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Chinese Reading Pens and Robots for kids

Chinese reading pens have been essential for our non-native family in the journey to learning Chinese. My three daughters each a fluent in Mandarin, despite no parents or grandparents (or any other family member, nanny or au pair!) speaking the language. For me as their monolingual mother, this means I cannot understand the book sthey are reading, their homework, or even help with weekly spelling revision, or even bedtime fun reading.

Reading pens have been a godsend for the kids and for me. Here’s sharing a few tips on how we’ve been surviving, thanks to a few interesting Chinese reading pens and robots, all available in Singapore. Each of Chinese reading pens was purposefully chosen to fulfil a specific role in our house:

  • Le Le Reading Pen – for character learning and literacy (for my preschoolers)
  • Luka Reading Companion – for enjoying picture books from the library together (for whole family)
  • Habbi Habbi Reading Wand – as a durable and really fun pen for my toddler to use on board books (for baby/toddler), with great morals and uplifting content (I just love it when my kids repeat phrases from these books).
  • eTutorStar – for following the MOE Primary curriculum (for my primary schooler)
  • PenPal Whizz – for listening to broader Chinese literature (bought 5+ years ago now, prior to Luka’s arrival on the market!)
  • Youdao Dictionary Pen II – this is really my toy! It’s a Chinese Dictionary Pen which will translate any Chinese text, including whole paragraphs, and neat handwriting. [Update 2021: a better option to Youdao is the iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen which is a child-friendly optical scanning pen and dictionary]

1. Le Le Chinese Reading System and Pen

Le Le Chinese pen is an engaging picture book series of 300 books, which gradually get harder and harder, and by the end of the series it covers the 1000 most popular Chinese characters. The Chinese reading pen included with the set will read the individual characters, to assist a child in learning to read independently. The intention of the books is to “literacy through literature” – which is to say that by reading lots of books, the child will naturally pick up characters.

The highly unique aspect of this pen, is you can point it at any Chinese character, on any page, and it will each individual character. My daughter is able to use the pen independently to figure out new words, which means she doesn’t need to wait for my help to try and look at the character in Google Translate or the dictionary phone app. The concept is it allows a child to learn characters without the need for pinyin or zhuyin. I wrote a more detailed review of how our family uses Lele pen here.

The pen only retails from Taiwan (it sells online), so is much more expensive to source in Singapore than other options listed here, but the benefits are worth it. The unique aspect of this pen, is you can point it at any Chinese character, and it will read the individual character. So, my daughter is able to read most of a book herself, and then just get help with the harder parts. You might find a secondhand version on Carousell, as there is quite a tribe of Singaporean parents who swear by these readers.

2. Luka Reading Companion & Luka Hero

Luka is an amazing robot (not really a pen) which will read almost ANY children’s book. It read over 10,000 titles, which means that if my daughter borrows a book from NLB, she’s generally able to read it at home. This lets her explore new books which her friends are borrowing, which otherwise she’d be unable to read. You can turn the pages, and Luka recognises the specific page, meaning you can start from anywhere, at any time, or skip over bits. We’ve borrowed over 70 books, and all have been readable using Luka.

Look at my detailed review for more on how we use Luka as a reading companion for children’s books, and where to buy it from. I’ve also compared the original Luka versus Luka Hero in a separate post. It’s available locally in Singapore from Luka Reads. Please remember there is a SG$20 discount for readers of my blog if you quote “LahLah20” at checkout from Luka Reads, which is a very kind offer from the team at Luka Reads Singapore.

Luka Chinese Reading Robot

3. Habbi Habbi Reading Wand

Habbi Habbi is great as a “First Reading Pen”, for toddlers / younger children with its hardcover board books and fun durable design. It is bilingual Chinese-English (with a Spanish-English option too). I find the key features are the stunning design, the progressive / thoughtful content, and the play-based nature. The books are designed to enable kids to play and learn at the same time. Kids can tap anywhere and get feedback – because every inch in tappable (the text, illustrations and even the white space).

Habbi Habbi is especially great for less-native families, because it includes both English and pinyin, so it’s more accessible and approachable (especial for those who find Chinese-only resources intimidating). Habbi Habbi book content is also distinguishing – with themes of empathy, diversity, self reliance, global citizenship and more. They have a library of 20 matching board books (and counting!) – available in Simplified Chinese (within pinyin) or Spanish. I’ve written a detailed review here of Habbi Habbi at this link.  You cannot go past Habbi Habbi for a great first start into learning Chinese. And when you kids repeat phrases from these books like “I feel worthy”, “I love my body”, “I admire my mommy. She is capable of anything”, it does tickle your heart.

4. eTutor Star

eTutor Education Star pen is a made-in-Singapore invention, and retails at Popular Bookshops among other places. Some of the international schools here (like Eton House) use this as part of their bilingual curriculums.

eTutor pen is actually very similar to the Pen Pal Whizz in most respects. The difference is that each pen is made by a different publisher, and thus has different books that it works with. Overall, the range between the 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 on the other hand 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 our studies. I have written a review of the eTutor Education Star pen at this link.

5. Scanning Dictionary Pens (Youdao Dictionary Pen II or Alpha Egg)

Youdao Smart Pen is a Chinese Dictionary Pen which translates any printed text effortlessly and fluently from Chinese into English and vice versa – and it does it miles better than Google translate or Pleco OCR function. It’s amazing! It will read aloud and translate from Chinese to English, including whole paragraphs. To me, this is the holy grail gadget for translating Chinese-English text! It’s not a child’s toy, but it’s my toy.

I mainly use it to “preread” our Chinese books before my kids read them, or to understand the instructions on our Chinese apps, or the notes to parents at the front of the school text books. But recently I also started letting my elder daughter use it for her wider reading, to fill in the gaps for characters she doesn’t know. It’s been encouraging to see her being able to challenge herself with more difficult books, knowing that there’s a tool to help her understand the new characters.

It retails locally in Singapore from Koala Mandarin in Novena. Full details, including a discount promo code are in my detailed review.

[ Note: As at May 2021, I’ve discovered a better pen to the Youdao, especially for a child! It’s called the iFlyTek Alpha Egg. Read about how iFlyTek compares to Youdao! ]

Youdao Chinese Reading Pen
Youdao Chinese Dictionary Pen effortlessly with translate whole paragraph or individual words from Chinese into English, on ANY text.

6. Pen Pal Whizz

Pen Pal Whizz is another Singapore-designed Chinese reading pen (like the eTutor Star). It can read selected picture books in English and Mandarin. We like it because it’s not too expensive (relatively) and the books are all easy to buy in Singapore. The range includes classic fairytales, Chinese idioms, and many simply primary reading books. (Here is a review I wrote on a compatible comic series which is similar to The Young Scientists series in English, but obviously in Chinese)

We also have the iHuman Levelled Readers and Pen, although this won’t rank in the top 5.

Which Chinese Reading Pen is right for me?

I’ve tried to draw an image of how I see the schema landscape of reading pens fitting together, and try to make it less overwhelming to understand all the options. 

Different Chinese 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.

Comparison of Chinese Reading Pens

Head-to-Head comparison of Chinese reading pen options

The image below has a head-to-head comparison of five reading pens.

Comparison of Chinese Reading Pens
Comparison of key aspects of our Chinese reading pens (Luka, Habbi Habbi, Le Le, Penpal Whizz, eTutor)

Note – I’ve not included the Youdao pen or Alpha Egg in the table above, because Chinese dictionary pens are in a different league (more of a translation/dictionary tool than an children’s educational product). Youdao or Alpha Egg are is like your google translate handy pocket-sized pal which will scan and read anything, provided the text/handwriting is less than 1.5cm in height. They retail for significantly less (about $160) and are a worthy addition for any family.

Comparison of Chinese Reading Pens

And that’s what we know about Chinese reading pens and robots in this house. So far, no tuition has been needed (admittedly we’re not doing PSLE yet either!). Whilst it sometimes feels like uphill battle, it’s like climbing to Mt Everest Base Camp: a big task takes preparation and practice, but the sense of achievement is huge and every step changes your view on the world. Moreover, with technology, it’s much easier to achieve.

What interesting technologies are helping your children to learn?

Where can I find out more?

My other more detailed posts on the topics of Chinese reading pens and robots which I’ve written:

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

Best Children’s English Composition & Creative Writing Books

Comparison of Books for English Creative Writing and Composition (in an Asian context)

English creative writing in Asia is an area where there is often little focus at school, and also limited environment for fully utilising the language to its full advantage. Where composition writing is done in schools, the model approaches are usually very specific and limited in their genres, and tuition centres thrive on being able to teach children the ‘winning’ approach. However, I’m sure it can be learnt within the home too – and this post reviews three books which are excellent companion texts to encourage English creative writing with your child. Each is good for different reasons, as described in this blog post.  

Supporting a child to improve their writing really can be as simple as giving them good creative writing books, that are accessible and offer words, phrases, ideas or models for a child to create high-quality output.   My kids have benefitted greatly from having all three of the books covered in this review.

High level comparison of the three books is given in the table below.

Descriptosaurus: supporting creative writing

Books for English composition writing in Singapore

What:

Descriptosaurus is a thematic expansion of a dictionary and a thesaurus, designed for a student to be able to expand their vocabulary, and sentence structures.  The book is loosely grouped by settings, characters, and creatures.  Aside from the general Descriptosaurus book,  there are specific theme-based books which can also be bought (such as Ghosts, Fantasy, Adventure, Myths and Legends) for a child who has a particular interest in a particular genre.  The book is helpful for a reluctant writer to understand how words can come together to create beautiful descriptions, yet also wonderful for a passionate writer who needs to add more colour and variety into their pieces.

Table of Contents Descriptosaurus
Descriptosaurus
English composition writing books

Pros:

  • Hugely comprehensive resource (possibly the ultimate resource for creative story writing)
  • Covers a wide range of genres and scenes, from real life to fantasy
  • Hard copy book which could be used and shared around a classroom
  • The book has been created and refined over a number of years as a result of feedback from children inside and outside the classroom in the United Kingdom
  • Wide appeal and usage from early primary school through to secondary-age writers

Cons:

  • For an Asian context, the book doesn’t have so many relevant descriptions to appropriately describe foods, weather, Asian facial features, hawker markets, festival, etc.
  • For a Singapore-specific primary school focus, the book doesn’t have the so-called “powerful words” that teachers will be expecting students to contain in their essays, and nor does it contains any references to idioms/metaphor and intended structure for short composition pieces
  • Size and weight of the book is big – the book itself contains a lot of of extra content (eg sample poems, stories, printable grammar pages, punctuation, etc) which are excellent, but perhaps more useful for a teacher or homeschooling parent than for the child themselves.  This prevents the book from being something a child could easily carry around in their backup to/from school or the library etc.
  • This book is intense – no pictures, and lots of word walls.  For a child (or parent) who is still nascent with English, this could be off-putting.
  • The price ….. the basic book is ~USD52  (Kindle versions are a better idea) 

Write Like a Ninja: essential toolkit for young writers

Write Like a NInja cover

What:  

Write Like a Ninja is an almost-pocket-sized book, designed to let students turbo-charge their writing with powerful descriptive words and unique vocabulary choices.  The books is essentially a child-friendly thesaurus, with a few grammar tips too.  It contains tonnes of alternative for overused adjectives, and also themed vocabulary wordbanks to describe settings, characters, foods, feelings, and more.   Write Like a Ninja is clever, catchy, super user-friendly and very well priced.   This book has been great in our family for giving to my kids to use as an alternative to a thesaurus and up levelling their writing, especially personal journal writing.

