8 years old, Bilingual Journey, Learning to Read

Improving Chinese Reading Comprehension (Lower Elementary)

This post is to share my experience guiding my 2nd grader’s reading comprehension. Most social media posts seem focused on teaching toddlers/preschoolers how to read but not much about how to progress after that.

I recently read an excellent blog post 7 Mistakes Parents Make When Teaching Their Kids Chinese. I recommend you read it as it is really insightful!

After a few years of hard work and your child is finally reading Chinese fluently, you might think: YAY!!!! MY JOB IS DONE!!!!

Ha ha ha ha ha. Yeah right.

In my mind, the timeline for Chinese reading development goes something like this:

  • 4-6 years old: Learn 1000+ characters and phonetics zhuyin/pinyin or both
  • 6-8 years old: Read lots of bridge books (aka guided readers and simple chapter books)
  • 8+ years old: ?????

The 4-6 years old phase is relatively easy. You pick a curriculum like Sage/Lele/4-5 Quick Read. Follow the curriculum and voila! Kid is reading. (cry happy tears) If you’ve followed my blog back from four years ago, you know that we used 4-5 Quick Read and my son learned to read for a mere $25.

The 6-8 years old phase was probably the easiest but also the most expensive. For these two years he read one bridge book a day. Each bridge book costs ~$3 for Simplified and ~$10 for Traditional so I estimate that two years worth is about $5000. I call this the “osmosis stage” as he was just learning by himself without much assist from me. He learned to read Traditional Chinese by himself and he also developed ability to read books without zhuyin/pinyin. Pretty sweet!

8 years old… current stage that I feel stuck at. Initially I had my son read books by himself as per usual, but then I realized he was not comprehending fully. Why? The books are exponentially more complex at this age, similar to English where there is a HUGE JUMP between simple chapter books (e.g. Magic Tree House) and novels (e.g. Harry Potter). The difficulty is x3 for Chinese since we have limited exposure to the language living in the US and my own limited Chinese.

Think of it this way. Even in the US where kids are exposed to English 24/7, they still have to take twelve years of English Language Arts in school. It cannot be expected that kids will miraculously develop strong reading and writing simply by exposure.

My Solution:

After some trial and error, I found a method that works for us. It is what Charlotte Mason refers to as narration, i.e. after my son does his daily Chinese reading, he retells the story to me in his own words.

It’s a simple idea but I found that it works! And I much prefer it to doing comprehension workbooks (which we may add at some point).

Why it works:

  • He reads the book much more carefully when he knows he has to retell it later. Otherwise he may just skim through it.
  • I know what he comprehended and what he did not. That way I can explain the misunderstood parts to him, or discuss the ideas and themes with him.
  • It turns reading from passive into active learning. This is particularly so for Chinese as he needs to have more practice using novel vocabulary and expressing his thoughts. For example, when retelling he said “… 然後他看到一個 poster”. Me: “他看到一張海報”. Him “他看到一張海報, 然後…” He needs to practice saying these words out loud so that they stick in his memory better.
  • It helps develop narrative writing skills. Before you can write a story, you need to be able to tell a story. When he first started narration it was disorganized and he would either include far too much detail or too little detail. These days it is much improved and he can accurately summarize what happened.
  • After he retells the story I can ask some inferencing questions like, Why do you think he did that? What do you think will happen next? to improve critical thinking.

The downside to this method is I have to take time to actually read the books myself. It is a bit torturous since children’s books are not exactly super exciting for me. But you know what, my own reading has improved a lot too. I recently read a Chinese novel in two days! (Side note: I realized I really enjoy reading novels made into TV series 😉)

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8 years old, Bilingual Journey, Bridge Books, Character Writing, Chinese Resources, Home Library

Using Boox E-Ink Tablet for Chinese Learning

Two years ago my friend organized a group buy for Onyx Boox e-ink tablets. I recommend you read her post since it covers basically everything you need to know. I resisted jumping on the bandwagon as I did not feel my son was ready for e-reading at 6 yo.

Fast forward two years. I decided to take the plunge and got a 10.3″ Boox Note Air (released in October 2020) for $479.

