Mandarin was my first language, and for the first 18 years of my life, I heard and spoke it enough at home and church to consider myself fairly proficient. But after high school, my opportunities to use the language dwindled quickly. By the time I became a parent, I knew that my goal of raising a bilingual child would be nearly impossible. My spouse doesn’t speak Chinese and my own Mandarin was so rusty that trying to speak it to my then-new baby took energy I just didn’t have. To my great disappointment (but also amusement), what few Mandarin words they do know bear the unmistakably “American” accent I used to make fun of in my peers. But I haven’t completely given up my quest to teach my child Mandarin. Mostly, I’ve relied on toys, books and apps to supplement my own meager vocabulary. One of our favorites is the Habbi Habbi reading wand and books, available in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish.
For parents who didn’t grow up multilingual, pronouncing words in a new language can be intimidating. Habbi Habbi addresses this need with a reading wand that reads words, phrases and sentences in both English and the target language. Just tap the wand anywhere on the page, and it will play a recording of the words or various sound effects that correspond to the illustrations. You can update the wand via USB when you purchase new books so your child can continue learning without needing new hardware. The text is printed in both English and the target language, and the Chinese books include pinyin and simplified characters.
I backed Habbi Habbi’s original Kickstarter campaign and received their starter set a year ago. The books are clearly designed to be used by children, with thick board pages, sturdy binding, and vibrant printing. The wand is ergonomically friendly for big and little hands alike, and has volume adjustments that were easy for my preschooler to operate. And it’s just plain cute! When we got them, my kiddo was mostly beyond the Tasmanian devil stage of book handling, but it’s still good to see how nicely the book and the wand held up over a year of use.
My child has never shown a great interest in learning Chinese but they have enjoyed playing with the wand and books. They particularly like the sound effects in “The Book of Emotions”… sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to tell me something about how they’re feeling when they tap the angry page over and over. I appreciate that the books go beyond the typical baby book vocabulary of numbers, colors and shapes to include actual phrases and sentences as they would be used in real life. (Even the number/color/shape pages include micro-stories when read with the wand.)
I also really love the attention to detail when it comes to accessibility and inclusion. Co-founder Hanna Chiou originally came across the wand technology in language books written for a native Asian audience, and they’ve made a point to adapt the tech and content for a global audience. The same wand works for Chinese and Spanish books and holds enough charge for hours of use. The illustrations feature a beautiful array of skin tones, body types, accessibility aids and ages. Volume 1 of “The Book of Careers” is unapologetically feminist, featuring Mommy in roles such as a entrepreneur, product manager, or my personal favorite, chief home officer. Chiou said it was a very intentional decision to “make a statement about Mommy being at the top of her field” and portraying her as a judge, surgeon or professor.
That same level of intentionality pervades the entire product line, so it’s hard to pick anything that I would change. My kiddo has reached an age where they really enjoy narrative stories more than simple words and phrases, so they got a little bored with the starter set of books. But in their latest launch, Habbi Habbi introduced story books, so we’ll definitely be getting some of those for the holidays. As someone of Taiwanese descent, I learned to read traditional Chinese characters rather than simplified, so it would have been nice to see options for fantizi or bopomofo. But we aren’t super focused on reading and writing anyway, so that is just a personal preference. It would also be cool to see different dialects of Chinese or Spanish like Cantonese or Central American Spanish as a way to help preserve those regional languages.
Overall, I highly recommend the Habbi Habbi reading wand and books for anyone who wants to learn Chinese or Spanish with their children, whether you were ever a native speaker or not. It’s an interactive (and screen-free, if that matters to you!) way to have fun learning together for many years.
This article is part of a brand ambassadorship with Habbi Habbi. The writer reviewed products they had previously purchased and received no monetary compensation for writing this review.