Two summers ago, I bought a Kindle Paperwhite for Thumper‘s annual summer vacation at Grandma. Originally I bought it for Thumper to read in English. However, as we moved up to upper elementary Chinese books, I started using it for reading in Chinese as well. The more we use it, the more I’ve fallen in love with it. It is an indispensable tool in our quest to learn Chinese.
As they like to say in Chinese, it has a high CP value.
Why buy a Kindle?
Honestly, it probably doesn’t have to be a Kindle. It can be a Nook. But I don’t know anything about the Nook, so I don’t know if it can do the things that the Kindle can.
- It’s great for traveling. When we Worldschooled this past year for 4 months, I brought only the Kindle Paperwhite along. We used it to read English books and eventually the Chinese books I managed to find online.
- No need for an English library at home. I’ve donated about 80% of my English books at home now that I have a Kindle. We usually borrow ebooks that we download onto the Kindle. For books that have no eBook format, we go to the local library. We only buy non-fiction books we need for homeschooling when we need it.
- It provides support for English learning. Use the Word Wise setting to provide definitions over texts, which is super great for learning vocabulary. There is also a dictionary to look up words you don’t understand. There is also Kindle FreeTime, which allows you to track reading progress, though I have never figured out how it works.
- It’s got Simplified Chinese support! You can read in Traditional Chinese as well, but the menus can only be configured for Simplified. You can highlight Chinese text and look up translations and definitions. For simplified, you can configure it to display pinyin on top of words!
- Entice children to read higher level books. As I mentioned in my Harry Potter book review, kids can’t quite see how big a book is when it’s on the Kindle, so they are more willing to read a long book that they’re capable of reading, but resist because they’re not used to words without texts yet.
- Not worry about the kids’ eyes. I’m no optometrist so I don’t know if it’s actually better. But I feel better that I can change the font size to something huge for the kids. Fonts start getting so much smaller the higher the level and I always worry. In fact, because of this, I actually prefer the kids reading on the Kindle and always try to find an ebook before looking for a physical copy now. When I asked the kids’ optometrist the last time we went for a check up, she said that for screen devices they just need to make sure to rest their eyes every 30 minutes.
When to get it?
The ability to read in larger font size and ease for traveling are the reasons I like to
push recommend friends to get the Kindle when their kids are ready for Chinese Harry Potter level books. There is still something to be said for having a physical book in your hand. We like to put books in cars and I don’t need to really worry about books getting stolen or damaged.
I thought we only needed one Kindle. But once the kids start reading, it’s very annoying breaking up fights all the time when one kid is hogging the Kindle up and the other one can’t use it. So this year we commandeered Baba‘s Kindle for Astroboy.
A really good time to buy the Kindle is always during Amazon’s Prime Day in July. Typically you get $20 off.
Which Kindle to Get?
I like the Paperwhite because it is strictly for reading. Our kids know how to use the Internet so I did not want book reading to segue into Internet browsing. I also like the Paperwhite for its backlit light that’s easy on the eye, speaking as someone who has pretty bad eyesight.
We get the version that has Wifi and “ads” for $20 cheaper. The kids don’t notice the random English books on screen save and in the bottom of their booklists.
The first thing I did after purchasing the Kindle was to get a cover. Because I know one of the kids will for sure drop it. Thumper did twice because she did not want to follow my rule that we don’t read while we walk.
I got the Omotion. Fleur, who recently bought hers, got an Fintie Origami Case that will stand up.
Configuring Your Kindle
The Kindle, sadly, does not have the most intuitive interface and its swiping function sucks. Here are some things you can configure.
- Change language. When you first get it, you can specify Simplified Chinese or English. Otherwise, to change it, it’s under Settings->Language & Dictionaries->Language. You can also add a simplified Chinese keyboard under Keyboards.
- Chinese->English dictionary. Under Settings->Language & Dictionaries->Dictionaries. You can buy a Traditional to English Chinese Kindle dictionary and point to this dictionary. Otherwise the default dictionary is a Simplified to English dictionary.