What changed my mind? The main reason is that Little Man has been e-reading in English since last summer using a Kobo Clara and now does most of his English reading electronically. This has saved me tons of money (since we borrow books for free from our library), space, time, and convenience not having to make library runs anymore.

Second, his Chinese reading has improved to the point where I think he can read picture-less books fairly soon. He is on the Reading 456 series which has a b/w picture every 10+ pages.

Third, although we LOVE our Kobos (one for each member of our family) for English, the 6″ screen is far too small to display Chinese if you want to use a zhuyin or pinyin font. See my example below. Using the zhuyin font, you end up with only 3 sentences per page, which means you have to keep turning the page. Annoying.

Finally, since Covid hit we’ve had more time at home and started practicing Chinese writing (something I previously said we would not do! Yup I will eat my words). I would like to practice writing without having to print out a ton of paper, hence an e-writing tablet.

Why an E-ink Tablet?

Probably some people are wondering why get an e-ink tablet when you can get a much more powerful iPad for the same price. For me, the main benefits are 1) e-ink is less straining on the eyes, and 2) fewer distractions. It is black and white and doesn’t display videos, social media, games well and hence it will be only for learning purposes.

Using Boox for Writing

Reasons why I am planning to move most of our writing needs to Boox:

  1. You can download a lot of PDF workbooks for free on the internet. Currently we are practicing writing basic 500 characters using the worksheets my friend shared for free on Motherly Notes FB group.
  2. For the workbooks we bought, I used VFlat and Adobe Scan apps to quickly scan them into PDF. It takes me about 10-15 mins to scan each workbook using VFlat. You may be wondering why bother to scan when I already own the workbooks. The main benefits are being able to do the pages several times, particularly for things like Chinese character writing practice. If you have multiple children you don’t have to buy multiple copies. Also most workbook pages do not lay flat which is super annoying and difficult for kids to write neatly. The completely flat surface on Boox makes it easier to write without the book spine getting in the way.
  3. Not having to lug heavy, bulky books around when traveling! The picture below should illustrate this!! It’s nice to have a bank of fun games and activities like Sudoku, word search, mazes… to keep busy in the car, waiting room etc.
  4. Use it as a notepad to write, scribble, draw. There’s different types of paper like lined, blank, 田字格 (square grid) for Chinese characters.
Which would you rather bring on vacation? 😉

It took me a few days to figure out this writing thing. The first time we tried Chinese character writing I realized the in-built square grid paper was far too small for my son so I found a PDF I liked better online and copied-pasted the file into Boox. So now the paper size is perfect.

Practicing character writing using the Notes function

I also copied-pasted several PDF files into Boox from my computer using the cable that was provided. I know there’s some wireless ways to transfer and sync files but so far I have not figured this out!!! To be determined…

Reading Apps

Gosh this took me HOURS AND HOURS of research and trial and error. I downloaded and deleted tons of apps before I finally figured out what works for me.

I don’t like having a lot of apps. I just want to keep things simple which means as few apps as I possibly can. This is not an issue for English books as 99% of the books I want can be found on the Libby app. This app is also FREE as I borrow books using my library cards (US and National Library Singapore).

My son also uses Epic and RAZ Kids at school but so far I have not downloaded these apps on Boox. Like I said, I am of the opinion that less is more. Oftentimes when kids have too many choices they just end up browsing around and can’t settle on anything.

Chinese books on the other hand… is far more complicated. You could try to go the route of downloading free ebooks from the internet. DO NOT RECOMMEND. When I tried downloading free Harry Potter books there were tons of broken links and phishing or X-rated websites. And when I finally found some links to download, I found that the versions of HP were not the official versions. The words did not match up with the physical HP books that I owned, so likely they were just translated by people on the internet and not professional translators.

So yes, I gave up on that. I would rather pay for an official ebook than to spend hours downloading a free unofficial (and probably unauthorized) version.

Long story short, my preferred apps for Chinese ebooks are JD Reads (Simplified) and HyRead 3 (Traditional). JD Reads is the electronic version of JD which is where I buy all my paper Simplified Chinese books. The reason I like JD Reads is because has fairly good selection of children’s books and has a pretty good text-to-speech function. The ebooks are not too expensive, e.g. the whole Harry Potter series is about $25 USD. It’s sooo nice not to have to pay for shipping.

