When I was in Beijing in fall 2007, during my adoption trip to bring Big Boy home, I went into a large foreign language bookstore (which meant most books were in English!) and saw a funky electronic audio pen and books that it could read. Seeing as how at that point my knowledge of chinese was extremely limited, and I knew so few characters, AND I wanted to keep my son’s heritage language, I was quite interested. To have books in Chinese, with a wee pen that could read them out loud with proper pronunciation… what a great thing! I could learn pronunciation, he could associate sounds with characters, pinyin and images.
But you know how it is when you are traveling (or just shopping)… you think “that is cool, but a bit expensive. Do I really need it?” and think, “Well, I can always get it another time”.
Do NOT do this. I did this in Europe when I did a backpacking trip in 1981, and still regret not buying those soft grey suede slump boots. I thought, yeah, they’ll be EVERYWHERE in Canada in a year or two, after all they’re EVERYWHERE here now in Europe. Nah. Never happened. And they were sweet: soft, comfortable, attractive… sigh. And that was nearly 30 yrs ago!
So, did I learn my lesson? No. I went back nearly a week later, to that Beijing bookstore, and the display was taken down. I tried to explain to the staff in broken Chinese, and their broken English, what had been there (several women demonstrating, a huge table of books and pens)… they finally found ONE staff member who unlocked a wee door behind a cupboard, and found one demo pen with no price or instructions… they were like “well, um, yeah, those people aren’t working today, we’re sure to have them someplace…”… Well, I was over the Pacific ocean that time the next day. So it didn’t happen.
Now, more than two years later, I saw on a chinese forum that someone was looking for a Leapfrog-like audiopen reading system for Chinese, and just couldn’t let it go. Much googling later, I came across this Human Pen (it seems to be a transliteration of their Chinese name: Hongwen?) and I was all excited. But they are only available in China. They were very nice and offered to ship the books and pen for about $120 (shipping only), but even my most splurgeriffic self couldn’t justify that.
And then I made a wonderful discovery at Amazon.com (yes, home of lost and forgotten items)… eReadbook. THIRTY TWO eReadbook items! A whole slew of inexpensive books (think set of 3 full color audio-enabled books for $13.99) and strangely, on offer only one pen in stock (out of three stores offering said books).
And of course, Amazon.com and its cohorts will only ship books, cds and dvds to Canada. No toys nor other items. And apparently audio-enabled books with cds in them, despite being only books and cds, are TOYS and thus ineligible to be shipped to Canada. So the search was on.
I followed up the books’ amazing “trial pages” and “preview pages” to e-readbook.com but it is pretty much all chinese. Then I ended up at ereadbook.us, which sounded more promising. (Caution: every page on the .us site has a video ad that loads before you can see anything else=timeconsuming). Phoning them got someone who could SORT of speak SOME English… well, enough to say they can’t speak English, and gave me the cell phone # of someone who could. And SHE did answer the phone, in fluent English, while driving: “whomever gave you my cell phone #?!!” I think she stayed on the road, at least long enough to give me the Canadian distributor.
Oh, those words are like angels singing in my ears. CANADIAN DISTRIBUTOR! So, I present to you, after much research, the website of BigReach.ca. I suppose that means to reach high or somesuch? Don’t you just love English spoken by semi-fluent allophones? Thank god I don’t make up bad chinese-sounding urls… like um, “Wenjonggal”!! (yeah it comes from Zhong Wen= Chinese) LOL!
Anyways, do go check it out. If you are American, check out the Amazon.com eReadbook offerings… the prices are MUCH lower. The pen itself is $98 US plus shipping but once you have that… it holds 2G, you can upload the audio files and read the books, which mostly come in sets and are really reasonably priced.
If you are Canadian, go to the BigReach.ca site. Especially check out the Bilingual Early Learning section. Watch the videos on how the books work by clicking on the book titles, and also click on the book covers to get a flash sample of the book pages sans audio. Look through the Audio-book Library for a nice selection of books in Chinese. Some are very simple with one or two phrases per page and others are long chapterbooks or graphic novels.
Check out the Try Me! in the Audio Reading-Pen section… click not only on the English, characters and pinyin, but also the images for sounds, whole sentences and word pronunciations.
To buy in Canada, most stores seem to be in the Toronto region, but apparently one can also use Paypal to order by email… here is Where to Buy.
Now if they would only put their FAQ section in English, same with the User Manual and Upgrade information, as well as their Special Offers, it would be great. AND someplace put down their pricing for the actual pen and shipping. Please please put pricing for the PEN!
The books all have pricing in the details… again the prices are reasonable: often $30 for 6 books, $50 for 8 books etc… not as cheap as Amazon.com but in a world where a single French book can set you back $15-$30 easily we shan’t quibble.
And finally, I wish it was mac compatible: the pen runs on mp
3s which are uploaded via USB, but appears to be Windows/Vista on PC… I guess I could live with using someone else’s computer to download 2G of audio and then just use the pen as is. The pen recharger seems to be AC, and not chargeable by USB only as is my iPod (which gets used almost never as it is always dead when I wish to use it) (*update, one can drag and drop the audio files on a mac, or, as I did, get the people at bigreach.ca to upload the files for the books you are buying onto the pen before they ship it to you)
Anyways, I hope you are as excited as I am! If anyone runs out and gets this, tell me how it went (the buying/shipping/customer service part) and how you find the actual products’ performance. We are DYING to know!
*click on all images in this post to go to book details.
*Update: we bought it and we love it! If you do order the pen, either this week or later, you can say that you were referred by me, Leanne at wenjonggal.wordpress.com, and that my pen ID # is E2003-132067. Email your order to firstname.lastname@example.org
They have a Happy Sharing Program (Word .doc) to encourage people to refer their friends (and complete strangers!) give the pen ID of the person who referred you and when you buy a pen and register it for warranty, you will get $10 credit off your next regular priced books, and the person referring you will also get $10 credit off THEIR next regular priced books. Win-Win. Here is the price list and package descriptions