Write like a Ninja contents page
English composition books
English composition books

Pros:

  • Short and sharp, with all content being relevant and practical for a young writer
  • Clearly set out, and highly approachable for a child, even a child with less confidence in English reading – it’s simple style, design, and layout, with some fun decorations
  • Where explanations are needed, they’re simply and concisely written, with nothing extra that will confuse a child

Cons:

  • It’s really targeted for a younger learner, or a child who needs to be empowered in their writing
  • For a more confident writer, a thesaurus might be a more helpful text than this book
  • The book mainly has stand-alone words, rather than full phrases or sentences
  • For a Singapore-specific primary school focus, the book doesn’t have the so-called “powerful words” that teachers will be expecting students to contain in their essays

A Way With Words: turn your compositions from good to great

A Way With Words

What:  

A Way With Words is a creative writing resource to expand descriptive vocabulary and give structure to writing, especially composition pieces and journaling for primary-age students.  The book is divided into a descriptions of people, places, and actions (including use of metaphors, proverbs and idioms).   A Way with Words is specifically narrow and focused, with an emphasis on real-life examples (not fairy tales, monsters or villains) and culturally relevant to descriptions of scenes in a South East Asian context (eg tropical weather, hawker centres, moral values, etc).  It follows the format recommended for composition pieces in a Singapore MOE and PSLE context, which in itself is very specific and unlike other creative writing approaches.

English compo book
A Way With Words
A Way with Words English Composition book
English composition books

Pros:

  • Well-designed reference book that can assist you to walk your child through creative writing and journaling
  • Based around the use five-senses, to show how words and phrases can generate images in the mind of readers
  • Aligns with standard approach for Singapore composition writing in schools, yet with a fresh and unconventional perspective.
  • Short, sharp, and contains wordbanks and descriptive words without other waffle or written exercises for a child to complete
  • Provides practical advice on how to plan and structure an English composition piece.
  • Better than most books on the shelves of Popular for composition writing

Cons:

  • Specifically for composition writing and journal pieces, rather than fantasy / fiction writing (it’s not going to make your child a good storyteller, but might help them attain a higher score in an English exam)
  • Very focused on descriptions for Asian context, so some turns of phrase may not translate well for overseas readers (eg references to hawkers centres, HDB apartments, durians and tropical fruits, etc)
  • Not designed to be fully comprehensive, but contains writing prompts for a child to unleash their own creativity

(DISCLAIMER – I am very good friends with the author of A Way with Words, so more than a little biased here. That said, I’m always looking for great English composition books in a Singapore context, so please drop me a line if you know of others worthy of mentioning here.)

Where to buy the books from

In Singapore, none of these books appear to be available from traditional bookstores. All are available from Amazon, and the links are below (note: these are not affiliate links).

What about other books for composition writing?

This post has been a very rare diversion from my usual focus on encouraging Chinese literacy. I would love to find books which encourage creative writing in Chinese, in an equally approachable and fun manner (note – just like many of the famed books for English creative writing are too convoluted for use in an Asian context, I’ve also found many of the mainland Chinese creative writing books are too advanced for use outside of China). Any suggestions or leads are welcomed in the comments below or via Lah Lah Banana FB or Instagram.

Book Review:  Squid for Brains Picture Books

Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese books are a set of books that I chanced upon randomly, after discovering one lone picture book in book-sharing free library.  My interest was piqued by that one book, yet after googling I could find little about the series, aside from the fact that more similar books existed.  Despite the Squid for Brains facebook page having less likes than even I do, I went against gut feel and ordered a few more books from their website at a whim.  I’m glad I did, and here’s what we discovered.

Note – Squid for Brains have books written in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese, along with matching titles in Spanish.  There are picture books, and also bridging books (which they call readers).  This post covers their two picture book sets.

Key Information on Squid for Brains Picture Books

  • Series name: Squid for Brains – PandaRiffic Books and Zhongwen Bu Mafan! Series.
  • Author:  Dr Terry Waltz
  • Number of books in set:  PandaRiffic – 6, and Zhonwhen Bu Mafan – 8
  • Number of lines per page:  Quite varied, but maximum 6
  • Number of pages per book:  30 – 50
  • Total length of the book:  Varies but approx. 1000 – 1500 characters
  • Characters required by child to read it independently: 19 – 100 unique characters (as in, each book only contains that many characters, so if a child knew 500 characters total, there’s a good chance that they’d know nearly everything in the book)
  • Pinyin: Yes, and it’s kept on different page from the characters
  • Bilingual: No
  • Available in Singapore NLB:  No
  • Original language of publication:  Chinese (also available in Spanish)
  • Characters: Traditional and Simplified versions
  • Audio available: No (but works great with Luka Hero Point and Read function)
  • Suggested ages:  Beginner readers of any age

Background to Squid for Brains Picture Books

Squid for Brains is the brainchild of Dr Terry Waltz, a talented translator, interpreter and language extraordinaire. Whilst little exists on the web about these books, I gather that the intent of these books was to have readable and accessible content for students learning Chinese as a second language, building on the theory of comprehensible input to gain fluency in a language.  In Dr Waltz’s case, she says she uses  ‘comprehended input’™  because it’s even more digestible than typical comprehensible input, meaning there is nothing left uncomprehended by the reader.  That’s getting into semantics, but I love her audacity to create meaningful literature for beginners.

Attaining fluency through graded reading books with limited character count is a concept featuring in many of my children’s favourite book series.  Why?  Because these are the books that they can pick up and read, understand, and enjoy, as they’ve been meticulously designed and written to be approachable for a non-native reader, with a limited character range.  I have this ongoing struggle with the children when they finish a series about ‘which book next?’ because comprehensible input in Chinese is a rare genre.  My kids are well beyond Mary & Jane type books, but the gap to reading Harry Potter in Chinese is still a very evident one for my children.   Something like Squid for Brains is a good gap-filler.

The author herself, Dr Waltz, is a Chinese language teacher of 30+ years, and those who have done her online classes (focussed for adults) cannot recommend her enough.

Synopsis of Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese Picture Books

  • Zhongwen Bu Mufan! Series: unpredictable short stories, made from highly limited word count (eg the Guiseppe story contains on 19 unique Chinese characters, to tell a story about a guy who looking for the pizza toppings of his dreams).  English words are used where necessary to get the story across.
  • PandaRiffic Series:  based on traditional folk tales, but with a Panda as the main actor (eg Pandarella, Panda White, Panda Soup, Panda Jack and the Bamboo Stalk, etc).  These books are slightly longer with an increased characters range.
Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese Picture Books

What my daughter likes about the series

  • Very punny:  That’s right.  These are satirical and contain plays-on-words that my kids appreciate, such as the Mal-Wart store, a Cyley Mirus concert, and Bordon Cramsie in the kitchen.  My kids had a good laugh about ‘NiTube’ rather than ‘YouTube’.
  • Simple to read and understand: The books are very much intended for early language learners, and focus on high frequency words.  Some of them follow familiar stories, and others are familiar scenarios.   All of them have a touch of humour.
  • Balance of text and graphics: Large sized and clear text, with bold and silly illustrations.  Some of the illustrations are the type of thing a child could draw using MS Paint, so my kids find even the pictures simple to understand how they were created. 

What a parent will like about Squid for Brains Picture Books

  • No pinyin beside the characters, but there is a glossary at the back:  A general pet peeve of mine is any beginner book that contains pinyin above the characters.  Squid for Brains books are free from this.
  • Has a colour-coded approach for characters and tones, and spaces between words:  this may or may not be relevant, depending on how well your child understands the tonal nature of Mandarin.  For learners from non-native backgrounds, there is a unique TOP (Tonally Orthographic Pinyin) Romanization System designed by Dr Waltz, which colour codes the characters in 4 colours depending on their tone.  Quite fascinating and intuitive approach with some more info on the author’s website here with rationale for the character colour coding.  Additionally, there are inserted spaces between words to make the text more accessible for beginners. 
  • Printed using a hand-writing style font: the font used (in their new edition books) is a proprietary Squid for Brains Chinese handwriting font, which is intended to look more like handwriting, so it’s easier for a beginner to copy versus printed fonts.  I like this concept a lot!  
  • Accompanying teaching guide:  for teachers / home schoolers, you’ll appreciate that  there is an additional teaching guide to which can be purchased, containing classroom-tested activities, digital flipbooks, cartoon strips and tasks, etc.

Insides of the Books

Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese Picture Books Panadarella

Some watchouts and considerations

I really want to love Squid for Brains, but I cannot give it a fully unqualified thumbs up for a few reasons.  This is a bit of an insight into why it’s really hard for small-time writers.  It’s never easy being a self-published author.

Firstly, only half the books I ordered actually arrived.  We’ll blame US Postal service for that.  So that’s a lesson for me that I should pay for proper courier service if it’s offered. Squid for Brains team was very kind in arranging redelivery.

Secondly, of the books that arrived, one of them was in Spanish when I’d ordered Simplified Chinese (thankfully my daughter is learning Spanish too, but it wasn’t what I’d been planning for).  Then, another book had the correct front cover, but inside had contents for a totally different book (it was a great book, but the wrong book).   That’s the printer’s error.  As I understand it, there isn’t much bargaining power when you’re a small business and the printer sees you as a dime a dozen.

Finally, inside one of the books, there were a few small grammatical errors that my daughter picked up (like differing tones of a character).  Again, this seems to be the printer using perhaps a wrong file, and I guess if the printing press cannot actually read the files they’re printing on-demand, this is bound to happen too.  I’d compare this with something like Sage 500 books, which are heralded as being the holy grail for teaching kids to read in Chinese.  Sage 500 books are literally littered with mistakes too, but people never complain about that, do they?

All in all, that sounds like a laundry list of small niggles, but it’s really so you go in eyes wide open.   They’re REALLY great books, although some headwinds with the execution.  I’m glad to be able to support an independent author / illustrator / publisher like Squid for Brains, and hope that others will also find Dr Terry Waltz’s efforts helpful in their own language journeys.  We’re looking forward to reading the Squid for Brains more advanced bridging books next (they look even more intriguing than the picture books).

