So, when I got iOS 14 installed, I noticed that Apple had added a new app to rival Google Translate. Apple Translate. Given that I am studying Chinese and Japanese, I took keen interest in the Apple Translate app and decided to compare it to Google Translate.
The reason I use Google Translate is if I’m typing to someone in Chinese or Japanese, I can type in the pinyin (Chinese in Romanized letters) or the romaji (Japanese in Romanized letters) and the appropriate characters will come up. Well, most of the time! Given the number of homophones in both languages, sometimes typing in the pinyin or romaji isn’t enough! In the case of Chinese, sometimes I’ll speak into Google Translate to make sure it gets the tone right, too.
Or, I’ll just go to the Chinese and Japanese dictionaries I have installed on my phone as a backup. “Pleco” is my go to dictionary for Chinese and an app simply titled “Japanese” is my go to dictionary for Japanese. I’ll simply find the character I want to use and go on my merry way.
So, where does Apple Translate fit in all this? I have found Apple Translate to be better for Chinese and Japanese because as you type in the pinyin or romaji, it allows you to select the character you are intending to use as opposed to making an assumption based on the context of what you are writing. This is how keyboards work for people in China and Japan when they text their friends. They type in the pinyin or romaji, find the appropriate character, punch it in, and keep going. As a learner of Chinese and Japanese, it helps to simulate the same type of experience native speakers have. Also, it helps you better learn the characters because you get to pick which one you are referring to as opposed to having Google translate figure it out for you.
As far as voice dictation is concerned, I have found both Google Translate and Apple Translate to be really good at recognizing the tones in Chinese. Japanese doesn’t have tones, though it has something called pitch accent. For Japanese as well, I haven’t noticed a difference between the two in terms of translating my speech.
So, if you are looking for a general translating app to use, both are fine and will get the job done for you. But, if you are learning Chinese and Japanese like I am and are looking for a tool that can help you text in those languages, Apple Translate has the edge. It helps you learn the characters better and also is more straight forward because you pick the appropriate character when you type in the pinyin/romaji as opposed to having the translator make an educated guess for you.
Note: For those that are curious how to find the dictionaries in the App store, “Pleco” is blue and has the character of the fish on it (鱼) in white. “Japanese” is red and has “日本語” written on it off to the right in small, white script. For those that don’t know Japanese, “日本語” means "Japanese" in Japanese.