China is increasing in popularity as a destination for business travel and tourism, and for those who want to visit the country but aren’t able to speak Chinese, Parrot Learning is offering their Chinese Talking Travel Guidebook as a solution. The guidebook currently being sold for $120 on globallearningstore.com, consists of one small dictionary, three pocket-sized books of words and phrases, and a bulky but lightweight talking audio pen that speaks in both English and Mandarin.
The “Point and Listen” technology is by far the most impressive and unique aspect of this futuristic guidebook. The pen accurately speaks the word or phrase it is pointing at—not the one above or below—and it never fails to read the page.
The pen meets its core purpose—to speak words in perfect English and perfect Mandarin Chinese—however, the design of the pen has something to be desired. It uses 2 (included) AAA batteries, which, though long-lasting, contribute to most of the pen’s weight. It has a USB connection so the audio files may be backed up, which begs the question: why can’t it just be charged through the USB connector? The audio pen has three control buttons: a power/function switch button, a volume/repeat button, and a volume/switch language button. It would be much more user-friendly if it simply had more buttons instead of attempting to fit all of the controls onto three buttons. Despite its flaws, the pen is still relatively lightweight, seems durable, and has a very clear built-in speaker.
Chinese Talking Travel Guidebook has an impressive number of recordings in its database. There are no computer-generated voices on the audio pen: they are all spoken by native speakers of English and Chinese. The recordings are clear, nicely paced, and natural in both languages. This can be especially useful for English speakers trying to grasp the tonality differences of Chinese.
The guidebook advertises that “It’s like having an interpreter by your side 24 hours a day.” The guidebook could feasibly be used to interpret while talking to a Chinese speaker, but doing so requires either a lot of careful planning or a lot of looking up. There are so many sections in the three books that they become unwieldy and impractical in anything more than the briefest conversations.
Can the Talking Travel Guidebook be a tool for learning Chinese? Absolutely. Can the pen be used to speak brief questions to a Chinese speaker? Yes, but understanding the response might complicate things. Can it be used to carry out a casual conversation in Chinese? Probably not.
The verdict: If you’re willing to dish out over $100 for a language resource on your trip to China, the Chinese Talking Travel Guidebook can be a useful tool, especially if you’re travelling without a tour group or guide. It’s definitely worth the price if you’re learning Chinese. If you’re not staying very long in China or travelling with a guide, however, it’s better to skip this one and just memorize a few commonly used words and phrases.