Where to buy Squid for Brains Chinese books

I bought ours direct from Squid for Brains website.  As mentioned above, there were a few issues with their delivery, but the company was very responsive and apologetic. 

There are some books on Amazon, and I’m guessing lost packages and returns would be much easier through that channel.  However, it’s Amazon making the $$, and I’d rather support a great author directly if I can.

If my child likes this, what are other similar books in Simplified Chinese?

Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese picture books are very accessible for an emergent reader, containing modern stories with a decent – but short –  storyline.  There’s not too much similar which I’ve come across (although happy to be proven wrong on this).

Some books which my children have enjoyed at a sort-of-similar reading level are:

  • Little Dim Sum Warriors Bilingual Tales series (review here see part way down post) – short story books for emerging readers about silly little dumplings with a lot of heart.  I think the level of satire is on par with Squid for Brains too.
  • Mandarin Companion series (review here) – these books also used the ‘comprehensible input’ pedagogy, and retail classic tales in simple text.  The ‘Breakthrough Level’, starts out with 150 unique characters, so Squid for Brains is a whole level simpler than this.  Mandarin Companion would be a good step after Squid for Brains.  These too would work for older children as the storylines are more rewarding, and the themes more adult in nature.
  • Odonata Graded Learning Short stories: Odonata has graded learning readers (designed for learning 1200 characters), which I’ve reviewed before, but they also have short stories that match these readers.   The first stories all contain less than 100 characters.  They’re very kiddy in story design and pictures, so won’t appeal to older children.
  • Mi Xiao Quan 米小圈上学记一年级 series (review here) – their Grade 1 books contain pinyin above the words, and are a good laugh. However overall sentences/content is harder than what most beginners would be able to manage, let alone length, but these work well for a child who already has a good spoken understanding of Mandarin.
  • Levelled readers: overall, I’d advocate that if your child knows only a handful of characters, that you should progress systematically through graded readers, and I’ve put a few ideas previously about Chinese levelled readers  (eg Le Le Chinese would be a good pick, or Little Sheep Goes up the Mountain) and read shorter stories with lots of repetition of characters and climb your way up to knowing 1000+ characters.  At that level, many more doors open up!

I hope you found this introduction to Squid for Brain helpful. I would also love to know what other books you think are great at this same novice level. Please share any ideas below.

 

Christmas gifts for preschoolers 2022…. with a Chinese literacy twist!

It’s my final blog post for the year!  As always, the entire month before Christmas will be dedicated to a social media free Advent period (so please forgive the spelling errors, as this is being hurriedly typed in the few minutes before we jump on a plane).

Given there is still time to buy Christmas presents, this post very quickly lists out some things to consider to put Chinese into the gift list, especially focused for the little ones (kindergarten and preschoolers). If you’re reading my blog, it must mean your family has some remote interest in Chinese. So please consider giving something Chinese to keep languages alive and magical in your family this year end.

Habbi Habbi Bilingual Puzzle

Habbi Habbi design beautiful board books to encourage early literacy, with uplifting and purposeful content.  Our family has both their Chinese and Spanish sets of board books, which I’ve reviewed before.  But new in 2022….. they have introduced BILINGUAL PUZZLES.  These puzzles can work with the same reading wand as their books, which means as the child builds the puzzle, they can get narration of the elements in the puzzles in two languages, and also some other fun sound effects which bring the puzzle to life.  Every part of the puzzle is tappable with the wand.  The puzzles are sturdy and big pieces, delightful to hold, and still a good challenge for a preschoolers.   It’s printed with both Simplified Chinese and English.

Habbi Habbi Bilingual Puzzle

Little Bun Book

Miss Panda Chinese – a superb bilingual blogger – has released a bilingual storybook about feelings called Little Bun.  It’s available on Kindle Unlimited and Amazon, and in hardcopy.  The book is bilingual for young children (target ages 2 to 6), and written in both Simplified Chinese and English with pinyin support.  There is also an online audio reading. What I really like is that it’s a book about feelings, and how to express emotions in words, which can be ever-so-hard in one language, let alone two.  The adorable illustrations are done by Miss Panda’s daughter Emily.

Little Bun Bilingual Chinese book for toddlers

A Very Noisy Christmas – bilingual version

A Very Noisy Christmas is a fun re-telling of the Christmas story for young children written in both Simplified Chinese and  English, with pinyin.  If you read it as planned, your house will be filled with shouting, singing and raucous laughter. It’s a lovely one for a parent to read to a child, and having both languages means parents could take it in turn to alternate between the two.   For parents who cannot read the Chinese, there is a lovely audio recording of the book by Malaysian actor Robin Khor.

Maomi Stars App

Maomi Stars is hands down THE best literacy app for preschoolers.  I’ve reviewed it before too, if you need a reminder of what it’s about.  If you are hunting for a perfect gift for your children or a friend who is on the language journey, consider giving the gifts of learning and getting a Maomi Stars virtual gift card.  It’s not going to clutter their homes, and it’s surely going to be used (especially as their syllabus now includes Singapore MOE wordlist).  There is a Holiday Gift e-card giving a 3-month subscription for $45.95 or 6 months for $75.95, with access for 3 children on the one device.  The app can be modified for Simplified, Traditional, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Maomi Stars app gift voucher

Squid for Brains Books

Squid for Brains have some fun but simple Chinese picture books that you might have a hope of reading and your child understanding, because they’re designed for children from non-Chinese speaking households. That means they focus on more common words a learner would know, and provide good word repetition (but by no means boring). Squid for Brains picture books are easier than the typical books you’ll find on the library shelves. They come in both Simplified and Traditional Scripts.

Squid for Brains

Little Dim Sum Warriors bilingual books

Dim Sum Warriors app and doodle dates are favourites at our place, for combining drawing with Chinese and bringing out a wildly creative side. I’ve reviewed the Dim Sum Warriors flagship product previously, which is why it might be a familar name for you too. Their store is having a Christmas sale using the promo code ‘smartcookie‘ for 10% off. Their Little Dim Sum Warriors bilingual children’s storybooks make great and affordable Christmas gifts – written bilingually with Simplified Chinese and English. Keep a look out at Dim Sum Warriors will also be hosting some free Christmas-themed online doodle dates

Little DIm Sum Warrior storybooks

What are you going to put on the Christmas list to help with Chinese?

Hopefully you have your own wonderful ideas too. For more ideas, check out my post from 2020 on Chinese literacy gifts and book recommendations for Christmas, including for older children. Bridging books are also a great idea for a child with slightly more advanced reading skills.

And in case you were curious – NONE of these links are affiliated (as with my blog philosophy). The best thing in life is to give, and give freely, especially at Christmas.

Blessed Christmas!! 圣诞节快乐

Helping a child to write Chinese characters

Why writing Chinese characters is important

Writing is important for literary in any language (especially non-phonetic ones) as the sequential movement of the fingers and hand hardwires the brain to learn. It’s especially important in learning Chinese, and there are some fun ways to help your children to learn to write Chinese characters.

Whilst it may seem archaic and mundane, writing out Chinese characters by hand has been proven by research to be a key tool in the acquisition of literacy in Chinese. It is possible to learn to read without writing, but at least for languages without alphabets, it’s been shown that to become literate nothing beats handwriting with pen and paper. And, literacy has been shown to be a key aspect in becoming fluent in a language when it’s not learnt via immersion. So, henceforth, learning to write the old-fashioned way is an important aspect of Chinese.

Handwriting s a really important technique for acquiring Chinese as it is comitting to muscle-memory the different components of a character, and being able to associate them to specific character groups (ie radicals) and meanings. Many characters looks ridiculously similar, so it’s only when writing them out to perfection that the differences will jump out. Also more generally, it’s been shown that when something is handwritten, it’s more likely to stay in the brain’s memory longer, which is an important aspect of learning vocabulary. What’s more, for more digital Chinese dictionaries, it’s incredibly convenient and fast to look it up by writing the character out.

However, it can also be very tough for a child to figure out correct stroke order and it is very repetitive in execution. It’s even more challenging if you’re the parent who cannot read Chinese, and you’re trying to oversee a child using pen and paper.   There are all sorts of gadgets and smart apps for learning to READ Chinese characters which I’ve written about on this blog, but there are far less on how to WRITE Chinese characters. There are even less which involve physically holding a pen.

Ideas to help kids write Chinese characters

This post includes a few ideas for encouraging your child to write more in Chinese. It’s things we’ve done in our house, in no particular order. Do forgive the videography! There’s a reason why I don’t usually post videos.

1️⃣ Tracing characters onto magnetic tiles

This is a good way to start, especially if you have some flash cards or early readers with enlarged characters and stroke order. Of course it could be done with tracing paper too, however if you use the tiles it’s also a helpful way to write sentences by arranging a string of tiles together.

If you have the infamous Sagebooks 500 set, the inner square of the larger size magnetic tiles fits exactly over the numbered stroke template page, which is handy too.

2️⃣ Skritter Write Chinese app

Skritter is a great app for spaced repetition of tingxie, for a primary-age child. It’s not fun. It’s not gamified. It’s literally just writing out characters from a user selected list, which is perhaps what some families do on paper, but this is on tablet format. It’s good because it keeps track of the characters, corrects for wrong stroke order, and it uses clever AI to repeat characters where the user is weaker. I’ve reviewed Skritter in detail over here.

3️⃣ Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen

This is a smart digital pen that resembles a conventional pen, and it writes on real paper. If you saw it on our dining room table, you’d be mistaken thinking it’s really just ordinary pen and paper – in fact my husband has used the pen to scribble notes whilst working from home without realising the amazing equipment he was holding. The Alpha Egg AI writing pen is equipped with sensors to detect movement and pen position. When paired with an app via bluetooth, it can give real-time feedback on stroke legnth, order, size. The accompanying books teaches over 800 characters. This method is really standout to me as it’s real pen and paper -and several scientific studies have shows stronger brain activity after writing on paper than on a tablet or smartphone. I have reviewed Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen in more detail in a recent post.

4️⃣ Maomi Stars app

Maomi Stars app is a wonderfully put together app, which encompasses reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in Chinese. It’s ideal for beginners, through to more advanced (syllabus included Singapore MOE Chinese Primary 1 standard). It has short fun games, and is customisable and cute. It works for non native and native speaking families, which options for Simplified Chinese and Traditional, along with Cantonese and Mandarin. One especially great feature is that it contains a plethora of preloaded wordlists including from well known levelled readers (eg Sage, Odonata) so you can use it to mirror you home reading. Every character includes a finger writing component. I’ve reviewed Maomi Stars in detail a few months back, and please not that is has ONLY GOTTEN BETTER since my review!

