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iHuman 洪恩识字Chinese Reading Package and Pen: Review

Characters included: 1300
Number of books in series: 130 books
Target age range: 3 to 8
Audio option: yes, a reading pen which can read individual characters and sentences
Pinyin: No
English translation: No
Available in NLB library: No
Where to buy in Singapore:  order online from local seller in Shopee.

What is iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字?

iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字 (Hongenshizi) is a Chinese literacy app filled with games and innovative animations to teach young children how to learn 1300 Chinese characters.  It’s a fun app – and is one of only two games which I allow our children to play on the iPad.  I have written a detailed review of the iHuman app previously.

There is now also a series of physical books (levelled readers) which follow the same syllabus as the app – which is the topic of this review. Like the app, the physical books are well designed, focussing on teaching 1300 Chinese characters level-by-level, in a clear and highly polished format.

What are iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字 levelled readers?

The iHuman physical levelled readers can be purchased separately to the app – and they do not have to be used together.   The books use the same character sequence from the iHuman app.  So, in essence, it’s enables the possibility to combine the screen learning with the physical books which follow the same character progression. 

There are 130 books, each with 24 pages.  The books consist of 1 – 2 lines of story text on each page, and an activity sheet at the end. Every book introduces ten new characters.  Each book only uses the learned Chinese characters to compile the story – adding ten each time, to make 1300 characters in total. 

The Chinese characters are introduced according to themes, and also by ability to regroup the characters to make new words.  The first characters of the game are the numbers 1 to 10. Likewise, in the first levelled reader, it only contains these numerals. 

The books are also sold with the option of an optical reading pen – called the Hongen Smart Pen – which can be pointed at the book, and recognises the characters.  The pen works in a very similar way to the Le Le reading set, which I’ve reviewed previously here

How do we use the iHuman physical books?

Usually, I let the children go through all ten online lessons from iHuman (this takes about a week, with 10-15 minutes of play per day), and then we read the matching book together.   Each book consists of a summary of the ten new characters learnt, then a short story, followed by a small revision exercise – some of which includes stickers!

Of course, it would be possible to use these books without the app at all, in the same way that most other levelled Chinese readers do not include an online game component.

We didn’t purchase the optical reading pen with our set, since we have the premium VIP iHuman app already, which includes audio for all the physical storybooks.

Set 2 of Books (covering characters 100 to 200)

How iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字 different from other Chinese reading pens?

I have put together a small diagram to short how iHuman series fits into the landscape of the major Chinese reading pens on the market. Different pens will suit different family situations and learning outcomes – but iHuman’s main strength is to aid in literacy and character recognition.

Comparison of different Chinese reading pens

How iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字 series different from other Chinese levelled reading books?

I see this set really as a cross between Le Le Chinese and Sage 500 books in many respects, although at a substantially cheaper price point as it originates from mainland China.

The iHuman stories follow a step-by-step reading progression, and start off at a really basic level, much like Sage 500 readers (or actually the Sage Treasure Box books).  This is a more basic starting point than the Le Le series.   However, in most other respects, the books are similar to Le Le, in that they’re short individual readers, with an interesting storyline, and an optional reading pen to assist in learning.  

Key similarities to Le Le books: 

Key similarities to Sage books:

The 130 books (50 basic + extended set) cover 1300 characters in all – which is the same amount of characters contained in the Le Le set. However, Le Le books start off with 300 characters in use in the first series, whereas iHuman first series builds progressively upwards from ten characters at a time, in groups of ten (ie the first ten books gets the reader to 100 characters).   This means the initial books are easier for a young child to read independently verses Le Le, since the character range starts out less. 

Pros of iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字Levelled Readers and Reading Pen

The pros are similar to my list of why I like Le Le Chinese ….

  1. It teaches character learning, as it focuses on individual characters in simple sentences
  2. Books are sturdy and well made
  3. Bright illustrations which children will recognise from the app
  4. Covers a wide variety of topics which children will enjoy, including realistic and fictional
  5. No pinyin or English translations to distract the focus
  6. Cost is cheaper than either Le Le or Sagebooks
  7. The pen has a clear voice that is easy to understand
  8. Availability of online supporting materials by way of the iHuman app

Cons of iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字Levelled Readers and Reading Pen

  1. Customer support is difficult – it’s fully in Chinese, as is their website
  2. There is little information available about the set holistically (like, I would love to have a list of all 1300 character, but unless I do it manually myself, it doesn’t seem to exist
  3. The stories are not as diverse as Le Le set, but they are more diverse than Sage 500 readers.
  4. There is limited ‘community’ support – in comparison, there is a very active Le Le Parents Support Facebook Group, and a Sage Books Support Group, where many creative parents share ideas on how they’re using these books with their children, and the publishers sometimes provide online competition, printables, etc to support the learning experience.
  5. The books do require a little bit of shelf space to fit them all.

Overall, we’ve always loved Hong En’s iHuman reading app because of its systematic teaching materials and curriculum, with bright graphics, bundled into an engaging app.   I really like that we can pair the app with off-line learning and reinforce the literacy aspect through enjoying stories together. This set is substantially cheaper than either Sage or Le Le, which is why we have it in addition to the other sets. Had it been any more expensive, we unlikely would have bought these, as the app itself does also contain these books hidden in it too. I do think as a stand-alone reading set, this would be a good option for families who are looking at Le Le, but put off by the cost.

The reading pen (which we didn’t buy) is also very cute!

Note: for a review on other graded Chinese readers, please see my comparison on a previous post looking at 8 other popular options available in Singapore including Le Le Chinese Character Learning System ( 樂樂文化); Odonata, Sage Books Basic 500; Scroll / Parachute Preschool Reader Series; 学前教育丛书 Little Sweetie Series and 欢乐童年 Happy Reader’s Series; and finally 4, 5 Quick Read (四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du).

Which reading pen is right for me?

To see more information about the other Chinese reading pens our family has, do refer to my earlier posts. Different reading pens suit and curriculums suit different learning stages, ages, family situations, and intended learning outcomes.

My previous posts include:

I would love to hear from you, especially if you have the iHuman readers or experience with other similar pens too. It’s only through meeting other wonderful parents virtually, that this shared language journey becomes a more valuable one. All comment welcomed!

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