This website lists all the Simplified dictionaries available for download, including an idioms dictionary. There is a difference between 辭典 and 字典, where one will define words and the other characters. You can download 汉语大词典.mobi, which is actually a traditional Chinese dictionary, but it’s huge. The 汉典 dictionary available on the same website is supposedly even more comprehensive. But because it’s too comprehensive, it’s actually harder to look up meanings.
I tried looking words up in the 漢語大辭典 with a few words in Chinese Harry Potter and it was pretty decent.
Another great dictionary is the 成語字典, which looks up idioms and explain it in simplified Chinese. Though it appears that the default Kindle dictionary will translate idioms as well into English.
How We Use Our Kindle
- Find Chinese eBooks online.
If you’re tenacious, you can find a lot of Chinese ebooks in simplified formats online. For traditional, you can find 好讀 Haodoo. I’ve found books like Harry Potter, Narnia, Good Earth, Percy Jackson, books by 沈石溪, etc. The Kindle accepts .mobi and .aw3 format books natively.
All you need to do is to plug the Kindle into your Mac (havn’t tried it on PC) and drag your file into the documents folder.
- Convert using Calibre
I’ll detail this in another post. Basically download everything into .epub format and you can convert it into other formats using Calibre.
For some books, I download the Simplified version and convert to Traditional with zhuyin. For others this doesn’t work because the book is too long for online converters. Just know that converting characters will sometimes result in the wrong character. Your child must also have a high level of spoken Chinese or Chinese character recognition if you want them to read with zhuyin, since it does not take into account 破音字 and kids who have enough vocabulary under their belt will automatically disregard the wrong tones when they read.
NOTE! To get the zhuyin to show up on the Kindle, you need to change its setting. Click on the little Aa menu and select Use Publisher Font.
Here are more pics that show features of Kindle. Sorry, I configured our Kindle to display in Simplified Chinese so the menu isn’t the most intuitive.
Where to find books
You can of course buy simplified Kindle eBooks through Amazon China and US. The selection is really amazing. If you google a book title plus the words 電子書 sometimes other websites show up.
Now a days tons of these simplified Kindle eBooks also show up on Overdrive for direct borrowing from your local library!
On the traditional character front, there is no one dominant company that has good eBooks in good format. Because there is no one dominant ebook reader. In fact, I don’t even know if there is an ebook reader. There is Hyread ebook seller, which tons of Taiwanese libraries use. So tons of moms have applied to Taiwanese library cards and borrowed books online. You can buy books from Google Play sometimes too. Often these are in PDF formats. There is an inherent problem that Chinese books are read right to left, top to bottom, the traditional Western style page formatting on the Kindle doesn’t accommodate it well.
While some of the more recent popular books have been converted to ebook format, often the vast majority of ebooks on these various Taiwanese ebook websites are cheap books from cheap publishers. For example, Crown books didn’t do an eBook version of Chinese Harry Potter. I don’t know if it’s related to copyrights or what. (But you can find a really nice original ebook version online if you have Google-fu!)
All this to say, when it comes to traditional Chinese ebooks, if you want to read it on the Kindle, you need to Google for them and convert. Or read in Simplified. I’m sure there is a way to get the Hyread formats onto my Kindle, but at this point, the books I’m looking for (Harry Potter, Narnia, etc) aren’t sold.
That’s it for now. One day I will get to that post about converting on Calibre. You can subscribe to my Facebook Page to get feeds of posts!
Resources Listed Above
- List of Kindle Dictionaries – Tons of dictionaries to download
- 汉语大词典.mobi – Comprehensive Traditional Chinese dictionary
- LXM Multi-Index Instant-Lookup Traditional-Character Chinese-English Dictionary for Kindle – Traditional Chinese to English dictionary
- 成語字典 – Chinese idioms dictionary
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Omotion & Fintie Origami Case – Cover cases
- mebook b111 – free ebooks
- hyread – non kindle format ebooks