5️⃣Osmo Masterpiece app

Osmo is a unique piece of kit which aims to create tangible experiences and hands-on learning from an ipad. We use it for math, Englsh and coding, and it’s excellent. It has one app which can be adapted for learning to write Chinese characters, but it’s a little gimmicky. Unless you already have the tool, I wouldn’t be recommending this approach. Basically you can use the Osmo Masterpiece app (which is for teaching your child to draw anything) and instead let you trace Chinese characters. We did this hack from using our Le Le flash cards. You could basically do it with any sheets of printed characters or soft copy, and the app will let you trace it out using physical paper. My kids like to use their washable chalk books rather than paper.

6️⃣ Youdao pocket printer

This one is a hack, for anyone who happens to be lucky enough to own a Youdao pocket printer. It’s a mini inkless printer which connects to your phone and prints out onto receipt-size paper. It has many uses for it, but a good one is template tracing sheets as it’s so cheap and easy. You can literally photograph the character (or graphic) that you want to print out, and then send it to the printer within seconds.

Youdao pocket printer with Chinese character tracing

7️⃣ Magic water writing cloth 水写布

This is a mess-free way to practice more of traditional Chinese calligraphy / brush painting. This magic cloth paper is a bit like a thin picnic mat, and is reusable. The output really looks like real ink too, except without the mess and the smell. It only requires a brush and water. When the water dries, everything is erased (it stays for about 20 minutes though which avoids frustration!). Some even come with 米 grid squares, or even with printed characters for tracing printed on them. This is our magic water writing cloth being used with the flash cards which show stroke order.

Magic water writing cloth

8️⃣ 田英章 writing books

Some bilingual mothers swear by these books saying that 田英章 is THE master in Chinese handwriting & calligraphy, and the reason why their kids write so neatly. It’s basically books which contain tracing paper, and allow you to go over the printed characters. These were recommended to me by an online bookstore called Owlissimo, which used to stock these. They don’t seem to anymore, but they have other great Chinese products.

What else would you suggest to help a child write Chinese?

Once a child has picked up basic writing skills, there are other ways you can continue to engage them in their penmanship, such as with composition pieces, doing calligraphy, or perhaps even writing to a penfriend (my kids have a penfriend that they send snail mail too, and they were highly motivated to improve their own character writing when they saw how difficult ot was to read someone else’s handwriting).

If you have other great ideas for helping children learnig to write, I’m happy to check it out, test them out and add it onto this blog post too.

In case you’re looking for other suggestions for levelling up your child’s Chinese, here are some other posts you may enjoy:

Book Review: 朱尔多日记 Zhu Er’s Diary

This review is of a bridging book set 朱尔多日记 (Zhū ěr’s Diary), which is ideal for middle-to-upper primary school readers. My daughter borrowed it recently from the library.  Until that point, I really thought we’d heard of most of the better known early chapter booksets from mainland China, especially those written in diary format, but apparently not.  朱尔多日记 has been a welcomed discovery.   

Key Information on 朱尔多日记 series

  • Series name: 朱尔多日记 (Zhu Er’s Diary) 
  • Author:  黄宇 (Huang Yu)
  • Number of books in set:  6 (at least?)
  • Number of lines per page:  13
  • Number of pages per book:  133 pages
  • Total length of the book:  18,000 characters
  • Characters required by child to read it independently: 1500+
  • Pinyin: Yes
  • Bilingual: No
  • Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
  • Original language of publication:  Chinese
  • Audio available: no
  • Suggested aged:  9 – 12

Synopsis of 朱尔多日记

Think of the American favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid…… .  what’s different in 朱尔多日记 is that the main protagonist, Zhu Er, is a schoolboy in Mainland China.    Zhu Er is one mischievous kid, who brings readers on a journey filled with antics, humour, and daily musings in his partially-doodled diary.  In fact some of the book covers in this set are so similar to that of the Chinese version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that you’d be forgiven for confusing the two. 

The concept is also somewhat similar to the infamous Mi Xiao Quan Diaries 米小圈 , in that the series comprises of several books for every level of school which Zhu Er goes through.  Each book is filled with the joys, jokes and secrets of the schoolyard and his classmates.  It’s funny and grotesque all in one.  The books are more text intense than Mi Xiao Quan, but have pinyin above all characters.

Huang Yu, the author, is a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, with a psychology / counselling background.  You’ll see bits of this shine through in the stories.  The books have sold more than 6 million copies (which probably isn’t a big milestone for China market) and have won several awards.  The same author has written over 100 other books (100 books!!!!!), most of which are built around positive mindset-building stories which children will relate to.

What my daughter likes about the series

  • Not to heavy and not too light:  The books are specifically designed as an early reader / bridging , fairly approachable for a motivated mid-primary schooler to read independently (the pinyin helps)
  • Very relevant and comical for a primary schooler: Er Duo complains in a humourous way about all the things your child probably complains about….. spelling tests, school swimming classes,  school dental clinic,  finding a gift for Mother’s Day, being bullied, and of course homework and more homework.
  • Balance of text and graphics: enough colorful illustrations, full of ideas and fun

What a parent will like about the series

  • Fits Singapore context: Of course this is written in mainland China, but it covers aspects like failing an exam, or having a classroom of 30+ kids, which are common place in Singapore too, and also common reasons for tensions to build up.
  • Has a resilience building mindset: Zhu Er is a kid who seems to get his perspectives right – he loves learning (for the most part) and doesn’t let himself be defined by his grades (and tries to convince his mother of this too)
  • Available to borrow from Singapore NLB

Insides of 朱尔多日记

朱尔多日记 example bridging book Chinese
朱尔多日记 example bridging book Chinese
朱尔多日记 example bridging book Chinese
朱尔多日记 has considerably more text than Mi Xiao Quan diaries

Where to buy it from

We borrowed our books from the library.  Buying it in Singapore I’ve only seen it listed at Maya Yuyi (honestly that’s the best place to buy books for upper primary age kids in Singapore… no one’s paying me to say this either!  If you know a better place with dependable recommendations, please drop me a line).

If my child likes this, what are other similar books in Simplified Chinese?

Some books which my children really enjoyed at a similar reading level and are:

  • Zoroli (review here)
  • Mi Xiao Quan 米小圈上学记一年级 (review here)
  • Detective Pipi 屁屁侦探推理版 (review here)
  • World History Adventure Comics 寻宝记 (review here)
  • Mandarin Companion’s Secret Garden 秘密花园 , and Sixty Year Dream 六十年的梦 among others (review here)

I would love to know what books you think are great at this same level! Please add any ideas below.

If you’re in Singapore, join the conversation with other like-minded parents at the FB Group Ni Hao Singapore Primary School learning, which I host along with a few other Singapore-based bloggers including Ms Claudia Lee Kimura.

Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen:  Parent Review

This post is a review of the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen (阿尔发蛋AI练习笔) by iFlytek.  This pen is unlike any other I have ever seen:  it’s a smart digital pen for teaching a child how to WRITE Chinese characters using traditional pen and paper.

We were lucky enough to get our hands on an Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen in July 2022 soon after they were launched, and this is a review after a three-month test drive. I’m so excited to share this pen with you.

This post covers:

Why writing Chinese characters is so important

Did you know that physically writing out Chinese characters by hand has been proven to be a key tool in the acquisition of literacy in Chinese?  Whilst it’s possible to learn to read without writing, by far the best way to learn any language (and especially a non-phonetic language) has been shown that nothing beats the old-fashioned way of pen and paper.    

Handwriting is such an important tool – but also very tough for a child to figure out correct stroke order, and repetitive in execution.   There are all sorts of gadgets and smart apps for learning to READ Chinese characters, but Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen is the first pen I’ve ever seen that helps you to WRITE Chinese characters perfectly and keeps a child engaged.

Several scientific studies have shows stronger brain activity after writing on paper than on a tablet or smartphone, and other studies show stronger memory recall when a concept is written down rather than simply listened to.  The spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper has been shown by researchers as what likely leads to improved memory retention.  There’s even new research specifically focused on writing characters (be it Chinese, Japanese, etc) showing that the sequential movement of fingers and hand to form hundreds of complex characters (as opposed to 26 alphabets) activates a neural activity that trains the brain in an array of advanced cognitive abilities needed for many aspects of life. 

Key Features of the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen

The Alpha Egg AI writing pen is a smart digital pen that resembles a conventional pen, and it writes on real paper.  It is equipped with internal sensors to detect movement and pen position and connects to an app to give real-time feedback. 

The pen really looks, feels, and writes like a normal pen (same size, weight, shape).  Yet with the clever sensors it becomes a real-time writing guide, giving you feedback on how to write characters precisely and perfectly.

It has three key parts:

  1. Writing practice with feedback:  By using the pen with the accompanying workbooks (yes they’re also real paper books) and a phone/ipad, you get a closed-loop system for writing practice.  The app captures the pen movements with real-time synchronisation on screen and gives a score to the user on how well the character has been written.  It scores based on ten key areas of the writing (which are stroke order, number of strokes, size, position, thickness, frame structure, stroke angle, stroke direction, stroke length, and writing speed).
  2. Videos:  The app provides an in-built teaching assistant which can recognize the character being written and with the tap of the app can provide a short video with tips on how to write the character or in some instances, history of the character.   Together, it creates a very comprehensive system and assistant for character writing, which is child-friendly and fun.   
  3. Personalised intervention: The “AI” function of the pen will actually recommend Chinese characters that need intensive training, based on past results, and allow the user to carry out personalized training to master the more troublesome characters, in a blank notebook (although you can actually use it to practice whatever characters you want).
Example of the scoring given from the app

Workbooks: Level 1 – basic pen movements

Workbooks: Level 2 – basic strokes and characters

Workbooks: Level 3 – advanced characters and blank books

Technical Specs

  • Model No: TYWP – W10
  • Charger: Micro USB Charging Port
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth (required)
  • Supports offline usage
  • Battery life: ~5 hours of continuous usage  (it takes ~2 hours to be fully charged)
  • Weight:  17.6g
  • Dimensions:  160mm (length), 10mm (diameter
  • Pen tip: 0.5 mm
  • Ink colour: Black
  • User interface language: Simplified Chinese

The pen comes with 13 workbooks, ranging from introductory pre-character writing through to four levels of characters arranged from easier to advanced, based on writing difficulty.

Alpha Egg AI writing pen
Alpha Egg AI writing pen books

How the Alpha Egg AI writing pen works?

The Alpha Egg AI Pen works by pairing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Bluetooth technologies. When the pen lid is taken off the pen, it automatically activates Bluetooth, and inside the pen tip is an OCR sensor to identify the workbook being used and handwriting.  It uses the square grid in the workbook with dot matrix recognition to determine pen tip position (1200 dpi high precision, so really pretty good).  This is directly synchronized to the app, and then the actual handwriting is shown on the screen. 

For help in setting up the pen, there is a helpful youtube about the AI Writing Pen with English sub titles.  One tip would be to use a tablet with this pen, rather than a phone screen, as it’s bigger and will better resemble the paper size being used.

