What is a talking pen for learning Chinese?
Our house has many different reading pens to assist in our Chinese learning journey. One of those pens is the eTutor Education Star Pen (易笔通), which is what this review is about.
There are several other online reviews about eTutor Star Chinese pen …… from a quick google search prior to composing this post, it would seem that every other blog post about eTutor Pen was gifted the set from the manufacturers several years ago. Not us!! We did buy this pen at full price, online in 2020! So no bias here from LahLahBanana! This is a genuine and unaffiliated review.
Each of our family’s reading pens is used for a slightly different purpose, but essentially they will all read Chinese text from children’s books, when pointed at the specific page or character. I’ve put a comparison of how we use all our reading pens for learning Chinese in an earlier post.
The different reading pens assist our children to enjoy Chinese literature independently, and without screen time – and in the absence of a parent who can speak or read Chinese. So why would we buy the eTutor Star when we already have so many other Chinese reading pens? Here goes our explanation….
What is the eTutor Education Star Pen?
This pen is from Singapore, and retails at Popular Bookstore and online through the manufacturer’s website.
The EtutorStar Pen – like all of the reading pens we have – uses a combination of optical recognition technology and speech synthesis, to read traditional written books and magazines.
This particular pen is the only one on the market which reads the reads the common children’s Chinese magazines, and also the fortnightly publications which many of the Singaporean primary schools subscribe to. It can be used with 好朋友 (Hao Peng You), 知识报 (Zhi Shi Bao), 知识画报 (Zhi Shi Hua Bao), 新朋友 (New Friends), 新天地 (New World) and 新列车 (New Express), for all versions published from 2015 onwards. For us, this was the main reason we bought the pen. I think if you are a parent who grew up in Singapore, chances are these would be familiar names, as perhaps your parents or school would have subscribed to these magazines too!
For my daughter, as we’re unable to help her actively with her Chinese reading – we know that in 知识画报 magazine, there are often many words that are difficult to read and hence she would ignore entire sections of the publication. But with the reading pen, she does read along and go deeper into the magazine, and hopefully it’s not as daunting to open as before.
Chinese does seem to be a subject that many children have difficulty coping with, and many parents feel ill-equipped to support their children in. By the time P3 comes along, even children who were coping previously can start to have difficulties as the Chinese characters become harder to read, and more challenging to speak. The eTutor Star is the only one of our pens which has deep content for children at P3 level and above – I’ve actually even heard of a neighbour who only bought the pen when her child was in PSLE, to help him through the exams!
The pen can also read some English books and bilingual publications. A full list is available on their website. This lists includes the ETutor Star voice-enhanced learning series written based on MOE syllabus requirements (covering Oral, Listening Comprehension, Composition, Reading Comprehension).
Pros of the eTutor Star Pen?
- Aligns with local Singapore school curriculum: This pen can read many of the MOE magazines which particular schools have on their books lists for primary schools P1 – P6. In particular for P1/P2, it’s 好朋友 and 新朋友 magazines. Apparently 80% of Singapore primary schools use these magazines. It’s also used by several of the large international Chinese bilingual schools in Singapore, including Eton House.
- Compatible with books for pre-primary all the way through to PSLE: The pen will be able to have years of use, if you keep buying the relevant materials.
- Easy to use: the pen is highly sensitive and simple to tape on the printed words, and it will read the whole paragraph. The audio is high quality and accurate pronunciation, which doesn’t go too fast.
Cons of the eTutor Star Pen?
- Keeping content up-to-date: as new magazines are published fortnightly, the content of the magazine has to be downloaded from the website into the pen for it to be able to read it. It’s not hard, but it’s just an extra thing for a parent to remember, and an extra cable to keep in the cupboard.
- Many other functions, like voice recording: This could be a pro or a con. For me, it’s a con, as we got the pen for the children to read independently. My eldest ends up playing around a lot with the voice recording function….. . I wish this attribute could be removed! That said, I’ve heard from a parent of an older child that the audio can be particularly helpful when they are practicing for oral exams, so maybe we’ll end up loving this unique feature.
- Cannot read individual characters: It cannot read individual characters, and the child doesn’t need to move the pen through each words, so children have to follow with their eyes and read along as the audio file is played. I find a child can just blur-out and forget to follow along. This is true for most audio pens, which is why the Le Le Pen (reviewed here) is my preferred one as it can read the individual characters.
How is eTutor Star different to other pens?
ETutor Star is actually very similar to the Pen Pal Whizz in most respects. The difference is that because each pen is made very a different publisher, and thus has different books that it works with. Overall, the range between both of the Singapore manufactured pens (JLB Penpal Whizz and the eTutor Education Star Pen) are very similar, however we’d say the JLB range has higher quality books with better illustrations, which my younger kids prefer.
The eTutor’s main distinction is that can read some of the subscription fortnightly magazines which follow the Singapore MOE school syllabus (like “Zhi Shi Hua Bao“ 知识画报, and “Hao Peng You” 好朋友 ) which is why we ended up buying it to support my elder child’s studies.
I personally would think that you only really need one of these Singapore-made pens (either Pen Pal Whizz or eTutor), depending on which syllabus of books is most appealing.
I’ve also compared it to our other pens which we have in the table. You’ll see that the Le Le Chinese Pen and Luka are a totally different ball game, which is why we have all four! I have done a detailed review of our Le Le Chinese Pen here, which is more suitable for younger readers.
Which Chinese Reading Pen is right for me?
Different reading pens and curriculums suit different learning stages, ages, family situations, and intended learning outcomes. I’ve put together a diagram showing how we see them all fitting together.
ETutor Star is a good choice if you’re in Singapore and looking for something which can follow the local MOE Chinese syllabus through to P6.
Refer to my previous posts for more information about our other Chinese reading pens – these include:
- Comparison of our favourite Chinese reading pens and robots
- Detailed Review of Habbi Habbi Reading Wand
- Detailed Review of Le Le Chinese
- Detailed Review of Luka Reading Companion
- Detailed Review of Luka Hero
- Detailed Review of Youdao Dictionary Pen
- Detailed Review of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen
- Review of iHuman Graded Readers
I would love to hear from you, especially if you have experience with other Chinese reading pens. It’s only through meeting other wonderful parents virtually, that this shared language journey becomes a more valuable one. All comments welcomed!
Other tips for eTutor Star
- Try to buy eTutor Star when it’s being promoted as on-sale at Popular bookstore. Sometimes the discounts or book bundles are up to 50% of original price value
- You can buy full sets of back-dated bundles of magazines (eg from 2017 or 2018) at much reduced prices through the manufacturers website
- It’s better for older children – whilst the compatible book-list includes toddler friendly texts too, I find the pen is more suited to Kindergarten and older children, as it has some extra functionality which our other pens don’t have (eg voice recording), and the shape of the pen isn’t as simple for a small hand to hold.