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CALHK Outreach: Visit to the Hong Kong Book Fair

After many Covid related delays, the Hong Kong Book Fair finally took place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai.

It was a great chance for the CALHK team to meet publishers and hopefully persuade them to give us some suitable books!

This year, among the many thousands of books on display, only the Hambaanglaang graded readers were specifically geared to the needs of students of Chinese as an Additional Language.

The books have Jyutping, English glossary and are supported by audio on their website. Each set of 5 books costs only HK$125 and they have been made, with love, by a team of people who really want to help students from non-Chinese families learn Chinese.

By contrast, it was disappointing to see the huge piles of Chinese language practice books, none of which would be accessible to non-Chinese literate families.

Children from non-Chinese speaking families studying in local schools desperately need extra practice in reading and writing the foundational Chinese characters.

If only these books could be adapted with some English (or other language) instructions, some indication of pronunciation and character meaning.

Several publishers now are developing digi pen technology, which has great potential to help children from non-Chinese literate families read Chinese books more widely. The story books are digitally printed and the Chinese audio is loaded onto the digi-pen. When the student taps the pen onto the book, the story is read out loud. Most books have a choice of listening to the story read in Cantonese or Mandarin. Unfortunately the reading speed tends to be a little on the fast side, and instructions on how to use the device are generally all written in Chinese. We hope publishers can adapt their products to make the system more accessible to non-Chinese literate families.

The Sunya digi pen set supports 69 books. which can be read in Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese.

The reading pace is OK, but there is no pause button, so it may still be difficult for CAL students to easily follow the story and absorb the text.

A few books provided audio, usually Mandarin, by means of CD. It's better than nothing, but not everyone has a CD player anymore. Going forward, it makes more sense for books to use digital printing technology to provide audio via digi-pen or via QR code linked to a mobile phone app. These methods allow the reader to control the audio more readily and give a more natural reading experience.

Digital audio technology is coming along in leaps and bounds. Let's hope by next year's Hong Kong Fair there will be more products to satisfy the needs of our student group.

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