The Alpha Egg AI writing pen writes like a normal pen, and links to an app using Bluetooth

How our family is using the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen

The problem

Nothing beats writing using real pen and paper.  Period. Nevertheless writing characters on physical pen and paper has over the years been a struggle in our house.  It’s not because the children aren’t interested or its time-consuming (although I’ve heard that both are common complaints).  The real reason is that as I don’t know how to write the characters myself, I’m clueless.  I seriously have NO idea, and cannot engage in it at all with the children.  That’s why for revising week tingxie (Chinese spelling words) we rely heavily on the use of Skritter app.  Skritter is a great digital tool for learning characters and practicing them through spaced recognition.  It works for stroke order too, but given Skitter is still screen-based writing with a stylus (or finger) it doesn’t fully mimic actual character writing, nor bring with it the scientific benefits associated with analog-style pen and paper writing.    

The solution

You can imagine how excited I was to discover the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen.  It does just what the packet says it can do …. Writes characters on real paper, and gives real time feedback!  Another answer to my dreams!!

Literally, all three of my kids are using the pen, but differently. The pen can easily be shared across family members since it comes with a set of writing books that range from pre-character writing (squiggles and shapes) to advanced characters, with a step-by-step guide and tracing squares.   You can even purchase additional books so each child has their own set.  The only hitch in sharing across family members is that there is only one app account for the pen, so the AI recommendations on what to do for additional practice don’t work, however, we don’t use this feature. 

The children really do want to complete an entire page of characters and collect stars, so it’s a positive feedback loop to improve in character writing.   The characters can be selected and completed in any order, so it’s possible to choose characters that match a particular syllabus being studied.  There are also blank square-paper books which pair with the pen too, for unguided practice.

The characters are rated in the app with a score out of 100

Pros of the Alpha Egg Chinese writing pen

  • Real time report on penmanship and handwriting, including feedback and areas for improvement (errors are very clearly explained)
  • Designed for both right-handed and left-handed users
  • Great matching videos so a child can get a refresher on how to write the character
  • The ink in the pen is refillable and the exercise books are replaceable
  • The pen and books can be used in offline mode as well
  • Parental Monitoring via app is available
  • It’s possible to use a lead pencil or an ink tip, depending on what your child is used to
  • The accompanying workbooks are well designed – going from practicing pen control and pre-writing skills, then basic practice of strokes, to basic characters, and finally more advanced aspects

Cons

  • Entire system and setup is in Chinese
  • The system relies on Bluetooth – if you avoid this for your child, then do avoid the pen too
  • The 阿尔发蛋AI练习笔 app requires a  a local +86 Chinese mobile to first activate the app  (although this can be avoided through certain resellers – including Sagesaurus in Singapore –  who have preauthorized security codes and One Time Pin provided to you to avoid this inconvenience.   

Is the Alpha Egg writing pen good?

Our family’s verdict is that the pen is excellent!  This product is essentially a smart pen and paper, with a fancy connected technology that gives an incentive for children to use it to get in a habit of writing Chinese characters.  The children feel the pen is comfortable to hold, and the app is simple enough to use and give them the information they are needing.  The feel of the pen is like writing with a gel pen, rather than a ballpoint.  Sometimes there can be a split-second lag between writing on the paper and seeing the image on screen, but that in itself is a good reason for the child to focus on the pen and paper, and only look at the app when they have finished writing a particular line of characters.

I’ m a self-confessed addict when it comes to using technology to help our family learn languages.  That’s why our house is overflowing with gadgets like Luka Reading Robot, Habbi Habbi Reading Wands, Osmo, Youdao Dictionary Pens.   I reckon we’ve seen and tried just about everything that’s out there tech-wise for learning Chinese, Spanish and English.   Which is why  I was blown away when I came across the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen.  It truly is something BRAND new to the market and has been executed well.

The Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen is an especially great aid for parents who don’t write Chinese, or who don’t have time to review their children’s writing.  When I see pages of beautifully handwritten characters, I know that the app does its job well.

We give the writing pen a thumbs up! Note in the above picture, we’ve selected a specific character (四) without doing the prior characters. This is because this was on the tingxie list!

Where to buy?

In Singapore, Sagesaurus stocks the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen.  If buying through their website, you can get SGD$10 off Alpha Egg products using promo code lahlah10off. I know they also ship internationally. (and no, no affiliation or commissions are being collected from this blog post ….. just trying to bring you – the reader – great things and help small businesses).

Examples of what you can purchase are below…. the smart pen, writing books (4 different levels, with 13 books in total), and pen refills (either lead pencils or felt tip).

Enjoy the journey

I hope this review has helped you. Most important in the Chinese learning journey is that you create a family and schooling situation where the child loves the language and wants to learn it! I hope that you can achieve that in your family.

If you have reached the end of this, and still wanting to read some more, some other posts of mine which you may find relevant to help your child in learning Chinese:

Book Review: The Power of the Earth

The Science of The Power of the Earth 地球的力量科学绘本 is a book set for children who are nature lovers, geographers and mathematicians.  The set contains ten beautifully written books published in Simplified Chinese which will put a child in awe about the wonders of this world.  We read hundreds of books each year, and I just love it when we come across literary gems – this is certainly one.

Key Information on Power of the Earth series

  • Author/Illustrator:  加古里子 Satoshi Kako 
  • Number of books in set:  10
  • Number of lines per page:   2 – 5
  • Number of pages per book: 25
  • Total length of the book:  ~2300 characters
  • Characters required by child to read it independently: ~1200
  • Pinyin: no
  • Bilingual: no
  • Available in Singapore NLB: no
  • Recommended ages: 5 – 10 years
  • Original language of publication: Japanese
  • Audio available: Yes – through Luka Reading Robot

What the Power of the Earth books are about

This is a non-fiction book set for children, meticulously illustrated and researched, about various natural phenomena of the world (like rivers, rainbows, earthquakes, sunrises, etc).  It’s not an encyclopedia – it’s really short story books, which poses rhetorical questions and gives plenty of facts about each subject, and food for thought.   Questions like how much salt is there in the sea?  How did mountains form in the ocean? Wy does the sun set colour differ on some days? And what are the names of different cloud shapes?

We really love books translated from Japanese in our house – there’s something about the pictures and the stories which are always so unique and endearing, generally with valuable lessons subtly contained. The author of this set. Satoshi Kako, is indeed a master storyteller (and has written many other wonderful books, including another favourite of ours called Mr Crow’s Bakery, which he wrote at the impressive age of 87 years old).   He’s an amazing man, and author.  Kako has a brilliant mind for making important concepts (like economic theory or geography)  enthralling for kids, and is an equally talented illustrator.  He originally worked as a chemist and chemical engineer, before turning to writing books to share his scientific passions with the next generation. 

What my daughter likes about it:

  • The clever illustrations – in particular will appeal to a child who enjoys numbers, math and geography.
  • The questions it asks and answers – a child will feel like they’ve really learnt something they wanted to know
  • The text isn’t too overwhelming – yes this is non-fiction book, but it’s quite short concepts and easy to digest.

For a child, the books try to illustrate principles or ratios using objects and situations they would be familiar with, such as squashing a mattress against a wall to create a mountain, or the relative size of a watermelon and its seeds.

Power of the Earth Book series - Mountains
How mountains are formed
Power of the Earth Book series - Rain
How rain drops are formed

What a parent or teacher would like about the set:

  • Very solid scientific fact and reasoning – in a matter-of-fact and down-to-earth manner, which probably gives answers to questions your kids have asked you before and you tried unsuccessfully to google for!
  • Words used are actually readable for a younger reader – the characters and choice of words are carefully chosen.  You’ll be surprised how much your child can recognize and read on their own.  The books is written in a way that a P2/P3 could self read, and a younger child would also understand.
  • Font size – the typesetting is a good size and clear, and works will with the Alpha Egg pen or Youdao Chinese dictionary pen if needed.
  • Encourages creativity – and appeals to my engineering brain with many of the concepts and corresponding illustrations

If you haven’t read anything from Satoshi Kako, you’re really missing out on a talented picture book writer.  I highly recommend you check out this talented guy.  He was born in 1926, survived through WW2, then graduated from the University of Tokyo with a major in applied chemistry and a doctorate in engineering. While working in chemical companies, he created fairy tales and puppet plays to explain his work to children.  He was a pioneer of science books for children in Japan, and won numerous awards.  The Power of the Earth books were translated from Japanese into Chinese by Guo Yu, a Chinese paleontologist and geosciences scholar.

Kako passed away at the age of 92, and The Power of the Earth series is the last set of books which he oversaw for translation into Chinese before passing away.  His hope was for children to understand and love the earth.

Insides of the book

It was hard to pick which photo to include here – there are SO many stunning pages. Here are just a few.

Power of the Earth Book series - volcanoes
The books remind me of Science Sketch Note type of series
Power of the Earth Book series - space
SO many fun facts about the universe!
Power of the Earth Book series - volcanoes
Power of the Earth Book series - core
Simple and memorable drawings

Titles in 地球的力量科学绘本 Power of the Earth Series

  • 《高山》Tall Mountains
  • 《河流》Rivers
  • 《大海》Seas and Oceans
  • 《雨 雪 雾 云朵》Rain, Snow, Fog, Clouds
  • 《风》Wind
  • 《地震》Earthquake
  • 《火山》Volcano
  • 《朝霞 晚霞 彩虹 极光》Sunrise, Sunset, Rainbow, Aurora
  • 《世界各地》All Around the World
  • 《地球》Earth 

Where to find the series

Our set was bought several years back from My Story Treasury in Singapore.  I checked, and they still sell it.  It’s also selling on JD and Taobao.

 Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it in the local library (although NLB do have several other books by this same author/illustrator).

What level is 地球的力量科学绘本 for?

The Power of the Earth would work for a curious and nature-loving child above 4 to be read by a parent, and even for a non-Chinese speaking family to be narrated as it has full audio recording through Luka.  For a child to read the series independently, I feel about it’s about P2 equivalent in the Singapore school system.

If my child likes this series, what are other similar books in Simplified Chinese?

Parent Review:  Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen T10

This post is a review of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Reading Pen T10 – a handheld multi-language dictionary and translating pen.  It can scan just about any printed text and give an explanation or translation.  The Alpha Egg T10 is designed to be kid-friendly and allows the user to accurately and quickly translate from/to different languages (Chinese, English, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Spanish). 

Previously on this blog I have reviewed the Alpha Egg Q3 and this T10 is the latest iFlyTek Alpha Egg model. It looks and feels quite different to its predecessors. In fact, it’s more similar in look and feel to the Youdao 3.0 pen, which I also reviewed several months back (but, oh, it’s so much better!).

The Alpha Egg T10 Dictionary pen was kindly lent to our family for month by a friend during the June school holidays. Very grateful for the opportunity to try it out. Regular readers would know that our family has a tonne of reading devices for teaching our three kids to read Chinese (since as parents we cannot even speak Chinese), and it was fun to see how the T10 compares to our other gadgets.