Using text-to-speech function to read aloud Harry Potter book 1

Boox comes already pre-installed with JD Reads on it BUT only if you set the device language to Chinese. I noticed that when I set the device language to English, the bookstore only has English books. When the device language is Chinese, the bookstore is JD Reads with Simplified Chinese books. So far I have not figured out a way to have the device language be English and the bookstore be Chinese!

HyRead 3… this is an app from Taiwan. It has a good selection of children’s books such as Doraemon comics, Reading 123, Reading 456. Unfortunately most of these books are in PDF format and hence cannot be read aloud by text-to-speech function. Also in PDF the font is not as clear and font size cannot be adjusted! The positive of HyRead 3 is you can borrow ebooks for free by signing up for a free Taipei Library account. There is a limit of six books per month though.

Reading a book on Hyread app

A big negative about e-reading in Chinese is… only a small percentage of books available electronically. I don’t know why this is. In English you can find virtually any book in ebook format but not so in Chinese. Of our three favorite publishers 親子天下,康軒,三采, only 親子天下 has ebooks. So I would say that e-reading is Chinese still has a long way to go…. Hopefully they will expand their selection with time.

I also looked at the Kindle app for Chinese books but I am not a fan. The selection of Chinese ebooks in the US store is quite limited. There is a much larger selection in the China store but then you need a separate account and I find it too complicated to log in and out of two different Amazon accounts from two countries.

Final Thoughts

Well we have only had it for two weeks so I guess it’s too early for me to tell it’s long term benefit. We use it daily for various forms of writing, and tried some reading on it when we were on vacation last week. I really love that it is multi-functional and we can do all of our subjects (English, Math, Chinese, etc..) on it and was the only thing we had to carry with us while traveling. There are some minor negatives like Boox is quite heavy compared to Kobo, battery life doesn’t last as long (needs to be charged about twice a week). And there’s a learning curve for me to figure out how to use the various functions.

Free activity books (PDF) downloaded from internet

I am really hoping that starting next year (3rd grade) we can do most of our Chinese reading electronically and I can finally stop spending $$$$ on books and breaking my back lugging heavy boxes back from Asia… Fingers crossed!

Chinese Resources, Home Library

How to Buy Simplified Chinese Books from JD

Hopefully this answers most of your questions.

One of my boxes of books from JD

First of all, JD website is FROM CHINA and the books are in Simplified Chinese. So please stop asking if they sell Traditional Chinese books. If you are looking for Traditional books you need to shop elsewhere.

Do I sound snarky? Yes, I am annoyed because people persist in asking the same question no matter how many times I repeat myself. See? I even put Simplified in the title of this post. Okay then.

Note: I am NOT affiliated in any way, just sharing the best way to buy Simplified books if you are in the US.

What is it?

JD is like an Amazon of China. It has it’s own storefront and also some smaller sellers. I recommend you only buy from the JD storefront which is called 京东自营. You will see the small red logo in your cart when you add it in.

Why?

The main reason to buy from JD is low price. You will get a much better deal buying from China yourself as opposed to US retailers. For example Frog and Toad costs $18 (incl shipping to US) on JD and $29 on Jojo Learning. Complete set of Elephant and Piggie costs $59 on JD and $89 on Jojo and an APPALLING $149 on China Sprout. In most cases you can get books for very low prices, about $1-3 per book. More on prices below.

Do they ship to the U.S.?

Yes of course they do, why else would I be writing this post. Please stop asking this question okay?

How to Buy?

Go to this website https://www.jd.com/?country=USA and register an account. You can use a US phone number. Type in your info and US credit card number. I only use the website to register. The actual buying is much easier on the app so I recommend using the app (search for 京东 in App Store) to shop and check out.

What to Buy?

Option 1. Copy paste the Chinese name of book into the search bar

Option 2. Search using the terms below. e.g. type in “picture books hardcover complete set” or “comics complete set”

绘本 picture books

精装 hardcover

注音 pinyin

全套 complete set

桥梁书 bridge books

漫画 comics

一年级 课外读物 first grade books

二年级 课外读物 second grade books

How to Check Out?

