Chinese UI testing - Getting comfortable and practical (Part 3)

Chinese UI testing - Getting comfortable and practical (Part 3)

There were practical advices in previous sections, but here I will give some suggestions on how you, as a software testing specialist, can help your team in Chinese-only project. What could you do to save time and ensure quality even in such and exotic situation?

Getting comfortable and practical

Software testers have to interact and understand foreign UI on much deeper level than most of developers in their team. Developers can sometimes have a luxury of copy-and-pasting line of characters from mockup straight to the button, without giving it a second thought. Testing specialist have to work with it from user perspective and clearly understand what the button does and what the label on it means.

Beyond the need to interact with UI, you need to know your system well and be able to collaborate effectively with other team members. Too much of Chinese characters can make communication difficult. When there is a bug that needs fixing, it is always better to document it without filling defect report in too much Hanzi.

So, you and your team have to work with Chinese interface and data on daily basis. How can you do your job more comfortably and help your colleagues along the way?

Getting translation

First and most obvious step is to translate as much as you can.

This is a critical thing to do if you are developing system from scratch, but even if you have existing English version available, translation can come in handy on many occasions.

Ideally, you will have translation of most UI text from the very beginning, but it is still helpful to see all labels on actual interface.

Machine translation to the rescue

Your first aid is machine translation services and online dictionaries, Google Translate being most prominent of them all. For quick and easy translation, two useful features are worth specific mention.

First is translation of the whole site in case of the web-interface. This could either be done via for a browser of your choice, or almost seamlessly in Chrome – you can set Chrome to auto-detect language used on the site and automatically suggest translating it.

In both cases, you are getting translated and fully functional version of the site. But remember – it is for exploration, not for actual testing!

Second useful feature is a translation via image recognition. It comes surprisingly useful when you have no option to select text directly. For instance, when you are dealing with screenshots or need to quickly verify defect from a customer, sent to you in JPEG format… It could work both from an image file, of from your smartphone camera.

Chinese-English translation services are rapidly developing and improving. If you are interested in this topic, here are couple of links for you:


However, while machine translation gets better every day, it is still imperfect and not entirely correct. While it will help make sense of the complex UI very quickly, auto-translated text should not be used on actual UI.

While Chinese-English translation could be more or less accurate, I would not recommend to rely on automatic translation to translate English into Chinese.

If you need new message or label translated in context of your interface, it is always better to get help from someone with Chinese proficiency, ideally from native speakers.

Here’s a good examples of machine translation limitations and risks:

Digging deeper

Sometimes you need more details on a character or more in-depth translation. For this, you might want to use specialized dictionaries. They usually offer plenty of information about specific characters and words, including stroke count and search by radical. You can even try to draw character you need to find!

I mostly use Pleco app on my phone, and online resources like or

Build your glossary

Quick translation to make sense of the UI is a first step.

Next step could be building a glossary of Chinese-English terms for the system. If you are lucky and your project is well-documented, you might already have one; otherwise you’ll have to build it yourself.

Such glossary will benefit not only testers, but also potentially the whole team.

Here is what it can do for you:

  • Let team speak same language and use same terminology, avoiding confusion and too much Chinese. Properly used and maintained glossary helps you and your teammates be on the same page, helps to avoid confusion and save time. As a bonus it also, where possible, decreases amount of Chinese characters in defect reports and emails.

  • Provide reference for all major elements and concepts of the system. With good glossary, when your get a request from customer to quickly change button label from 注销 to 登出 you will know where to find it.

  • Familiarize you with the system Investing time in glossary could help you dig deeper into system, get to know interface better and get a feel of the user flow. In case you only have UI mockups at hand, you can combine glossary building with initial coverage analysis and test design planning. If your system is already functional, it’s possible to combine it with first rounds of exploratory testing, so that in the end you’ll get a list of terms that could be useful to the whole team.

It is important to balance efforts versus time here. There is usually no need to get in too much detail. Nevertheless, even short list of names and labels most commonly used in the system helps a lot.

Hanzi image Simple glossary used in one of our projects. Nothing too fancy, just Hanzi, translation and pinyin to be able to type in characters

It is perfectly possible use dictionaries and machine translation tools for this task. If you could, ask your Chinese colleagues to review it – they might have some corrections.