This post covers:

What is the iFlyTek Alpha Dictionary Pen T10?

The Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen T10 is a highly advanced dictionary and translating pen, which comes with added built-in educational functions.

The primary use for such a pen is indeed its dictionary function, this clever pen will scan any Chinese written text (from an individual character to a full paragraph, including Hanyu Pinyin and Traditional Chinese), and then have options to:

  • read it out in Chinese
  • read it out in English (in a very fluent and sensible translation)
  • show the pinyin, radicals, and stroke order
  • provide the dictionary definition of individual words in the sentence/paragraph.

If you’ve used Google Translate previously, you’ll know that Google can indeed translate, but often not well enough to be certain 100% of the nitty gritty details.  Using a dictionary pen like Alpha Egg is a much better way to do this.   It not only uses the Oxford Chinese & English Dictionaries (9th Edition) to scan seamlessly and accurately, but it combines this with neural network learning for fluency of translations.  The pen will recognise a range of bold and italic fonts, from newspapers, picture books, through to mobile tablets and devices.

As for the “extra educational functions” beyond just being a dictionary pen, the T10 can be used as a mini AI tutor.  It’s not quite as cute as Luka Reading Robot, but it does have some nice features such as:

  • oral pronunciation practice and grading
  • listening comprehension tools
  • stroke order for all characters
  •  20 key reference books

Key differences between Alpha Egg T10 and previous version (Alpha Egg Q3)

I would make the analogy that if these pens were handphones, it would be like comparing an iPhone Pro Max (the T10) with a Nokia brick (the Q3).   Both options have very different user groups. 

Physically, the T10 with its space-capsule-inspired design has a much bigger screen display (ie more fragile) and a slimmer design that accommodates a USB port.  This means the T10 is more appropriate for older children/adults  For an adult, the T10 is perhaps more comfortable to hold for longer period of time than the Q3, since the Q3 was specifically designed for small hands to grasp the sturdy crayola-like pen barrel.  The T10 has a cooling aluminum alloy outer shell, and the Q3 is plastic-y.

Software-wise, T10 is well advanced.  For basic function of translating, they’re both identical to each other.  But the T10 has a whole host of extra functions.  This is the biggest difference – that the T10 moves beyond basic dictionary functions and passive searching for words/translations, into active teaching (which you may or may not want in your pen!)

Language-wise, The T10 comes in two versions – the standard bilingual version is Chinese/English and the “Pro” version has an impressive 6 languages (Chinese/English/Japanese/Korean/Spanish/Russian).  This is a great features for multilingual families and adult learners too.  The previous Q3 only translates between Chinese and English. 

Pricewise, there’s no comparison.  One is 50% more than the other.  Guess which!

Key features summarised in table below.

Comparison of key features of different iFlyTek Alpha Egg models

What is the use for a Chinese Dictionary Pen?

Honestly, a good dictionary pen is among one of the best resources that your family can have for learning Chinese -it’s great for both parent and child, and for non-Chinese and Chinese speakers. That’s why we have so many in our house already. Dictionary Pens are great because they provide translation, assistance for unknown words, and opportunities to unlock other independent learning opportunities through individual reading and writing.

If you are a parent still trying to use Google Translate on your phone for translating what Chinese characters are, or your child is struggling when reading Chinese passages to understand certain characters/phrases, then this is the gadget is totally for you!  Yo

A dictionary pen is for exactly that…. looking up and translating words. Use cases can include:

  1. To assist my children to read independently:  when reading a book by themselves, the Dictionary Pen helps them to understand particular words or phrases they don’t know.  Rather than needing me to madly look it up for them on Pleco, this pen lets the child do it themselves instantly and effortlessly.  They simply need to scan the text using the pen and they get the pronunciation and explanation to appear (a great help for a busy parent, or a parent who doesn’t read the language). This really encourages the kids with their independent wider reading.   It works great for reading books where the child knows 90 – 95% of the words, and the dictionary pen can fill in the unknown characters (for Chinese, it’s much harder to guess the missing character than in English, when a word can often be deciphered phonetically given the surrounding context).

    For non-Chinese speaking adult to understand printed Chinese: the pen is a good tool for an anyone who doesn’t know the language, but needs to translate a document/word.   Doing this with Google Translate is time-consuming, and still produces a sub optimal result.  Dictionary pens such as iFlyTek Alpha Egg will scan instantly and give translations of whole paragraphs which actually do make sense. 
  2. Finding out more about a particular word / character: from definition, to related words and also stroke order, it’s possible with a few clicks to find out the etymology about a word of interest

How do scanning dictionary pens work?

If you’re reading this and trying to choose an e-dictionary which is Singapore MOE compliant, none of these scanning dictionary pens will fit the bill….. because they’re really just too smart. Their effortless and seamless ability to translate any written text is incomparable to any other e-dictionary.

They work using two main pieces of technology that sets them far and above the standard Chinese e-dictionaries because they contain:

  • Live neural networks for translation: this means they go beyond just a built-in dictionary, and base translations from millions of real-world examples which creates fluent and relevant translations
  • Optical Characters Recognition (OCR): some of you will be familiar with Pleco OCR or Google Photo translate. This gives the ability to scan printed text with high accuracy, and it’s built into the pen itself removing the need to type in text

Menu options on the Alpha Egg T10

The menu of the Alpha Egg T10 has many more options than the Alpha Egg Q3 (which has 3 menu options) and the Youdao 3.0 (which has 4 options). Downside is they’re only navigated in Chinese, so I’ll explain what we worked out here.

The ten functions to choose between are:

  • Word scan and translate: this is the main function – you can scan any text (single word or multiline) and it will read it out aloud and translate the text. If you click the words, on screen, you can explore further to get synonyms, definitions, stroke order, or save the word into your wordbank.
  • Language explanation: this contains a plethora of different reference books, dictionaries etc
  • Listening and speaking practice: this is actually for practicing English speaking primarily! You talk into the pen and get graded on your performance.
  • Composition correction: this is actually for English writing composition, a bit like grammar check on Ms Word. You can actually scan your own hand written composition and get real-time corrections.
  • Word Bank: you can add words/sentence in here for later review, and also download externally.
  • Dictation: Exercises are largely designed to align with Mainland China MOE syllabus.
  • Voice query: This is where you can ask the pen trivia question, or history etc, inlcuding meaning of idioms or ancient poems.
  • Voice translation: much like the word scan and translate, you can also do this with voice input
  • Glossary: Like a thesaurus.
  • Settings: lots if important things in here. Options to choose screen brightness, left or right handed settings, choice of language (English, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish), choice of male or female voice, choice of default dictionaries, downloading latest data etc.
The options under the setting menu of Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen T10

Pros of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen T10

The really great features of the Alpha Egg pens are:

  1. One-swipe, fast translation: recognises words and sentences automatically, at a speed of about 15 characters per second
  2. User friendly design:  clear voice (both male & female) that are easy to understand, with adjustable volume, comfortable to hold, multidirectional scanning for left or right handers, and very portable.
  3. High quality translation:  the translation is miles better than Google Translate, and noticeably better than Youao too (especially better for idioms or colloquialisms)
  4. Many options on touch screen:  provides Chinese audio, English audio, written English, and Pinyin translations, and also option for voice recording, and translating spoken voice inputs too
  5. Works on nearly all written text less than 1.5cm wide:  Support standard fonts in textbooks, children’s Chinese picture books, newspapers and magazines, restaurant menus, etc. It can read from screens/tablets if set on very bright.  It will even read very neat handwriting(another incentive for a child to write neatly!).
  6. Includes stroke order: the screen will illustrate stroke order
  7. It can read Hanyu Pinyin and recognises Traditional Chinese characters also
  8. Reading speed can be adjusted:  when we first tried out this pen, my daughter’s comment was that is read too fast. Then, we realised there is a ‘slow down’ option, which is a thoughtful feature for a younger user to help them really understand the phrasing/intonation.
  9. Oxford dictionary: contains 9th Edition Oxford dictionary, Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, and 20 key reference books, which can be used for looking up definitions of words and facts. Searching for any word explanation and translation is a cinch, either with a text scan or voice command. 
  10. Advanced AI voice command: it’s possible to ask the pen trivia questions (like “how many planets are in the solar system?”) and the pen will answer it, with a large library of facts from 20 reference books. This works in Chinese only.
  11. Both horizontal and vertical Chinese text layouts

Cons of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen T10

There are a few considerations when deciding to buy the T10 pen rather than other translating pen models:

  1. More fragile than the Alpha Egg Q3: the screen is bigger and the barrel size thinner (it looks and feels much more like an oversized Youdao pen than the Alpha Egg Q3)
  2. The operating system language is Chinese:  Instructions and set up are fully in Chinese, as are all menus on the pen itself (it’s reasonably intuitive if you play around for a bit).  In comparison, it’s now possible to get the Youdao pen with English instructions and English operating system. 
  3. It will read only printed text which is less than 1.5 cm wide: this rules out some popular children’s books with oversized fonts, including Sage 500 Books or Elephant & Piggie.
  4. For the “Pro” version: it has 6 languages, but only translates between Chinese and the target language (English/Korean/Russian/Japanese/Spanish).  In comparison, the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 can translate between English-Spanish and Spanish-English, which can be more helpful for non-native Chinese learners.

Technical Specifications

Model: TYP-AIT10 Alpha Egg (by iFlyTek)

Battery:  USB rechargeable; 8 hours of continuous use; charges in about 2 – 3 hours

Weight: 79g

Connectivity: 2.4gHz WiFi (supports offline use too)

Screen: 3.7-inch RGB LCD screen

Voice Mode: Real voice (British accent, Male & Female voices)

Orientation: Left & Right-handed

Languages: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, English (for standard version).  Additional languages of Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Russian (for pro version).

User interface: Mandarin

Scanning speed: 80 words per minute

How does iFlytek Alpha Egg T10 compare and other Chinese reading pens?

Left: Alpha Egg T10, Middle: Alpha Egg Q3; Right: Youdao 2.0

Alpha Egg T10 takes the excellent translating features of the Alpha Egg Q3, and splices it with the sleek elegance and larger screen of the Youdao.   It feels more sci-fi than the Youdao by nature of its design, and you get a sense that you are holding serious technology in the palm of your hands.

