When you live, work, or just visit to China, you maybe will want to communicate with people for simple things like food or drink. Surprise, surprise.. nobody speaks english. OMG! You are stranded. Planet Mars? You are amidst aliens so you will be lost many times. The thing you need more than anything else is a handy pocket translator from english to chinese and vice versa.
There is a large range of these electronic devices available. Some have colour LCD screens with touch screen, some have handwriting recognition, some are easy to use, some are downright awkward to use. My rule in life is, "the best model is the model that is easy to use" If something is a challenge to use each time I need to , I will probably not use it. Without going over all the brand names available in Chinese translators, (I know them all, as I live in China each year) I will say that firstly, Chinese is not an easy language to get your tongue around. Moreover, if you think you will read Chinese and become proficient in a short time, please forget this notion. The Chinese characters are made up of many little picture elements called 'radicals', around 197 of these. They are mainly associated with the original complex stroke characters that are still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and they are the key to unlocking how to read Chinese, but this can take years to master.
You maybe just want to communicate in Chinese at a simple level. For example .."I want to drink beer" ..wo xiang he yi bei pi jiu 我想喝一杯啤酒 (you will need chinese fonts installted to read that last sentence in Chinese characters) Human nature makes communication easy with a few words. All you need to do is to type 'beer' into your translator, and it will show the Chinese person the correct characters, or if the translator is a talking one, even better, it can pronounce in their native language, what you like. But, a word of warning. Many situations are in very noisy environments. Nobody will be able to hear the tiny squawk from your electronic toy. You will only be able to show the screen to the person. Best is if you can read the pinyin tone marks on the translator, or listen yourself and emulate the sound, and talk the Chinese to the person in question. Even if you get it wrong a little.. maybe they will know what you want. For example.. if you need the toilet, one common name you can ask for is the "xi shou jian" The tones are a little confusing, and if you get them wrong, nobody will understand. But in context, like when wanting the toilet in a restaurant, most Chinese people will recognise your meaning regardless of the wrong tones associated with this. 'xi' is tone 3, falling rising tone, 'shou' high tone, 'jian' high tone 洗手间
吸收健 This is also pronounced 'xi shou jian' but with different tones, and it means good digestion! The tones here are high, high, falling to low.
Pictured is a Noah brand translator dictionary. I carry and use this when working in China, and for study at home in Australia. I have used many other dictionaries, and many others are certainly more powerful, but this is the one I can use on the bus or train, as it is fast and simple, with great pronunciation. If you are ambitious to learn Chinese characters, this model allows you to look up characters based on the number of strokes. Many other translators also do this, and some really excel at this, by allowing you to input left and right radicals for searching. But this is intense Chinese study. Remember, keep it simple.
Whatever model you buy, ensure it is easy to use, and has a large vocabulary. Also, please check the speed of it's microprocessor. Some of the translators made by Vocal, are good, but very very slow to input data. I mean, you must pause after each keystroke, because they use a very slow microprocessor. Noah brand machines are fast, key presses can be made rapidly. Have fun in your endeavours, and don't hesitate to ask more quesions. Remember in China, always be vigilant and watch your possessions carefully. Be especially careful near roadsides in Guangzhou, as robbery is very common, and sometimes violent. :)