Magical hanzi-to-English talking pen draws ire of Chinese consumers

But then, you’d have to be pretty gullible to believe that this craftily marketed pen could do the things it promises to.

THE local consumer commission has received 19 complaints over the past week about a pen that is supposed to read English textbooks and translate them into Chinese.

Consumers felt cheated after they bought the pen, only to find that they have to paste bar codes into the textbook in order for the pen to recognize the English words — a procedure they said wasn’t mentioned in TV ads for the device.

Officials from the company that sells the device admit it can only read the bar codes, no English words, but insist the proper procedure is shown in TV commercials for the product.

The device is called yibitong in Chinese, which means a pen that does everything. It is actually a pen-shaped bar code reader and speaker, with a mini scanner on its top and memory chips, a microphone and speaker inside.

Cui Wei, a 45-year-old father, bought one of the pens in early October from Shanghai Hongjianke Commodity Trade Co after seeing the advertisement on TV. He gave it to his son, who is in primary school.

“The only impression I got from the ads is that when you run the pen across the text, it will speak in English or Chinese,” said Cui.

Cui said he didn’t notice any mention of the bar code, or any instructions about bar code usage in the ads.

After paying 999 yuan (US$123) for the device, he looked at the instruction and found it was much more trouble to use than simply looking up words in the dictionary.

The pen came with two large bags of bar codes, which match sentences in English textbooks used in the city. Several bar codes must be attached to each page according to instructions on the company’s Website. When you run the pen over a bar code, the corresponding section of text will be pronounced in English or Chinese.

How do you say “scam” in Chinese?

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Is it Õ©ÆÛ?

Anyway, I wonder if they’ve had any complaints about that draconian looking machine that’s supposed to make you taller by strapping your feet in one end and pulling your head in the opposite direction on the other end.

November 13, 2005 @ 9:43 pm | Comment


I’m pretty certain that I learnt about those in history class. Didn’t the NAZI invent them to torture POWs?

November 14, 2005 @ 9:03 am | Comment

Getting back to the point.

You can actually buy devices like that pen was supposed to be which read Kanji and translate it into English, but they cost about $100 and are not so good with Hirigana or Katakana because they sometime split the character up in the wrong place and give you funny words.

November 14, 2005 @ 9:07 am | Comment

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