You add all the books to cart, click the check out button. It shows you the book cost and the shipping cost (depending on weight). Please note that prices fluctuate somewhat from day to day, similar to Amazon. If you place a BULK order your shipping will be cheaper, for example right now they have a 90% off shipping deal if you purchase over ¥1000. Please trial and error to see what shipping rates will be better for you. Just add all your items to cart and it’ll populate the shipping cost.

How Long Does It Take?

About a week (pre-covid). I have not bought recently so I can’t say.

For Noobs:

If this is your first time buying from JD, I recommend you learn how to use it right now by placing a small order. Then you will be ready to take on the massive 11/11 sales which is like the Black Friday of China. You don’t want to be still learning how it works on 11/11 because good stuff sells out lightning fast.

Prices:

People are constantly asking about price. First, let me just clarify that I do not have the gift of prophecy and hence am not able to predict what items will be on sale, how much they will be, what dates the sale will happen, how much your shipping will be or if it’s the lowest price right now.

The best advice I can offer you is this. Shopping on JD is like basically like shopping on Amazon. The prices fluctuate DAILY and sometimes DRASTICALLY. As you can see, my cart has gone down in price from ¥802 to ¥730 to the current price of ¥672 in the last month. I take screenshots to help me remember what the prices are. This week it has gone down another ¥100. It may go down further, it may not.

Same items, three different prices on three different dates.

The other way JD is similar to Amazon is this: lightning deals go OUT OF STOCK, FAST! By waiting for the price to go down further, you may find yourself 💩 out of luck as your beloved is no longer available. Then you really want to kick yourself. So, if you see a reasonable price that you’re willing to pay, JUST BUY IT. Even if you paid a little bit more, you’re still saving a TON. If you see a cheap shipping rate, sometimes 90% off or even free, then do not hesitate for even a second. Check out NOW. This is why you should always have your cart 🛒 ready to check out at any time.

Usually when something goes out of stock, it may be restocked in a few days or weeks. Long story short, check your cart every day.

Coupons

By randomly clicking all over the app and claiming coupons, I managed to save about ¥400 rmb (about $60 USD). Many of them are limited time only and some have to be “snatched”. I watched the countdown and literally checked out the minute the lightning ⚡️ deal became available.

Coupon on top right corner of cart
Coupons on the main page

Note: It is really time consuming to do this. It takes a lot of trial and error as some coupons cannot be stacked and some can, hence you spend hours trying to figure out the best combo.

Note 2: As pictured above, the coupons are typically on the top right corner of your cart, labeled , or they are on the main JD page. This morning I managed to grab a ¥50 off shipping coupon from the main page.

Note 3: Coupons can be applied on top of their regular 50% off books and 80% off shipping deals.

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Home Library, Online shopping

Where to Buy Chinese Books in the US (2020 update)

People often ask about this so I’m going to consolidate it in one blog post. The Chinese book market has changed SO MUCH in the three years since I started this blog.

First, a little bit about my book buying style:

  1. My book budget is about $100-200 a month. (This is either outrageously high or low depending on who you talk to 😄).
  2. I don’t usually buy big box sets. I prefer to get just a few of each series to test the waters. This means I usually miss out on “bulk discounts” but that’s okay. No point buying Costco-sized tuna if you don’t even like tuna.
  3. We are fine with both Simplified and Traditional so I buy whichever appeals to me in content, aesthetics or price.
  4. If you are new to the Chinese book market, my advice is BUY HIGHLY POPULAR BOOKS. Firstly you are assured of quality (there is a reason they are so popular). Second, they sell like hot cakes when you’re ready to let go of them. If you don’t know which books are “hot cakes” then follow the Used Chinese Books (linked at the end of this post) and keep your eyes open.
  5. These days Little Man reads almost entirely ebooks for English and it’s saved us a ton of money. I’m hoping to move towards ebooks for Chinese as well in a year or so.

***Note*** For those that are not able to read Chinese, Taobao and JD may be difficult to navigate. The other websites listed below can be navigated in English by using Google Chrome to translate.

