Even though English is not my native language, but after living here in the US for 22 years (the exact same amount of years as I lived in China), English feels more like a native language to me, more so than Chinese. Talking with my kids in English is a lot more easy and faster. Writing in English is also more natural and fluent for me.
To communicate with my relatives in China, I usually make phone calls. I have a phone plan with a monthly flat fee of $30 that allows me to make free calls within the US and to over 20 countries, including Canada, China, Germany, etc.
If I have to send emails in Chinese to relatives who don’t know English, I have to type in Pinyin and select the correct Chinese characters word by word. It’s a slow and time consuming process for me, since I don’t do it often enough to be very proficient. As the result, I don’t like doing it.
To make it easy for me, I started using Google Translate if I need to write an email in Chinese. I simply write my message in English in the left side box, and click the Translate button to have Google translate it into Simplified Chinese in the right side box. Then I copy the result into my email and click send. It’s much faster than writing in Chinese myself.
Overall, Google Translate does a good job conveying the message. However, it translates literally without taking into account the situation or cultural context. It might use words that I wouldn’t use myself.
For example, the English word “You”can be translated into Chinese in two different yet similar characters, one is for more casual use, the other one with an additional radical of heart is for more formal use when addressing someone who is elderly or in higher position.
Recently I sent my cousin’s wife a short message using Google Translate. It translated my English “You” into the Chinese character used in the more formal circumstance.
When I later called and talked to my cousin’s wife, she laughed and wondered why I had become so polite with her. I had to admit that I used Google Translate.
Google Translate is not perfect, but it’s good and I like it. It saves me time.
If you have to deal with a language you don’t know at all, Google Translate can be a godsend.