Waygo Speaks 日本の, too!

Dear Waygo friends,

It’s been a while. How have you been? In case you haven’t heard, Waygo now translates Japanese into English. 何 (nani)?! Yes, that’s right! Waygo is now trilingual. We launched the news earlier this month at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, also winning the accelerator pitch competition for the Entertainment and Content Technologies category.

waygo japanese and chinese

We decided to add Japanese based off your feedback; Japanese was the most requested additional language. Since English is not super prevalent in Japan—even the subway signs are often without English—travelers in Japan face extra challenges. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to buy your tickets to Japan! After all, the cherry blossoms have officially begun blooming.

Waygo to the Test
This article inspired today’s blog post (if you want a good chuckle, I highly recommend clicking through to the link!) We tested Waygo against the article, comparing Waygo’s translations with the article’s. See below to see how Waygo did:

Case Study 1:

chinese english sign

Hand Grenade…not quite….

waygo translate fire extinguisher

Waygo wins!









Case Study 2:

lost in translation chinese



Waygo wins!









Case Study 3:

funny chinese translations

Cat ears and rotten children…?!


Waygo only successfully translates the beginning.


Waygo clarifies that they’re not actually ears.










Case Study 4:

wrong chinese translation

And by crap, they mean carp.


Waygo only translates the 1st 2 characters.









Case Study 5:


Although not eloquently stated, at least Waygo gives you an idea of the ingredients.


Well that’s not nice to call them stupid!

As you can see, Chinese continues to be a work in progress. Just like Chinese, Japanese is a complex language, presenting several new challenges to the Waygo team. For one, Japanese is made up of three different writing systems: kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese), hiragana, and katakana. Each system has its own alphabet, but hiragana and katakana characters sometimes look similar in certain fonts. Yikes!

Remember, any and all feedback is welcome!! Please send us inaccurate, funny, or just plain wrong translations at feedback@waygo.com.

waygo funny 3

Hmmm…this might be difficult.


It’s All Chinese to Me: Explaining Chinese, Part 1

For those who have never studied Chinese, the Chinese language remains an incredibly mysterious entity. You’re not alone—in fact, Chinese remains one of the most difficult languages to learn, along with such languages as Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. Why is learning Chinese so difficult?

Chinese is a tonal language, in which meaning changes as you change the tone of a word. Plus, thousands of characters and a complex writing system make learning Chinese a formidable task.”



Learning Chinese might require more than just studying Chinese fortune cookie fortunes.

Although tools such as Waygo assist foreigners navigate Chinese with translations, it still proves helpful to take a step back and actually learn some basics of the language. One can easily become overwhelmed with Chinese, as it introduces some entirely new concepts you’ve never heard of before. As one of my favorite Chinese saying goes, 慢慢来 (mànmàn lái), or easy goes it. Today we’ll cover just 3 important concepts in attempt of demystifying this intimidating language, perhaps inspiring you to take on the challenge of learning Chinese further. Stay tuned for future posts where we will introduce and deep-dive into other topics!

1. Mandarin vs. Cantonese: What’s the difference? Does Waygo speak Mandarin or Cantonese? 

Mandarin and Cantonese are 2 of the many spoken dialects in China. Mandarin is the primary language in Mainland China, Singapore, and Taiwan, while Cantonese is the primary language in Hong Kong, Macau, and the surrounding area of Guangdong province.

Mandarin and Cantonese are written identically, just differing in the pronunciation. This means someone who only speaks Mandarin and someone who only speaks Cantonese could communicate by writing to one another, but couldn’t communicate speaking. You could say the two are as different from another as listening to Spanish and French.

There are dozens of more dialects within China beyond just these two. However, more and more people are learning Mandarin, an attempt by the government to prevent language barriers. Since the majority of dialects use the same Chinese characters, subtitles are always displayed on TV shows, so even if someone has never studied Mandarin, they could enjoy and understand TV by reading the characters.


2. Simplified vs. Traditional: Are these the same language? Is one harder than the other?

Simplified characters are the standard form of characters in Mainland China and Singapore. The government developed this simplified writing system back in the 1950s to encourage literacy, since these characters require fewer numbers of strokes than their traditional equivalents.


Simplified characters: simpler than traditional, but still not as simple as ABCs.

Traditional characters are still used today in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and most overseas Chinese communities. Most mainland Chinese can recognize traditional characters (but might struggle if writing by hand, relying completely on memory) since most pop culture—karaoke lyrics included—are displayed in traditional characters since so much of China’s pop culture comes from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Simplified characters can still contain close to 20 strokes, making them no easy feat at all! If you are trying to decide which set of characters to study, Waygo recommends studying the set used by the country that you are looking at living in or traveling to. Whichever you choose, knowing some of the most common characters and radicals (the components that make up characters) in both simplified and traditional would be helpful.


