or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 8/19/12

   August 25th, 2012

Chinese I love youWhen I came back from lunch one day, a patron was waiting for me - she wanted to play an audiobook on her Kindle.

That struck me as odd, and I wasn't even sure if it was possible, so I asked a few follow-up questions to make sure we both understood what was going on.

It turns out, she had the ebook Dreaming in Chinese already on her Kindle. However, it included a lot of Chinese words, both in Chinese characters and in the English-letter spelling. She didn't speak Chinese, and didn't know how to pronounce those words, so she wanted an audiobook version in order to hear how those words were pronounced.

That's understandable, but I still didn't know if Kindles could play audiobooks. I asked her if she knew, and at that point she pulled out an iPod, so we were in business.

But not for long. I searched our Overdrive catalog for Dreaming in Chinese, but it didn't come up - neither audiobook nor ebook. Which surprised me, until she told me the ebook copy she had wasn't a library copy, but one she purchased from Amazon.

Since it wasn't available in Overdrive, and she wasn't adverse to purchasing it, we searched Amazon for the audio version - but still no luck. I didn't even see this title available as a book on CD, so I guess it just isn't available as an audiobook. She was disappointed.

Kindle text-to-speech menuBefore we gave up, the last idea I had was to see if we could get Kindle's text-to-speech function working with this book. I've never tried it before on a Kindle, and I think it doesn't work for all ebooks, but it was worth a shot.

Surprisingly, text-to-speech wasn't difficult to find in the Kindle's menus, even though neither of us had used it before. We got it to start playing her book, then waited for a Chinese word in the text.

But again, the victory was short-lived. When Kindle got to a Chinese word, it skipped right over the Chinese characters, and pronounced the English-letter word as if it were an English word - I don't speak Chinese, but even I could tell it couldn't possibly be close to the proper pronunciation.

The patron was disappointed, but I think she appreciated that we pretty much exhausted all our options. The only other thing I could suggest is finding a Chinese person to read those words for her - she didn't like the idea because it'd be awkward to try to read the context at the same time, which is true.

I felt bad that I couldn't find what she wanted, but I think she left knowing more than she did when she came in.

Tags: ,

5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/19/12”

  1. A Says:

    Kindle will play audiobooks. Amazon partners with Audible. In your home menu, it will have the word “audiobook” out to the side of the book title and you just click on it to play like you would on a computer. It sounds better with headphones but it will work without. Ipod also works for audiobooks but it is sometimes harder to load them whereas Kindle will load them just like an ebook.

  2. anon Says:

    Don’t know if she had a Fire, but there are several free apps available for learning foreign languages that include an audio component for the Kindle Fire.

  3. philip willems Says:

    I placed “I love you” in google translate. Translated it to Chinese traditional got wo ai ni and clicked on the speach button. It sounded convincingly Chinese to me.

  4. philip willems Says:

    and “I heart you” is something like this: 我的心,你

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @A: I noticed that too, but Audible didn’t offer this as an audiobook either – too bad.

    @anon & @philip: I didn’t even think of an audio translator – she had an older Kindle, so the Google Translator is perfect. Next time I see her, I’ll suggest it – thanks.