There are many translation pens out there. Many of which can only read Chinese characters in Mandarin. I was very excited to hear about this pen and how it can translate to Cantonese. Read below for my review of the pen. Please note, this is my personal experience with the pen and with the Cantonese language function only. It can translate many other languages.
- reads simplified and traditional characters in Cantonese (wifi connection needed) and Mandarin
- can read Chinese text in both the horizontal and vertical position (wifi connection needed)
- translations are fair and not awkward
- auto detects and corrects scan errors
- text and voice translations functions
- translation speed not instant
- can read individual characters in Mandarin, not Cantonese
- full sentence scan needed, cannot scan individual characters, words or short phrases
- zhuyin affects scan accuracy
- scan accuracy goes down with vertical and traditional characters in comparison to horizontal and simplified text
- auto correct will change words if it does match their narrative
I tried out this pen for one month with a variety of books in my home library to determine if this book would suit my family needs. For videos of the pen, please check out my Instagram post.
1. I was thrilled to find out that this pen CAN read characters in the vertical position. This only works with Wi-Fi connection for both Cantonese and Mandarin. The [100 Storey Home series] (100層樓的家) and my bridge books are printed in the vertical position. The pen worked great with the 100 Storey Home series! The bridge books that I own are also in vertical position with in line zhuyin to the right of the characters. This takes practice to get the scan correctly. If the pen picks up the zhuyin, it confuses the text as Japanese and does not read correctly. I need to scan slightly to the left. Another way to scan the text is by covering the zhuyin with a piece of paper. Since it is to the right of the characters, that is fairly easy to do. I did find that the scan accuracy does go down with vertical text and that I sometimes need to scan a few times to get it correct. I think this is an amazing feature to have and very useful for bridge books.
2. The autocorrect function is amazing but also frustrating at the same time. Sometimes I see inaccurate scans, and am ecstatic to find that the pen auto-corrected it to the right word. Sometimes it looks like the pen scans gibberish but actually scanned everything correctly. I become extremely frustrated when I see that it scanned the characters correctly but decided to change the characters to match its own narrative. Some characters that the pen consistently kept changing were toad 蟾蜍 and swing 鞦韆. Being unable to scan toad was a big deal for me as I needed to read [Frog and Toad] in Chinese and Toad comes up very often. For the majority of the text, the scans are accurate. I believe that more complex characters with more strokes are harder to scan.
3. To get an accurate scan in Chinese, you must scan a full sentence. It does not scan individual characters, words or short phrases. This was disappointing as I had seen @lahlahbanana post a video of her children using the Alpha Egg translation pen and it could scan individual characters. Once you scan the full sentence, you must wait for it to translate. Translation is not instant. The more you scan, the longer it takes to translate. This felt like a life time and I felt it really disrupted the flow of reading. The pen can tell you pronunciation for individual characters only in Mandarin with pinyin included, not Cantonese and no jyutping. I found this part very difficult as I had to listen to the audio several times to catch the target word.
4. Horizontal text with in line zhuyin really disrupts the pen scan accuracy. It will pick up the zhuyin as numbers, alphabet letters, punctuation or Japanese characters. The translation and the audio will not be the greatest but for an adult learner, you can get the gist of the translation. Not ideal for a child. To overcome this challenge, I created a zhuyin block bookmark for my [Frog and Toad] books. I was able to block the zhuyin and get an accurate scan. However I do not recommend this method unless you have a series of books that utilize the same font, size and style. This bookmark only works in my Frog and Toad set and other bridge books by the same author. All my other books with zhuyin have different font styles and sizes that it does not work.
I enjoyed the pen but if it will match your family needs will depend on your home library, fluency and learning style. My home library consists of an almost equal proportion of simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese and traditional Chinese with zhuyin. The scans were fairly accurate and the translations were easy to understand. If you have a lot of books with zhuyin, I don’t think these translation pens are ideal. This pen did not work for my family as I am not an auditory learner. Because I had to listen to an entire sentence to learn a target word, it took multiple takes as I could never quite catch the word I needed.
I purchased this pen in hopes that I could read harder books with my children without pre-reading them. I was not able to achieve this goal for the reason above. There is no easy way out yet for me. I will most likely still have to pre-read, translate new words before reading with my child to ensure we can read our books with a good flow.
More Cantonese Children Apps and Resources
- Cantonese Children Apps
- Books with Jyutping blog post
- I Taught My Daughter 500+ Chinese Characters blog post
- Little Explorers Cantonese Virtual On Demand Program blog post