3. Chinese is a tonal language.

There are 4 tones in Mandarin Chinese, plus 1 neutral tone. Cantonese has 7 tones, but we will focus on Mandarin tones since Mandarin is the more common of the two dialects. Now that Waygo includes pinyin along with each translation, you have the opportunity to practice tones. Let’s try an example with the example sound of “ma.” This video goes through the different tones of ma.


The following sentence repeats the same sounds, but with different tones to produce a fairly complex sentence:

妈骑马。马慢,妈妈骂马。 (Māmā qí mǎ. Mǎ màn, māmā mà mǎ.): Mother is riding a horse. The horse slows down, and mother scolds the horse.

This will be a great tongue twister to know during the Year of the Horse. Try it out next time you meet a Chinese speaker!

P.S. For a review of Chinese numerals, take a trip back in time to revisit this blog post.


Hor(se)oscopes: Waygo Explains Chinese Zodiac

As the world reined in the Chinese New Year on January 31st, you probably heard lots of talk of horses. So what exactly does the Year of the Horse mean? Well hold your 马 (mă) and we will tell you!


A few weeks ago we talked about calendars and days in China in our Dating in China post, but we’ve never explained the Chinese zodiac. Chinese astrology dates back thousands of years to the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC), flourishing during the Han Dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD) alongside such principles of yin and yang, the five elements, and Confucianism.

There are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac to represent the twelve full moons in a year. Just like the twelve signs in Western astrology, certain characteristics are associated with the different signs, and people belonging to each sign are said to possess certain traits. How were the 12 particular animals selected? Legend has it that long ago a Jade Emperor summoned all the animals to a meeting. The years of the calendar would be assigned according to the order that the animals arrived. Thus, the animals in the Great Race arrived in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and lastly, pig.


The horse is associated with brightness, energy, intelligence, and competence. A go-getter person could be called a 千里马 (qiān lĭ mă), which is a horse that can gallop 1,000 li a day. 里 = lĭ , a measurement equivalent to about 400km.

A Zodiac Trick (well, kind of): Knowing someone’s Chinese zodiac makes it easy to guess their age. For example, if it’s 2014 and you’ve just met a horse, they are either 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, or 90 years old.

You may have also heard of the tradition to wear red during your animal’s years, usually undergarments. Why you ask? Well it’s believed that during one’s zodiac year, or 本命年 (bĕnmìngnián), it’s likely to encounter bad luck. The best way to avoid this misfortune is to wear red clothes and red jewelry, especially effective if you purchase the gear for yourself.


Another component to the Chinese zodiac is the concept of the Four Pillars of Destiny, the four components which create a person’s destiny: the year, month, day, and hour of a person’s moment of birth. Not only is each year assigned an animal, but each month, day, and hour as well. So while you may be a Horse if you were born in the Year of the Horse, you might also be part Dragon, part Dog, and part Rabbit, depending on your exact time of birth.


Google’s homepage on January 31st.

The Chinese Zodiac also incorporates the idea of the Five Elements, or Wu Xing. Every two years the element changes; the current Year of the Horse is a wood horse, hence Google’s Doodle displayed a wooden rocking horse on January 31st. Last year’s Year of the Snake and the year before that’s Year of the Dragon were both water years, where as next year’s Year of the Goat will also be a wooden one. Read more here about the five elements pertaining to the zodiac.

五行 (wŭ xíng): The five elements are:
1.  木 (mù): wood
2. 火 (huǒ): fire
3.  土 (tǔ): earth
4. 金 (jīn): metal
5.  水 (shuǐ): water


Remember the Chinese New Year tradition of eating longevity noodles, symbolizing long life and endless prosperity? Well perhaps this year you can try the Guilin specialty, 马肉米粉 (mǎ ròu mǐ fěn)!


From all of us here at Waygo, happy Year of the Wooden Horse!

Say Hello to the Year of the Horse

The Chinese New Year, or Nónglì Xinnián, remains the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. New Year festivities traditionally begin on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar and continue through the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. These 15 days of celebrations are also known as the spring festival. Celebrations for this Chinese Year, 4712, begin on January 31, 2014 and end on February 6, 2014.

The Chinese animal signs are an important part of the New Year. Legend claims that Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. A total of twelve arrived and Buddha named a year after each one. It is believed that people possess personality traits of their birth year’s animal. 2014 marks the year of the horse.

