internet cafe to the next, because this app’s got you covered!

Here’s a demonstration of the app in action:

Hmm, it looks pretty good, but we still weren’t 100 percent convinced – there’s a lot of apps out there that claim to provide accurate translations of Chinese and Japanese after all, so the only way to gauge the usefulness of this app was to… download the trial version and try it out for ourselves! The free version of the app limits you to 10 translations per day, which we managed to use up fairly quickly.

First, we started off with Japanese. Switching between languages is as easy as swiping left to the language menu and picking one or the other.

Let’s see what Waygo makes of our Japanese textbook!

▼Hey! Not bad, not bad at all!


Okay, what about this random magazine we had lying around?

▼ Um… not quite…


But hang on a sec… a little bit of re-positioning and waiting, and…

▼There it is!


We then switched to Chinese mode and set the app loose on a packet of hot and sour soup.

▼ Good. Just good? That all? You sure? We thought the second character was “kitchen” but  the app was reluctant to elaborate further.


The app also failed to recognize some of the more elaborate, calligraphy-style font on the back of the soup packet. To get the best results, it’s probably better to stick to plain text and avoid handwriting altogether. Upping the lighting and re-positioning a few times also helps, but it seems that if you’re not sure where one word ends and the other begins, you might position your camera in the wrong place and wind up with complete gibberish. Or parsley.

The app certainly seems like it would come in handy for deciphering simple signs and restaurant menus, but for a more in-depth translation you’re probably better off asking someone who knows both languages. What do you think of translation apps like this?

Source: Shanghai List
Images: MFinChina, RocketNews24