Simplified Chinese Books

Taobao 淘宝网 (China)

I used to buy entirely from Taobao BUT NOT ANYMORE. This has been the biggest change. Some readers who read my infamous post (lol) How to buy Chinese Books from Taobao may think I still get my books from there. Nope. Mostly I shop on…

JD 京东 (China)

JD ships directly to the US! And fast! I can usually get my books within a week, sometimes 5 days (pre-COVID). I use the JD app and it’s so easy I can even order stuff half asleep in the middle of the night. Also the shipping cost is paid up front so no hidden costs or missing/damaged items like Taobao.

The most challenging part about JD is setting up an account. I recommend using a computer for this, not smartphone.

Their shipping rate is variable and they have huge shipping discounts sometimes, 90% off or even free shipping! If you see a good deal on shipping then check out IMMEDIATELY as it may change the next hour. Most of the time though, their shipping is 70% off.

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The prices on JD are similar to Taobao and much smoother process. This is why most of us have kissed Taobao goodbye!

Traditional Chinese Books

Books.com.tw 博客來 (Taiwan)

This is where I buy 80% of my Traditional Chinese books because of the huge selection (it’s like the Amazon of Taiwan), fast shipping (2-4 days from Taipei to Midwest!) and decent price on singleton books. They have seasonal sales throughout the year and always a sale on the 7th of each month where you get an additional 7-10% off.

You pay by credit card and the process is smooth and easy.

Shipping from Taiwan to US is EXPENSIVE and hence it does not make sense to buy big box sets from 博客來. If you are looking to buy, say, the entire set of Zorori or Magic Tree House you would get much better deals with the two sellers below.

Gloria’s Bookstore (based in US)

Gloria’s Bookstore is the probably the best place to buy big box sets, such as set of 36 Little Little Newton magazines, set of 60 Little Earth People, set of 20 hardcover Ghibli books, set of 60 Ferris Wheel and so on. These sets are soooooo heavy and hence freaking expensive to buy from 博客來 due to exorbitant shipping.

Gloria has very reasonable prices and she is really nice and responsive to questions. However, downside is you may have to wait 1-2 months for books on “pre-order”. Books that are “in stock” will ship out fairly quickly.

Pay by credit card or Apple Pay, PayPal etc.

Yo Baby Shop (based in US)

Yo Baby sometimes has excellent deals on big box sets as well. I’ve bought some books, board games, backpack etc. occasionally. Customer service is good and shipping is fast.

Pay by credit card or Apple Pay, PayPal etc.

Other

You can also buy gently used books from the Used Chinese Books by Motherly Notes Facebook group. You might score some really good deals if you have lightning fast fingers. 😉 Quite honestly I have never bought on here but this is where I SELL all my books.

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7 years old, Audiobooks, Bilingual Journey, Home Library, Magazines

Chinese Learning Magazine with CD 康軒學習雜志

Hello friends! Wow, it’s been six months since I last blogged. 😛 Life has been pretty good, all things considered. Like many other families, we experienced some positive side effects of pandemic aka INCREASED CHINESE TIME! 😉

To be honest I have been getting lazier with Chinese as my child gets older (entering 2nd grade). Here are the list of things I used to do but no longer do. Oops.

  1. Fun, crafty things
  2. Read aloud to him
  3. Have him read aloud to me daily
  4. Practice Chinese character writing

On the bright side, here are some things that I do do.

  1. Large group of Chinese-speaking friends (I have never spoke so much Chinese in my life! My FB Messenger is 90% Chinese text messages – a pretty crazy development for me since I’ve avoided Chinese for most of my life)
  2. Provide a steady supply of Chinese books through my own acquisition and exchanging with above mentioned friends
  3. Randomly ask him to read aloud some pages to ensure that he can read well in Simplified and Traditional. Which thankfully he does. 
  4. Play audio CDs in the car (which is what this post is about)
  5. Speak mostly Chinese to him

This summer Little Man fell in love with Kang Xuan magazines. He listened to 1-2 a day, every day, and we went through them really fast. Good thing I had them stockpiled! 