Photo 2

Photo courtesy of YangmingRestaurant.com

During the Chinese New Year, the attention of the household is fixed on the celebration. Family members gather for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year’s Eve. Festivals such as the lantern festival are held to celebrate the coming of the New Year.

Signifying the last day of the Chinese New Year, the lantern festival is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. The dragon dance, a highlight of the event, is a trademark of the Chinese New Year. The dragon is typically made of silk, paper and bamboo and carried by young dancing men. Lantern Day festivities include music, dancing, acrobats and, of course, the sight of decorated lanterns everywhere. Lanterns are works of art and are painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs and scenes from legend and history.

Waygo Visits Dublin

Where in the world is Waygo now? Dublin! Waygo caught a bit of the travel bug and has been busy traveling Europe.

Although there is no Chinatown per se in Dublin, there are a number or Chinese businesses concentrated on Parnell Street and Moore Street. While this Chinese area is not as extensive as Milan’s, without a huge presence of Chinese residents, it was still fun to put Waygo to the test.


Parnell Street


Falun Gong Activists along Parnell Street.


Most businesses are Chinese along Parnell Street.


Although English is the predominant language in Ireland, the country has another official language, Gaelic. While Gaelic is a required subject for students, few people actually speak Gaelic outside of the classroom. That said, Gaelic is still spoken as a first language for some Irish, primarily from the west coast. All public signs and announcements in Dublin are in both English and Gaelic, sometimes making public transportation an adventure.


Merrion Square’s hours are posted.


The Year of the Horse is announced.



Walking throughout the city, you’ll see banners advertising the New Year of the Horse. If you happen to be in Dublin for Chinese New Year, make sure to partake in the festivities.






Even far away from Parnell Street, you’ll find a variety of Chinese businesses, mostly restaurants, grocery stores, hair salons, and travel agencies. Some clearly advertise to a Chinese-only audience without any English signs (thank goodness for Waygo!).


This poster is advertising air travel only in Chinese.


Rather than simply translating to “Wuhan,” Waygo tells you more about the city.










hot pot dublin

This hot pot restaurant only advertises to Chinese readers.


Waygo translates a menu.









The majority of Chinese residents in Dublin are students, first coming to learn English, and then enrolling in universities to study other subjects. Many students work part-time in Chinese businesses to help pay for studies.



Chinese grocery stores in Dublin offer a quick teleport to China.


Some signs are so well done, they don’t even need words. Good thing this isn’t usually the case throughout the world, or Waygo would be out of a job!


The most important signs you’ll see in Dublin are reminding you to LOOK RIGHT since cars drive on the left hand side of the road. In fact, it’s super easy to tell tourists from locals, as they are always taking a few more seconds before crossing the road to determine which way to look.

Look right

Happy Friday and happy travels!

Waygo Visits Milan’s Chinatown

Where in the world is Waygo? Milano! Che cosa?! Waygo anche parla italiano?

No! However, we were happy to discover that Waygo still speaks Chinese while traveling in Italy. Milan houses Italy’s largest Chinese community with about 19,000 Chinese residents, making up about 1.5% of its total population.


Meat cut for Chinese recipes.


Watch Chinese television programs from the sidewalk.










You don’t need a map to know that you’ve arrived in Chinatown. Street signs and billboards quickly change from Italian to Chinese. Milan’s Chinatown does not feel touristy like Chinatowns that you’ll find in other parts of the world. Milan’s Chinatown is no frills—it serves the needs of the locals, and creates an area where one can live without needing to know how to speak Italian. While San Francisco’s Chinatown does serve the needs of its Chinese residents, it also is one of San Francisco’s top tourist destinations, making the area a bit of a show, where as a trip to Milan’s Chinatown is just a view into ordinary life for the locals.


Store windows display cakes for Chinese holidays.


Businesses cater only to Chinese customers, without any Italian signage.










After just a short walk down the main drag, Via Paolo Sarpi,  it’s easy to learn Chinatown’s niche in the Milan economy: electronic repairs and sales. Each block seems to contain no less than 5 shops specializing in the electronics industry. The area is also replete with Chinese food markets and restaurants, inexpensive household items, and clothing stores that carry totally different clothes than clothing stores throughout the rest of the city.


The city connects with locals by displaying signs in Chinese, as seen in the photo on the left. Throughout the other parts of Milan, the same signs appear as the photo on the right.


Outside of Chinatown, the same sign is featured in Italian.


City signs in Chinatown are written in Chinese, rather than Italian.










Just like any Chinatown in the world, the Chinatown of Milan brings together Chinese and Italian tastes to create a unique fusion.


Pizza alongside eggrolls.

And what would be a Chinatown without karaoke? Before dinner we saw advertisements for a karaoke bar, followed the directions, and headed downstairs to the basement business. We could not wait to “sing leading role!