Pay attention to details – typeface, encoding and beyond

For a software tester paying attention to detail is in the job description. But with Chinese interface you have to be even more sensitive to minor details than usual.

Some nuances of UI/UX are just hard to catch in Chinese.

Chinese fonts

One of the commonly confusing thing is Chinese typography. Chinese fonts might not be as versatile as western fonts, but there are plenty of different typefaces and font families. There are even, in a way, analogues to western sans serif and serif. But complexity of Chinese characters lead to the very slight variation between different fonts, especially if they come from the same group. For untrained eye, different fonts can look practically the same. As a result, it could be difficult to identify if the fonts on the test server is different from one in the mockups without the use of Developers tools.

Variations between same characters of a Hanzi Here is a Chinese phrase in fonts with extensive Chinese character support. Notice subtle variations between same characters in different typefaces compared to latin symbols

Additionally, some fonts may support only limited set of most used characters. To catch potential issues in this case always include versatile selection of Hanzi in your test data.

four different popular typefaces of a Hanzi Same phrase, this time using four different popular typefaces. Despite their popularity in the West and versatile look, they do not support full set of Chinese characters and use similar fallback font

And here are some examples and details on a wonderful world of Chinese typography:


Encoding is another thing to consider and test thoroughly. In different encodings, characters could be completely different, as you might expect.

Issues with encoding could be difficult to catch, especially in case of large CSV of other text report files, containing mixed data in different languages, when only a small part of your data is in Chinese, for instance user names of city names.

Traditional and Simplified Chinese

Another thing to keep in mind – varieties of Chinese language. Chinese comes in traditional and simplified varieties, and they should not be mixed together! Most commonly in mainland China, simplified version is used, and traditional version is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Make sure you use correct Chinese version throughout whole system.

However, it could be difficult to tell those two apart. Identifying traditional Chinese characters in midst of your simplified Chinese system is practically impossible without extensive language knowledge. It’s another reason to get Chinese-speaking people to help with text review.

Traditional Chinese characters better view Generally, traditional Chinese characters look more complicated than their simplified counterparts do. However, this is not something you can rely on as many character look the same in both cases, and even simplified characters can be surprisingly complex

Get your environments ready – set up system languages and input

To test Chinese system you will need to type in Chinese. When hearing about hundred thousands of characters instead of just 26 for the first time, some may wonder how Chinese keyboard looks like… In fact, they look just as usual ones!

You do not need any special equipment to type in Chinese. All you have to do is set it up properly.

Chinese as input language

Prepare your workstation and testing devices in advance, adding Chinese as one of input languages. Adding Chinese language is in most cases simple and straightforward in most modern OS – just add it in a list of available input languages.

Most common way of input for Chinese language, both simplified and traditional, is phonetic pinyin input using autosuggestions.

This works roughly as follows: you type pinyin for the character and, as you type, system suggests you all characters that have this or similar pinyin transcription. You can select which of suggested characters to add, usually using numeric keys on your keyboard.

This is surprisingly fast and comfortable way of typing, but there is the catch– you will need to know the pinyin of the character you want to write. Random key mashing can be suitable test data sometimes, but for sensitive input like usernames, it is good idea to add pinyin to test data description.

Need more details? Here are couple of articles on how to set things up:

System language change

Change OS and browser locales while testing.

Ideally, you need to set it as a system language on a separate environment. Changing system language not just changes your UI, it can lead to many other subtle settings. This includes default data formats, encodings, input controls, data separators and more.

When report looks good on your English workstation, there is no guarantee it will be shown correctly by default on Chinese system. Same goes for buttons and controls.

Never forget about cross platform testing, as different parameters could used by default in different OS.

Know your limitations

Last, but not the least… To ensure quality and avoid risks you have to realize your limits. In a foreign language, there will always be areas you simply cannot test by yourself.

Support from Chinese-speaking team members is invaluable at times. Ideally, you will need at least some native speakers helping you along the way. It is always possible to miss misprints and other content-related issues in foreign language, especially if they originated in design mockups. Make sure to plan review of the interface by your Chinese-speaking colleagues and do not hesitate to ask for help.