In particular the Alpha Egg T10 improvements versus Youdao Dictionary Pen 3 are:

  • Screen size:  The iFlytek Alpha Egg T10 screen is larger than all its predecessors and competitors that we’ve ever come across (including the Youdao 3.0). 
  • Voice: The pen offers a variety of different voices and genders (sane as the Q3 also). In comparison, Youdao only has a female voice.
  • Translation accuracy:  Alpha Egg T10 and Alpha Egg Q3 perform the same, and this level is slightly better (eg faster and more accurate) than Youdao.  It’s hard for me to always know, as a non-Chinese speaker but this has been corroborated by Chinese speaking friends also.  The Alpha Egg’s translations – especially specific things like idioms or name of Emperors, dynasties, or biblical texts etc etc –  do make more sense than Youdao.
  • Pointing accuracy:  Alpha Egg is more likely to get it right the first time, versus Youdao, when requires multiple attempts to scan the same character. T10 is less fiddly, and easier to swipe at any angle, from either hand.
  • Languages:  the Alpha Egg T10 pro version can translate between Chinese and five languages, being English, Japanese, Korean, Russia and Spanish.  In contrast, the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3 only contains English, Chinese and Spanish.

The two biggest drawbacks of iFlytek Alpha Egg versus Youdao is that it doesn’t have any English operating system, and it is slightly larger to hold.  I have written a more detailed head-to-head comparison between features of the iFlytek Alpha Egg and Youdao in a comparison post here.

Left: Youdao 2.0; Middle: Alpha Egg Q3; Right: Alpha Egg T10

Where to buy?

Our friend who lent us their Alpha Egg T10 bought the pen in Singapore from Sagesaurus which is actually where our Alpha Egg Q3 came from. If buying through their website, you can get SGD$10 off for any of the Alpha Egg pens sold through their site (the Q3, the T10, and the T10 Pro) using promo code lahlah10off. I know they also ship internationally. [and no, no affiliation or commissions are being collected from this blog post ….. just trying to bring you the reader great things and help small businesses].

What would I buy?

Totally depends on budget and use. The pens are all very similar, so let price be your key guide. Then as a general rule, Alpha Egg translations are better/more accurate than Youdao, so if you can deal with the Chinese operating system, Alpha Egg is the better choice.

  • For a younger child wanting to read independently –> Alpha Egg Q3 (cheaper, easy to hold, less fragile, not many menu options). This is what we have.
  • For a non-Chinese speaking adult –> borrow whatever your child uses! Suggestion would be any Youdao International Version (has English operating system).
  • For an older child or adult with understanding of Chinese –> Alpha Egg T10 (larger screen, many more functions). This is what our friend lent us for this review.
  • For an older child or adult with understanding of Chinese interest in other languages (Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish) –> Alpha Egg T10 Pro (larger screen, many more functions and languages). This is what our friend lent us for this review.
  • For a child learning Chinese and Spanish –> Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 (contains both language). This is also what we have.

Enjoy the journey

I hope this review has help you. Most important in the Chinese learning journey is that you create a family and schooling situation where the child loves the language and wants to learn it! I hope that you can achieve that in your family. For us, it’s been a joyful experience.

If you have reached the end of this, and still wanting to read more, some other posts of mine which you may find relevant include:

Le Le Flash Cards for learning-to-read in Chinese

Le Le Chinese  – a system purposefully designed for learning how to read Chinese characters – have recently added Le Le Character Review Cards 樂樂字詞複習卡 (aka flash cards) to their product range.  This review is focused on what these Le Le flash cards are, and how they can be used for raising children who both love reading and love Chinese. 

Firstly, what is the Le Le Chinese Character Learning System?

Le Le Chinese Learning System really is the ultimate system to self-learn to read Chinese (either Simplified or Traditional scripts) without the need for phonics (zhuyin or pinyin), nor a Chinese-speaking teacher.  For our family, it’s been essential, as we’re teaching the children Chinese, without any parents or grandparents who can speak or read the language. Le Le can also be effective for native speakers too, however, it’s especially great for non-native speakers due to the reading pen accessory.

I’ve written previously about how GREAT the Le Le Chinese Reading Pen and Character Learning System 樂樂文化 is, and why it’s well worth the investment (especially for those in a situation with no adults to teach literacy to the children).  The books are a leveled reading system that teach >1000 characters through simple stories, utilizing lots of repetition and a touch of humour… and importantly NO pinyin.  These short books are meticulously designed to be an interesting read despite the limited character range, with hand-drawn pictures which add to the charm.  The real clincher for our family has been the matching pen which can read character-by-character when pointed at the books, along with whole sentences. 

We have used Le Le System get to reading fluency with both of my elder children, and are now well on the way with my youngest too.  We’ve recommended it to many who have found the same as us.  My kids learnt so much vocabulary effortlessly through these little books. 

There are 300 booklets in total: 100 essential books of 8 pages each, 100 intermediate books of 8 pages each, and 100 advanced books of 12 pages each.  If you are familiar with the famous “Bob Books” for English literacy, the Le Le books are similar in size, shape and concept but for Chinese.  For more information on the Le Le Chinese books and reading pen themselves, please see my previous post.  Whilst the original post is now 2.5 years old,  it’s still all so relevant.

Le Le Chinese Learning System
Le Le readers with the Le Le audio pen

What are the Le Le Flashcards?

The catch phrases of Le Le is “Read more, study less” and also “Literacy through literature”, so the concept of flashcards isn’t an immediate fit when I think about Le Le’s philosophy.  In fact, what stands out with Le Le is that children will learn to read without realizing they are learning.  This is a stark contrast to other well-known reading systems which focus on introducing one character at a time, and may have somewhat stunted storylines because of it.    However, once you see the Le Le Character Review cards, you’ll realise how they can be a good pair with the Le Le books, as they’re especially intended for review AFTER the story has been read.

The cards are designed such that one side has a character, and the opposite side has a simple phrase (consisting of 2 – 3 characters) encompassing that character.  There are no pictures, English translation or phonics. 

There are three different sets of cards, which accompany the vocabulary from the three sets of Le Le Levelled Readers.  Within each set, there are about 12 ‘topics’ of cards, which align with the book themes.  At the bottom of each card, there are some smaller characters as well as a number. This indicates which set and theme it belongs to. They can be directly matched and aligned to the index pages at the back of the individual Le Le books.

Le Le flash cards word list
Le Le flash card topics match the themes of each of the book sets

In general, revising through flash cards works because they can allow a learner to interact with new information in a way that is very tangible, and easier to retain than other methods. It allows fast access to words, which can be recalled, and this then reinforces the neural connection in the brain.  A very targeted set of words can be used with the cards, and easily repeated until the muscle memory sets in. 

How do we use the Le Le Flashcards?

Finding good Chinese flashcards is generally not so easy. I wrote a previous post about different types of Chinese flashcards – from those with only characters, to those fancier ones that contain pictures, definitions, stroke orders, etc.  We mainly use such flashcards in our house for the playing of games (think of snap, memory matching, treasure hunts, etc). We do not use flash cards for rote learning, although I do recognize that many families do have success this way too.   It’s also important to remember that just because a child can read a flashcard, it doesn’t mean they can actually read.

The Le Le cards are unique from any other flashcards we use, because they can be integrated directly into our nightly book reading schedule without feeling like a chore, and are a more like a natural way to learn reading. 

We have kept our Le Le Character Review cards in numerical order on the original keyrings they were designed to be attached to, and we bring them out each time we finish a Le Le book theme (eg animals, the body, school, etc).  My daughters like to flip through them and read them aloud in sequence. I mark with a small post-it any of the cards which the child couldn’t recognize, which is an easier way than somehow trying to mark the Le Le readers themselves. Sometimes we even play a game using our Luka Reading Robot to see if child or machine can say the character/phrase faster.

Le Le flash cards essential set

This Review Card approach works for us, because we go through our Le Le books from 1 to 100 in order, and this allows us to easily pause and review words without repeating entire books at each stage (it’s especially great for my middle daughter who refuses to re-read any book after she’s read it once, even if she didn’t know all the vocabulary). It’s extra nice because the phrases on the reverse side of the cards align exactly with the books.  This consolidates the learning, and lets us focus on the harder phrases, without feeling repetitive.  I have met other parents who go through Le Le system thematically rather than numerically.  The cards are designed to support this too. 

Actually, when you think about the design of the Le Le book themselves, the pages especially in the beginning set are really like flash cards, with a simple noun or verb or short phrase.  So using these cards is an extension of reading the books, but without the context of pictures to assist or prompt the child.  So, it’s a true test of their character recognition.

The Le Le flashcards would also work great in a Leitner box approach.  We don’t use them for this, as we use the MOE school cards for our Leitner box, and keep the Le Le flash cards squarely in the “reading for pleasure” category.  My earlier post about how flashcards can be effective in learning Chinese outlines the Leitner box approach for those who want to know more on this (I realise many do, as it’s one of the highest Googled search phrases on my blog! It tells me there are a lot of REALLY organised an ambitious parents out there).

Example of the “Red / Essential” Le Le flash card sheets

Example of the “Yellow / Intermediate” Le Le flash card sheets

Example of the “Green / Advanced” Le Le flash card sheets

Pros of Le Le Flash Cards

  • Aligned with renowned Le Le syllabus: Directly matches with the Le Le Chinese learning system books
  • Simple to arrange and store:  Can be kept on a key ring, so there is not a huge mess of 1000 flashcards to deal with and sort through
  • Large and clear font
  • No pinyin or English translations to distract the focus

Cons of Le Le Flash Cards

This looks like a long list …… actually the positives really do outweigh the negatives. I just wanted to explain a few things:

  • Cost: They’re expensive – as with anything from Le Le. If you’re constrained for budget, just get books themselves not the cards  The cards a purposefully designed to supplement the books.  If you don’t have the books, then the cards aren’t a good idea.  They’re not designed to be used alone.
  • No reading pen:  This is actually a positive in disguise. The Le Le flash cards are purposefully not readable with the Le Le audio pen, as this aligns with the Le Le philosophy. You read the books first using the pen with audio, and then these cards are for revision.  The design team want the child to go back to the books if they are unsure with any characters. If the cards are readable, it will lose its meaning. [I get the intention here…. it’s about consolidating learning and not making children dependent on the audio pen with the cards, but if you do desperately want audio for the cards, do note the font is too big for an optical scanning pen, so Luka is the only option here]
  • Not pre-made: The come in perforated cardboard sheets which need to be torn off and turned into flashcards – I found the process of doing this therapeutic, but it did take up nearly a week of evenings to complete.
  • You could DIY if desperate:  For a parent with a lot of time, you could actually just get the Le Le word list (available online to those who buy the system) and then enter them yourself into flashcard-making software.  I’ve done this myself a few years ago, and we printed them out onto coloured paper.  It was a HUGE effort, and honestly, the official Le Le cards are much more practically and robustly designed.
  • All printed information is in Chinese: it’s actually all pretty easy to navigate, even for a non-Chinese reader like myself. The Le Le team speak good English if you do need any assistance.
Le Le flash cards instructions manual
This is the message at the front page of the Le Le flash cards, explaining the philosophy on how they should be used

How helpful are flashcards in learning Chinese?

