Localizing Asterisk for China

August 31, 2007 by
Filed under: VoIP, Work 

This last week, we set up a bunch of the IT infrastructure at Mozilla’s new Chinese office. My primary part of the process was setting up their phone system. We used Asterisk, of course, seeing as how we already use that for our phone systems in Mountain View and Toronto. Asterisk has a really cool feature that lets you put localized sound files in for the voice prompts, and each device and incoming phone line can be set up to default to a particular language. It will use the localized files for that language, if available, and fall back on the English ones if they aren’t. You can also allow users to change which language they get with a little careful scripting (“Press 1 for English”, etc). We set it up so that dialing from any phones in the Beijing office will get Chinese prompts, dialing into the Beijing office from outside will get Chinese prompts, and dialing into the Beijing office via the links to our other offices will get English prompts.

One of the difficulties we’ve run into is that there’s no official Chinese language pack for Asterisk, and the only unofficial Chinese language pack we could find is fairly incomplete. You’ll be listening to something in Chinese (like the instructions for voicemail) and suddenly get a word or two of English in the middle of it. :) I ended up spending a fair portion of this week trying to set up a nice friendly web app the folks in the office can use to easily see which files have been localized and which haven’t, and allow them to record their own localized files and have them automatically go where they need to go. Other folks might find it useful, so I’ll try to get it posted somewhere once I get it fixed up a little (it’s a bit of a quick and dirty hack still right now, but it’s getting there).


19 Responses to “Localizing Asterisk for China”

  1. gordon on November 8th, 2007 1:06 pm

    Nice of you todo this work with asterisk. How can I assist in seeing you make it big.?

  2. Daniel on March 14th, 2008 9:01 pm

    Hi Dave, I am on the cusp of an Asterisk server deployment in China. How did yours go?

  3. justdave on March 14th, 2008 9:11 pm

    Pretty well actually, they’ve been enjoying it. The app I mentioned setting up I just actually got to the point of being usable a couple weeks ago. It’s still kind of incomplete. But it would make a nice tool for anyone trying to make a new language pack for Asterisk. I’ll see if I can get it packaged up any this next week.

  4. Daniel on March 17th, 2008 3:34 pm

    I am not sure how much overlap there is between the voice-prompts on Asterisk and Fonality, but Fonality provides this list of voice-prompts and descriptions for PBXtra:

  5. Victor on July 8th, 2008 2:26 am

    I’m in the exact same situation, we’ve installed asterisk for our office here and it’s working great but the chinese language files…………are far to incomplete. I would love to recreate a 1:1 of all the files but it’s quite daunting without a nice tool to do it all…..let me know! I can help. Plus, once I’m done with the voicepack I can release it to the community (one of our staff has a nice mandarin voice)

  6. justdave on July 8th, 2008 2:56 am

    Yeah, I completely forgot about this :( I still want to get this tool out there for people to use. I managed to get phone system upgrades onto my goals for the coming quarter, so I should have an excuse to get a chance to play with this again shortly.

  7. Vincent Olivier on June 16th, 2009 3:52 pm


    I was curious to know more about your experience in VoIP in China. Do you have a PSTN interface or you went for pure SIP DID+Termination? Thanks!


  8. justdave on June 16th, 2009 5:41 pm

    We have PSTN in our Beijing office, and then IAX between there and our other offices.

  9. Vincent Olivier on June 17th, 2009 3:06 pm

    We are also translating our IVR into Chinese. We also need to translate the Asterisk directory recordings “dir-*” and some others. However, we feel like the structure is not even right for the Chinese syntax. For instance the “Please wait while we are transfering you to extension : 3-0-3.” is more like “Please wait while to the extension 3-0-3 we are transferring you.” Did you run into problems like that? If so, how did you solve it? Thanks again!

  10. justdave on June 17th, 2009 3:13 pm

    Good question. I don’t speak Chinese, and the people in the office in question never brought it to my attention. So apparently they either didn’t notice it or don’t really care or something.

  11. Vincent Olivier on June 17th, 2009 3:40 pm

    Will check it out with the translators again and get back to you…

  12. Ken Taylor on August 5th, 2009 5:34 am

    I have been looking for Asterisk sound files in Mandarin for some time now.
    Do you have these files and can I acquire them?

  13. justdave on August 5th, 2009 1:24 pm

    Ken: the one I linked in my blog post is the only one I’ve found.

  14. justdave on September 2nd, 2009 1:50 am

    I didn’t realize at the time that the link was dead though :( I just dropped the original file I downloaded at http://people.mozilla.com/~justdave/asterisk_sounds_cn.zip

  15. Suds Chetty on January 11th, 2010 11:25 pm

    Hi Dave, really interesting reading! We are in the midst of launching our service in China and need to find someone to help us set up our telephony. It has been an ordeal to say the least! We have used asterisk in our Australian and New Zealand operations but need to find a local company to help us set it up. Any suggestions of where we could find this?

    Kind Regards,

  16. Stephen on April 27th, 2010 12:48 am

    We have experience in setting up Asterisk (Trixbox and Elastix) in China. Also we have solutions and experience to provide cost effective IP Phones, Asterisk TDM card. If you have heavy PSTN traffic, you may want to consider your own Cisco voice gateway and E1 line(s). We could help you line up with local telecom companies to get PSTN lines.

    One of our recent installation is for a European company using the system for their offices in 5 cities in China. We also provided the IP phones (over 150 IP Phones in total).


  17. Matt on January 10th, 2012 6:52 am

    Hey Dave,

    I’ve been running Asterisk for a while now in China (Shanghai specifically) and the language pack has come in handy, so I thank you very much for that.

    I do have a couple of issues I’d love to get your thoughts on with Asterisk/E1 setup if you have some time.

    Kind Regards,

  18. Stephen on July 13th, 2013 10:27 am


    The .zip file above for Chinese is oriented for a PBX and voice mail. I’m looking for a Chinese language pack for Asterisk that is geared for a prepaid calling card IVR. Can someone direct us where we can get this without recording all the prompts ourselves?



  19. Per on February 19th, 2014 10:38 am


    I just want to warn everybody that this mandarin sound pack (http://people.mozilla.com/~justdave/asterisk_sounds_cn.zip) is unfortunately not recorded by a speaker of Standard Mandarin. The tones are completely wonky: 5 is pronounced as wu4 and 1 is pronounced as yi2 just to mention two examples. Use at your own risk!

    Best regards,

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