New app aims to help non Mandarin speaking expats in China

Published:  20 Apr at 6 PM
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A Beijing-based start-up has launched a new app aiming to give much-needed assistance to non-Mandarin-speaking expats living and working in China.

With what seems like a genius of an idea for those whose brains just can’t get to grips with one of the world’s most difficult languages, GrabTalk’s new app is bound to be a roaring success. Nowadays, more and more expat professionals are flocking to the new opportunities and challenges of China, most of whom are encountering daily difficulties due to an inability to communicate.

Using the app is straightforward in the extreme as its based on the personal assistant premise. The user simply sends a request in the English language and waits for either a real person or a robot to make the necessary arrangements and get back to him with details. The service is also available on the WEChat website, with access leading to exactly the same result.

For example, an expat needing a taxi can either send a message to the app including the destination and present location, or give the same information via WeChat. The personal assistant then contacts a taxi company or Uber and everyone’s happy. GrabTalk is also set up to assist with visa applications, moving house and a number of other services and issues affecting expats who can’t speak the language.

Although GrabTalk is similar to several start-ups launched last year in the USA, its co-founder Chen Mo doesn’t see it as a copycat operation. It’s specific to expats in China, he said, as they have huge bilingual issues dealing with everyday communication, paying bills and travel. According to Chen even his Hong Kong-born wife has to ask for help in dealing with often very basic tasks, giving him an idea of how much worse the issue must be for Western expats.

So far, the business is proving successful, with growth at an encouraging level. The use of artificial intelligence rather than human helpers is expanding due to the high cost of salaries, and seems to be successful. Overall expansion is Chen’s goal, with the Hong Kong service now in its early stages. Next, he says, is Taiwan, with other Mandarin-speaking regions to follow.
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