As Chinese is a pictorial language (well technically it’s combination of pictographs, pictophonetic/ phonosemantic, ideograms and other compounds) memorising many thousands of characters is ultimately what is needed to be a successful reader (sorry to say).  With this context, Chinese flashcards can effectively be relevant for a much longer period than English flashcards would typically be used use of flashcards to learn English generally stops at kindergarten level, whereas Chinese flashcards are part of the book lists in Singapore schools for even Primary 1 and 2 students).  However, for beginners, I don’t think rote learning of characters is an especially helpful approach at all. 

My suggestion is that since I assume you’re human and likely only have limited time and budget (and assuming your child already has working basic spoken Chinese vocabulary), then focus first on extensive reading as the goal for literacy. Lots and lots of it. Find books that are age-appropriate and level-appropriate, including something like the Le Le readers themselves. The greatest learning will come from reading, and any flashcards can be a helpful check or tangible reinforcement.  In the case of the Le Le Learning System, the job has already been done for you, with a collection of 300 short books from beginners (~ Kindergarten level) to advanced (~Primary 2 level), and matching flashcards. 

Our honest view

Le Le Chinese Learning System books and pen are hands-down one of the best purchases we have EVER made in our Chinese learning journey … that’s a big call, if you’ve read my blog you’ll see we’ve tried a tonne of things. Going through the Le Le books (now for a third time, with my third child) has been a wonderful introduction to reading, and I’ve enjoyed it every time and learnt a huge amount myself too.

The Le Le Character Review cards have been a nice addition, but I would not say they’re a totally essential part of the suite.  They nicely fill that ‘urge’ to want to use flashcards and be a responsible fully-involved parent on the bilingual learning journey.  The cards are also really easy to throw into a handbag and use on-the-go whilst waiting in a queue or commuting.  If you’re not fully sure, it’s likely best to buy just the first set of Character Review Cards (which contains by far the largest amount of flashcards), and then if you find a good rhythm of using them, consider getting the rest of the sets. 

My other suggestion would be that if you are in any way thinking of making a thousand of your own DIY flashcards to match Le Le Reading System, just save the effort and buy these ready-made ones.  They’re durable and nicely arranged into labeled sets on key rings, and it would be hard to do any better than what Le Le already has designed.

Where can you buy the Le Le Character Review cards?

The Le Le Character Review flash cards are available in Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.  They can be bought with each level separately or bundled together with all three.  Like all Le Le products, they only retail through the official Le Le Chinese website in Taiwan.

Shipping is not cheap, but for non-Chinese speaking parents, this system can enable children to exponentially learn new characters and it truly is like no other that we’ve seen or tried. For my blog readers, I have a special 5% off discount for Le Le ……. enter code “LAHLAHBANANA” at checkout. This is a really special offer from the team at Le Le, as they don’t usually offer any discounts or sales. I’m so delighted I can share this with you.

Also THERE IS A GIVEAWAY / COMPETITION for astute blog readers who have made it to the end!!!! If you are based in Singapore, this is open to you. Le Le Chinese is kindly sharing a set of books and flashcards for one lucky family! To enter, simply COMMENT below on this post about why Chinese Literacy is important to your family.  Thanks to the team at Le Le Chinese, the winner will receive
 1 x Essential books (100 books) 
1 x Review cards for Essential level 
1 x Audio pen

If the lucky winner already owns Le Le Essential, you can choose the Intermediate level or Advanced level of your choice.  (books+matching level review card). Closing date for submissions is September 15th 2022.

Le Le flash cards
Simple, uncluttered flash cards for effective learning

Other great resources for learning Chinese

If you have arrived at the end and found this helpful, maybe there are some other posts on my blog you might also enjoy. As a parent who doesn’t speak any Chinese, we’ve relied heavily on online tools, clever robots, and recommendations of others in our Chinese learning journey. Some of my earlier posts are:

New Chinese Learning Apps for Kids in 2022

In edu-tech, nothing stays still.  This post is a round up of the new entrants and major upgrades that have happened in the Chinese Learning Apps for Kids space during first half of 2022. 

The exciting part is that there are some small “mumtrepeneur” businesses, along with homegrown Singaporean startups, that are now rivalling the large mainland China technology houses.   Apart from the local context and content, the great thing about apps that come out of Singapore is they have more English interface options, and are way easier to buy through app stores with a non-Chinese credit card.

New Chinese learning apps for preschool children

Prep Junior

Prep Junior app logo for preschool Chinese
Prep Junior is available in the App Store and Google Play

Prep Junior is a great Chinese learning app targeted at preschoolers. It’s been designed by a Singaporean start-up, and proudly supported by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.  This app features interactive Chinese stories also with English translation and hanyu pinyin, making it suitable even for parents who do not speak Mandarin.  A great thing about it is the content features Singapore’s local places, food and culture (like laksa, Gardens by the Bay, Changi Jewel, Singapore festivals). 

  • Best ages:  4 – 6
  • Targeted Chinese level:  basic fluency
  • Key uses:  reading, listening, comprehensive input
  • Language: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Singapore

Maomi Stars

Moami Stars app logo chinese for preschool
Maomi Stars is available in the App Store and Google Play

After several rounds of beta testing Maomi Stars officially launched their app this year, and it really became a hit in Taiwan, being the number one downloaded education app from the app store within weeks of launching in first quarter of 2022.  Maomi Stars is a Chinese literacy app for children, equivalent to English kindergarten literacy apps like Starfall, ABC Mouse or Reading Eggs.  It’s been meticulously researched, and tested on children, and contains wordlists from many popular graded readers like Sagebooks, Odonata and 四五快读, along with MOE school curriculums being added. Let your children meet the cute kitty cats and go on a journey together.

  • Best ages:  3 – 8
  • Targeted Chinese level:  beginner to basic fluency
  • Key uses:  vocabulary building, character recognition
  • Languages: Simplified Chinese & Traditional Chinese
  • Originates from: U.S.A

Galaxy Kids 

Galaxy Kids Chinese App logo
Galaxy Kids Chinese is available in the App Store and Google Play

You may have of this highly popular English learning app for preschoolers called Galaxy Kids.  In February 2022 they have launched an equivalent Chinese version.  Through games, stories and songs, it aims to teach the first 1000 characters and basic conversation skills (yes, it makes use of the microphone feature to reocgnise you child’s pronunciation and correct for mistakes).  A nice thing about this app too is they have partnered with Go East, which is an excellent online language school for children, in case you’re also looking for wonderful live 1-to-1 Chinese classes. The app is currently FREE to use for up to 3 activities per day.

  • Best ages:  4 – 6
  • Targeted Chinese level:  beginner
  • Key uses:  comprehensible input, character recognition
  • Language: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Singapore

Gua Gua Long 瓜瓜龙宝妈宝爸群

Gua Gua Long app Chinese for preschoolers
瓜瓜龙 is available in the App Store and Google Play

The Gua Gua Long app has been made by the developers of Tiktok, but the similarities stop there.  Bytedance launched this educational app in China two years ago, and entered Singapore earlier this year with vengeance (presumably in light of the crackdown in China against online tutoring companies).   This app mainly consists of pre-made videos, from art classes to rhymes and book reading, which are divided into topical themes. Sign up and insturctions are fully in Chinese, so best for a literate parent.

  • Best ages:  4 – 8
  • Targeted Chinese level:  intermediate fluency
  • Key uses:  comprehensible input in Chinese, culture
  • Language: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Mainland China

New Chinese Learning apps for primary school age kids

Dim Sum Warriors Club 点心侠

Dim Sum Warriors review
Dim SUm Warriors app is available through App Store and Google Play, but their Club Membership includes an extra online portal

Dim Sum Warriors Club is a somewhat unconventional approach for learning language through creativity, stories, and doodling helmed by a creative husband and wife duo.   Dim Sum Warriors themselves have been around in various forms over the last decade – from graphic novels through to a musical – however the Club concept has just been revamped and launched, including have livestreams most days of the week and increased online content.   A new feature is the livestream nightly 成语 Chinese Idiom Doodle Dates, which follow the Singapore MOE syllabus.   With their new launch in 2022, there’s a special deal that if you’re buy The Dim Sum Warriors Club membership, mention that you were recommended by lahlahbanana and you will receive one print book free! Valid until September 30th 2022.

  • Best ages:  5 – 12
  • Targeted Chinese level:  nascent to intermediate fluency
  • Key uses:  comprehensible input, idioms, literacy
  • Language: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Singapore/Taiwan

Gamistory

Gamistory portal for primary school Chinese
Gamistory is only available through Vitamin M web portal

In June 2022, the creatives from Vitamin M launched Gamistory which is an online portal where storytelling meets gamification to learn Chinese.  The team delivers a new video (3 – 5 minutes) to watch each week, combined with interactive ‘choose your own’ adventure-type stories, and modules to complete. This app complements their highly popular ‘Vitamin Hour’ live classes, although it can also be bought with just the web portal content only. The content covers current affairs and popular culture around South East Asia, including sports, music, foods, attractions, and issues (such as famine, flooding, discrimination, etc), along with mysteries to solve. Free trial content of 1 module is available.

  • Best ages:  9 – 11
  • Targeted Chinese level:  intermediate fluency
  • Key uses:  reading, oral
  • Language: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Singapore

VocabKing by Kids Start Now  

VocabKing is only available through KIds Start Now web portal

Touted as Singapore’s first AI Chinese learning platform, VocabKing aims to help a child to revise their Chinese school work through gameplay.  The main focus is reading Chinese passages and characters, and by answering questions kids can capture fire, water, and pets for a Pokemon-esque type battle.  It’s based from the Singapore MOE syllabus, and parents can add own word to the child’s wordlist.  In that sense, it’s a little bit like Skritter, but gamified. They have a 7 day free trial.

  • Best ages:  4 – 12
  • Targeted Chinese level:  Singapore MOE syllabus
  • Key uses:  vocabulary and character recognition
  • Language: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Singapore

Wukong Literacy (悟空识字)

悟空识字 is available in App Store and Google Play Store

Wukong Literacy app has come leaps in bounds in 2022 and I’ve heard some parents say they prefer this to iHuman, which has long been the most highly regarded literacy app from mainland China.  All the download and signup info is in Chinese… if you make it through that, you’ll love the content.  I reviewed it a few years back, but it’s now had a huge facelift.  The app makes use of the tabelt camera and microphone features in only ways which China would come up with, to create a lot of interactive learning games, including reading, writing and oral.    They have a 7 day free trial.

  • Best ages:  8 – 12
  • Targeted Chinese level:  intermediate fluency
  • Key uses:  character recognition, literacy, sentence structure
  • Languages: Simplified Chinese
  • Originates from: Mainland China

What other technology and apps are great for children learning Chinese?

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on great apps, I’d love to hear from you. I am always keen to hear what works for other families.    As an adult who speaks no Chinese, I’ve resorted to several smart technologies to enable my kids to become bilingual.  Perhaps some of my earlier posts might also be of interest: