Google Translate Alternatives
Google Translate has long been the only Google service still accessible in China without the use of a VPN. After Google services were blocked in mainland China in 2010, Google still maintained the translate.google.cn domain for its translation services. And despite a leaked memo indicating Google working on Project Dragonfly, a search engine complying with mainland censors, to renter the mainland Chinese market in 2018, Google never ended up expanding its service into the region.
In October of 2022, Google pulled the plug on the Chinese version of Google Translate, its sole remaining mainland Chinese service, citing low usage. Considered by most Chinese internet users as the most accurate and reliable translation service, especially for website translation and academic terms, Google Translate has served many businesses and online communities as a quality, free machine translation service in China. With Google Translate now behind the firewall, what are the alternatives?
Baidu Fanyi (百度翻译)
Baidu Translate is perhaps the most well-known free translation app and service in China. It offers all the translation functions of competitors, such as voice to text translation, image to text translation, document translation, etc. However, a major standout is that it also offers real world translation examples for the words users have inputted for translation, providing users context specific translations for various words and phrases.
Sogou Fanyi (搜狗翻译)
Sogou Translate is the translation service offered by Chinese search engine Sogou. As the inventor of the Sogou input method, Sogou has a strong history of language processing. Its AI-power translation service can be downloaded as an app or used as a browser service, much like Baidu’s.
An advantage for Sogou is the cleaner UI of the app compared to Baidu and other domestic competitors, which tend to be visually busy with various ads and menu buttons for other services. Sogou’s app is straightforward, not requiring signing in, with quick access to core functionality and unencumbered by extraneous services.
Wechat Translator (微信翻译)
Within the WeChat ecosystem, translation services are widespread. With a long hold of a button, you’re able to translate any WeChat message into the language you have set to use WeChat in. For articles in WeChat, you can find an option to translate the entire article into your WeChat system language on the top right meatball menu of any article. The scan function in WeChat can also instantly translate text in images into your WeChat system language.
While convenient, WeChat’s native translation still has its limitations. WeChat’s translation does not support the translation of voice memos or translations of text in the discover page and its translation quality falls behind dedicated translation services.
Youdao’s translation app and services have also been quite popular in China, offering a similar suite of free services as its other competitors and a suite of paid subscription-based services mainly aimed at Chinese students learning foreign languages. The drawback for non-Chinese speaking users is its Chinese-only UI.
Russia-based Yandex is well known in China as a foreign search engine accessible within China’s firewall. As the Russian version of Google, Yandex offers a translation app and service with very similar user experience to Google Translate. For Chinese translations, like Google Translate, Yandex shows the pinyin spelling in both the input and output, a feature missing in many of the other translation services. With a 10,000-character limit, Yandex translation can conveniently translate long documents and texts.
Bing Microsoft Translator
Bing’s translation system is also accessible in China without a VPN. For users looking to a more English-friendly UI on desktop, Bing’s translation service is a great choice. As a bonus for users in China, Bing is one of the few translation services (of which Google Translate doesn’t belong) that offers translation into Tibetan.
Bing’s translation system is desktop only, while you can download its parent tool, Microsoft Translator for mobile. Microsoft Translator has a unique function to create chatrooms where users can share voice memos and texts that are automatically translated into each user’s selected language, while showing the original text. This tool can be extremely convenient for multilingual online team meetings.
Translation software has accelerated in quality over the last few years, with the booming growth of AI technology and the ever-growing accumulation of user generated translation data. In addition, many phones and applications offer their own native translation services, lessening the need for dedicated translation apps and services for casual users. This has probably led to the decline in users for Google Translation services within China.
For more professional translation services, free machine translation is best used as a preliminary support tool. As machine translation has yet to achieve perfect natural language translation abilities, even for paid services, a professional translation and localization expert should always be consulted for important document translations.