IMG_3415 IMG_3416







However, once we arrived and inquired in Chinese, the hostesses quickly shooed us away, telling us it was only for Chinese customers. Although she explained that we wouldn’t enjoy it because they only had Chinese songs, we suspect there was something else (read: non-singing activities) taking place that she didn’t think we’d be interested in. We were probably the first non-Chinese customers to have ever wandered in, as all the signage was in Chinese, and without a friend that can read Chinese, like Waygo, you would have never known that there was a karaoke bar.


beef and chives

Manzo all’erba cipollina in Italian, or 牛肉韭菜 in Chinese.

While most Italian restaurants close after lunch and don’t open until about 7pm for dinner, Chinese restaurants are not just already opened at 7pm, but they are full of patrons. Waygo dined at Long Chang, and despite it only having a 3-star average on Yelp, we had a 5-star experience. Besides a handful of customers speaking Italian, and the Chinese menu translated into Italian (or “Chitaliano“= Chinese + Italiano), you would have never known you were in Italy. The majority of customers were speaking Chinese (along with the entire staff), the atmosphere mirrored a restaurant in China, and the food tasted like the homeland.



All of us here at Waygo wish you happy travels and a happy new year! Or as we like to say these days, buon viaggio e buon anno! Stay tuned for more of Waygo’s travel tales.

Oh and if you happen to be flying out of Milan’s Malpensa Airport, just follow the signs to your gate:


You say Ping’anye , I gift Ping’anguo

Although Christmas was banned in China for a long time, the Chinese have started to adopt the holiday as their own. Christmas is not celebrated as it is in Western culture, but is instead seen as a commercial holiday with a strict non-religious connotation. The holiday is still young and is only celebrated in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. The holiday is generally treated as a day to be out with friends, spend a lot of money and give gifts. One of the most popular gifts being fruit!

In Mandarin, Christmas Eve translates to Ping’anye (平安夜, the evening of peace) which sounds very similar to apple, or pingguo (苹果). On Christmas Eve, an apple as a gift is no longer called pingguo, but ping’anguo (平安果, the fruit of peace). Fancy, cellophane-wrapped “Christmas apples” are a popular gift and are often decorated like the ones in the photos below.

Photos courtesy of Chinese Government Web Portal

Photos courtesy of Chinese Government Web Portal

Often when an apple is received, the best gift to give in return is an orange. In Mandarin, orange, or chéng (橙) sounds a lot like sincere (诚) and success (成) so the fruit is thought to bring wealth, joy and good luck with the added benefit of warding off evil spirits. An orange is a heartfelt gift of xin xiang shi cheng (心想事成, to have whatever you wish for) and although it is not an exclusive Chinese tradition, it holds significance within the holiday celebration and even plays a major role in the Chinese New Year!

The Waygo Tattoo Test: 4 Steps to Follow Before Tattooing

Do a little googling on Chinese tattoos and you’ll quickly find horror stories involving tattoos meaning something different than the recipient intended. Last week an article in Want China Times shared the story of a tattoo artist in Sao Paolo, Brazil, who was arrested for foul tattooing. Instead of inking a special quote from The Little Prince, that tattoo artist tatted the client with “Chicken Noodle Soup.”

This reminded me of an instance last summer at the beach in Southern California when the woman’s back in front of me caught my attention. Two characters were inked onto her lower back: 空闲. While 空闲 (kòngxián) means “free,” it’s the “free” that means you’re not busy, as in you’re available to hang out for lunch. It’s very likely that the woman desired instead to get “free” as in “freedom,” which would be 自由 (zìyóu). Waygo translates the two different “free” words.

IMG_3162 IMG_3161










You’d be surprised how often incorrect Chinese characters are forever inked on someone’s skin. We recommend doing ample research to make sure your tattoo is actually correct—here’s our Waygo Tattoo Test to ensure you don’t end up with a tattoo reading Chicken Noodle Soup:


1. First off, make sure at least one—but preferably a few—native Chinese speakers read the characters to ensure it reads the correct sentiment.

2. Decide if you’d like the tattoo in simplified or traditional characters. While neither option is more correct than the other, it would be unfortunate if you didn’t know you had an option until the tattoo was already inked. Most people choose traditional characters because they are more elaborate, and perhaps more beautiful, but it’s really a personal preference. Whichever you choose—simplified or traditional—make sure all of the characters in your tattoo are either one or the other, not a mixture. Check out below the different characters for 爱 (ài): love.

爱 (simplified) vs. 愛 (traditional)

3. Find a tattoo artist that knows how to write Chinese characters. One cannot simply copy a character without knowing the correct method and stroke order. It’s extremely apparent when you see handwritten characters by someone who did not study Chinese handwriting. Plus, if they mess up a single stroke, it changes the meaning of a character. For example, these characters all differ from one another just by a single stroke, but each yield different meanings: 大 丈 尢 犬 太 尤 六 . To a tattoo artist who has never studied Chinese, the differences are difficult to see, but are definitely 大 (dà), or big.


These characters were most likely not drawn by someone who has studied Chinese writing or calligraphy.

4. Test With Waygo. While Waygo cannot read vertical text, you can translate the characters one by one:

IMG_3178 Highly stylized text is difficult for Waygo to translate. If you don’t have a Chinese friend nearby, you can always take a picture and post it to our Facebook wall. We’d be happy to help you out!


Waygo can (usually) translate tattoos with horizontal text with normal font:
IMG_3177If you’re unable to complete at least 3 of the 4  steps to the Waygo Tattoo Test, we recommend waiting until you can, or else you might just end up with 鸡汤面 (jītāng miàn), or Chicken Noodle Soup, forever inked on your arm!

Tuhao: Everybody’s Saying It

Several recent articles about the possible addition of the Chinese word tuhao to the English dictionary piqued my curiosity—what other words should the English language attribute to Chinese? The Oxford English Dictionary contains about 1,000 words of Chinese origin, including well known words like yin and yang and kung fu. Usually a period of time (about 10 years) must pass to make sure the particular word has staying power, and isn’t just a fad, but Oxford is considering including tuhao in its very next edition in 2014.

What exactly does tuhao mean? In French, they say “nouveau riche.”

土豪 (tŭ háo): bling, flashy, and ostentatious.


Apple’s newest iPhone 5s sold out in the gold color just a day after pre-orders were made available in China.

tuhao bathroom tuhao gold-car






CNBC’s story gives us several good examples of tuhao: “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” are tuhao. Covering the inside of your Rolls-Royce with jade is tuhao. Or, the most popular use, the new gold iPhone 5s is now known in China as the “tuhao gold iPhone.”

waygo translation tuhao

Waygo’s current translation of tuhao.

tuhao google translate

Google Translate’s translation of tuhao.









5 Other English Words Originating from Chinese

1. Ketchup: Many people believe that the word “ketchup” is derived from a Chinese term for pickled fish brine. In the 17th century, the Chinese mixed pickled fish and spices and called it  kôe-chiap (Xiamen accent) or kê-chiap (Zhangzhou accent).

鮭汁(guī zhī in Mandarin or kôe-chiap/kê-chiap in the Amoy dialect): the brine of pickled fish. Literally, 鮭 (salmon) and 汁 (juice).

2. Gung ho: A favorable adjective in the English language, gung ho is used to describe someone with dedication and a can-do attitude. The term can be traced back to the Chinese word “gong he,” which is shortened from the term for working cooperatives created in China in the 1930s. “Gong he” was first adopted by American marines based in China, and found its way to the U.S. with a modified pronunciation.

工合 (gōng hé): To work together, or to describe a person that is overly enthusiastic.

3. Chop Chop: This term is said to originate from the Cantonese term 快快 (kuài kuài).

筷 (kuài): to hurry.

筷子 (kuàizi): Chopsticks. Note that kuài became ”chop” for not only the term chop chop, but for chopsticks . Check out our blog post about chopsticks if you’d like a brief history of chopsticks.

Chop chop appeared in English-language newspapers printed in China by foreign settlers as early as the 1800s.

4. Feng shui: The practice of designing an object or making a scene aesthetically balanced. Literally, 風水 (fēng shuĭ) means wind (風) and water (水), aspects that need to be considered in order to make a feng shui enviornment.

5. 关系 (guān xi): Guanxi means connections or relationships. Similar to the English expression, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” guanxi is crucial to business and society in China.


Challenge: Can you create a sentence using all 5 Chinese-English words?


A Parting Joke
A young man asks a Zen master: “I’m wealthy, but unhappy. What should I do?” The Zen master replies: “Define what you mean by wealthy.” The young man answers: “I have millions in the bank and three apartments in central Beijing. Is that wealthy?” The Zen master silently holds out a hand. The young man says: “Master, are you telling me that I should be thankful and give back?” The Zen master says: “No. Tuhao, can I become your friend?”

This popular joke reveals that although the tuhao is disliked, people want to share the tuhao’s welth. In fact, “Tuhao, can we be friends?” is quickly becoming a saying in China.

Thanksgiving china joke


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we hope you remember to be thankful for all that you have in life, tuhao and not tuhao.