From my parent point of view, the best thing about this magazine are:

  1. READ ALOUD AUDIO CD. Yay! No need for me to read aloud in my non-fluent, choppy Chinese (I really struggle to read non-fiction).
  2. Large variety of topics – More info below.
  3. Blend of cute and realistic illustrations
  4. Exposes kids to age-appropriate news and current affairs, such as wearing masks, wildfires in Australia, seasonal holidays like Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat festival etc. The monthly magazines are themed appropriately for the current season/holidays.
  5. Relevant and interesting articles for the target age group. This saves a parent soooo much time, not having to research whether there is inappropriate content. Since my son is entering 2nd grade, we have the magazine for 1st-3rd grade. There’s also a Preschool version and 4th-6th grade version.

Inside Pages

You get TWO issues monthly for the 1st-3rd grade version. Each issue comes with the magazine itself (about 50 pages), an audio CD, a workbook, a parent guide and sometimes additional materials like comic book, craft, etc.

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Each magazine is laid out pretty similarly. 

It starts with several themed articles, usually one about animals/plants, one about the theme of the month, one about culture/history (spotlight on a different country each issue), one on health/medicine. Very diverse!

kx1kx2kx4kx5

I love the exposure to current affairs and news in a kid-friendly way:

kx11kx12

Following that, there is a Math, Science, or Famous Person comic:

kx6

Following that, a short story of 8-10 pages. The story is usually Fiction or about a famous person:

kx13kx14

Following that, they have a classical Chinese poem or explain the origin of an idiom:

kx8

And finally, my son’s favorite part, THE COMIC! The comic features Red Bean, Green Bean characters and Professor Why, and usually teaches a moral such as being punctual, completing your homework on time, etc:

kx10

Subscription Info

For U.S. subscribers, click these links to subscribe from C-Stems:

  • Preschool version (12 issues/year)
  • 1st-3rd grade version (24 issues/year)
  • 4th-6th grade version (24 issues/year)

You can use my coupon code ‘handsonchinesefun’ to receive an additional welcome gift. 

Note that you can also buy from Kang Xuan or 博客來 in Taiwan, however it does not come with CDs. Instead you scan the QR code to listen. I have tried this option and found the QR code very choppy, cutting off frequently. EXTREMELY frustrating. Which is why I’m back to subscribing from C-Stems. This is my honest opinion and I’m not being paid to say this!

Video

Here is my video reviewing the different elementary magazines on the market (Kang Xuan, Ciaohu, Future Children):

Questions?

You can comment or send me a FB message on my FB page: Hands On Chinese Fun

7 years old, Bilingual Journey

First Grade Updates 2019-2020

I’ve heard many parents lament that Chinese goes down the drain once kids enter elementary school. Even with all this forewarning, I never thought things would change so soon and so swiftly. I guess in my mind I had pictured it occurring sometime in middle or high school.

Last year, i.e. kindergarten year, everything was fine and proceeded pretty much just like preschool.

Enter first grade. ACK!!!

It’s not that my son doesn’t like Chinese because he likes it very much and speaks and reads Chinese books every day. What changed is…

Maturity

Somewhere along 6 and 7 years old, suddenly I was no longer needed. Play dates and birthday parties became drop-offs and my role these days is being his chauffeur. How did it go from attached-to-me-at-the-hip to this in the blink of an eye?

Time

The other thing about growing up is, burgeoning interests and hobbies. And if this new hobby takes up 20 hours per week?? Time that was previously dedicated to Chinese? The truth is that we have had to drop some Chinese commitments because there are only so many hours in a day.

Doing Chinese homework while waiting

Academics

Nobody cared much about academics in kindergarten but in first grade, suddenly the sh*t got real. This year I started feeling like scores and grades are serious and impact whether or not your child gets selected for opportunities.

Parental Questions 🤯🤯🤯: What are you willing to give up in the pursuit of Chinese? Should you turn down play dates and spend those hours at home learning? And if so what is the impact on your child socially and will he/she resent you for it?

Should you not spend any time on English and focus resolutely on Chinese, thereby missing out on competitions in elementary school? Do these even have any long term benefit or impact?

Reading Update

The bright side is thank goodness he developed habits to speak and read Chinese fluently before age 7 and these have been maintained.

Reading wise, he has finally moved on from reading Zorori 怪杰佐罗力 after reading each book repeatedly for the last six months! If there are other parents with kids “stuck” on a certain book, be patient and they will grow out of it on their own.

These days I have noticed that Little Man can read Traditional and Simplified with or without phonetic assistance. The transition to no phonetics happened naturally on its own, starting with reading comics and then moving on to more wordy stuff. If you ask me, all that re-reading of Zorori helped a lot with his fluency and word recognition. I have no other way of explaining how he can read Traditional fluently without ever being taught how to read Traditional characters.

Pleasantly surprised he could read non-zhuyin passage

The other series he LOVES and has been repeat reading is Ne Zha 哪吒 and Ma Zu 妈祖 as shown below. He asked for longer versions of these two stories so I have been on the lookout. He also enjoys PvZ and Mi Xiao Quan idiom comics, first with me reading them to him then reading them himself.

Spanish Update

Some readers asked me how I support my son’s Spanish when I don’t speak the language. The short answer is: I don’t. All I do is send him to a Spanish immersion school and pay for his online tutoring 1-2x per week.

He is reportedly “exceeding expectations” in Spanish and his school does a great job individualizing and giving him support to meet his needs.

Don’t hesitate to advocate for your child with the school. I send occasional emails to teachers to check in or advocate for XYZ and it’s made a world of difference. If something is not working for your child, speak up and fix it.

Final Thoughts

Long story short, Chinese is still going well but I have noticed a huge shift in my priorities this year. I no longer spend all my time researching, buying, blogging, teaching Chinese… how weird is that?

I am afraid of what it’ll look like a year from now when I post Second Grade Updates!

7 years old, Audiobooks, Bilingual Journey, Chinese Resources

Ximalaya KIDS audiobook app!

We’ve been using Ximalaya to listen to audiobooks for a couple years now and I can’t believe I just realized today that there’s a kids version! 🤦‍♀️

It is much preferable to the adults version I previously used. It’s simple, user-friendly, and when you enter your child’s age, it populates recommendations. Most importantly, you can let your child scroll through without worrying they’ll click on some inappropriate junk!

It’s also easy to narrow down to your interests by clicking on the icons: Science, Classics, Chinese Literature, Popular, etc.

There’s a lot of audiobooks for free but some are VIP only. VIP subscription is $2.49 per month which I find completely worth it. We have enjoyed many of the VIP audiobooks and find them excellent! My son has listened to all the 米小圈 numerous times – hugely popular series from China.

The other thing I’m excited about is the Learning section of this app, where there’s audio recordings for elementary Chinese textbooks they use in China! There’s even quizzes at the end to see if you retained the info.

(Not sure if we will be using this but still kinda cool)

There’s a lot more resources in the Learning section that I haven’t explored. It included learning plans and lessons for Art and many other topics. 🤯 This might be useful for homeschoolers.

Link to Ximalaya Kids app on App store: 喜马拉雅儿童-by Xi Da (Shanghai) Network Technology Co., Ltd.

While we’re on the topic, 「親子天下」is another app we sometimes listen to. It is by one of our favorite publishers of children’s books in Taiwan.

The selection of books is smaller than Ximalaya but the quality is excellent as well. It has some audiobooks of the Reading 123 series which is nice to listen first if you’re trying to get your kid to read the books. My son enjoys listening to 「字的童話」which is a series of funny short stories that have word plays and puns.

It is also subscription based but more expensive at $5.99 per month.

The benefit to having both of these is you’re pretty covered for Chinese stories from both China and Taiwan! There are many regional differences in the Mandarin spoken, from pronunciation to vocabulary to culture so I enjoy listening to both.

Link to 親子天下 app on App Store: 親子天下有聲故事書 by CommonWealth Magazine Group

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7 years old, Audiobooks, Bilingual Journey, Chinese Resources, Home Library, Magazines

Comparison of Chinese Magazines

Chinese magazines. They are soooooooo good and have been a lifesaver for me these days since I’ve been quite busy. If you’re a busy/lazy parent, magazines are your friend!

The best thing about Chinese magazines, in my opinion, is that they come with audio read-aloud CDs by native speakers. They are fantastic quality and provide a lot of advanced, non-fiction vocabulary input.

We spend about 2 hours in the car every Saturday commuting to various activities so I just pop a new CD in every week. By my son’s request, we usually listen to each CD at least twice. This is my quick and easy way to learn new words together with my son.

The magazines are themed and the topics change with the season/holidays. For example, since it is now Fall and we have two fruiting apple trees in our yard, it was perfect timing to listen to the Apples issue.

If you’re wondering which magazine would be a good fit for your kids, I compiled a table below to compare them:

magazines.PNG

Factors to Consider:

  1. Publisher After buying thousands of Chinese books, I’ve found that I have very strong preference for two publishers which are 康軒 and 親子天下 and I tend to stick with them. Conversely, there are some publishers I stay away from. I won’t mention which ones since I’ll probably really offend some people LOL.
  2. Content – This is probably the most important thing! What are you looking for in a magazine? I prefer a mix of current affairs (e.g. culture, geography, history, news) and science so I can expose my son to a wide range of vocabulary.
  3. Illustrations – My son tends to gravitate towards books with “cute” illustrations. And yes, he really loves comics.
  4. CD – All the magazines come with read aloud CDs that are fun and engaging. Far better than my own accented (and possibly erroneous) read aloud.
  5. Activity books – Honestly we don’t usually do these because ain’t got no time for crafts. But I know some kids really love their stickers and crafts.

Sample Pages

小行星幼兒誌 Little Planet Magazine

little star1
Image from c-stems.com

little star 2
Image from c-stems.com

I was really surprised by how much my son liked this magazine, I think possibly because he is familiar with 親子天下 books and this magazine by the same publisher has similar illustrations, style and voices. He also really enjoyed the activity book that had a detective theme and you solve the clues to find the culprit.

Link to subscribe here

新小小牛頓 Little Newton Magazine

My first impression of this magazine is that it’s very “old” but again I was very surprised by how much my son likes it and has retained information from it. This is the most “sciency” of the three mags. We also enjoy the CDs very much! I heard the DVDs that come with it are also very good but we have not watched them.

This magazine is no longer in circulation so you can only buy old issues.

Links to buy:

康軒學習雜誌 Kang Xuan Top945 Magazine

kx1
Image from c-stems.com

kx2
Image from c-stem.com

This magazine is my personal favorite. My son loves the illustrations and comics but content is sometimes too advanced for him. This is not surprising since it is a 1st to 3rd grade magazine so I feel that it will continue to grow with him. I love the wide range of topics it covers and exposure to culture of different countries, especially Taiwan. When we went to Taiwan this past summer, my son was already very familiar with many Taiwanese foods, landmarks, places of interest, etc. due to reading this magazine.

Link to subscribe here

Other Reviews

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of 康軒學習雜誌 初階版 and 小行星幼兒誌 by C-stems.com (official distributor of these magazines in the USA) for review. Opinions are my own. 

 

Bilingual Journey, Taiwan Trip

Impact of Taiwan Trip on Chinese Learning

This summer we spent X thousand dollars on a three-week trip to Taiwan and Singapore. The question most people are probably wondering is, was it worth the money and time? Does it make a significant difference in Chinese learning?

Before we left, Little Man (6.5 y.o.) was already speaking Chinese frequently and willingly. Through our efforts the last two years, he also reads Chinese books daily. So I didn’t see any increase in the “quantity” of Chinese.

That’s not to say our trip had no impact on his language learning because it absolutely did! Here’s the “qualitative” changes I noticed:

  1. Vocabulary – Because of all the experiences we had every day, his vocabulary naturally improved. He learned the names of the new foods he tried e.g. 芭樂 (guava) and 百香果 (passion fruit). He loved going to 便利商店 (convenience store) which are everywhere in Taiwan. He got to experience for himself what a 夜市 (night market) is instead of just reading about it in a book. He learned the names of LEGO pieces in Chinese at summer camp. He learned the variations in different countries, e.g. 捷運 in Taiwan is called 地铁 in Singapore.
  2. Complex sentences – Taiwanese speakers use 10x more complex sentences and advanced vocabulary than I am capable of producing so I am really glad he got exposure to that.
  3. Variety – In the US, I am the primary person he speaks Chinese to. However in Asia he got to speak to everyone! He was pretty shy at first but towards the middle of the trip gained confidence in speaking to other people like wait staff, taxi drivers, teachers, and asking them questions. In Singapore, he bonded with my parents who speak Mandarin as their first language.
  4. Ego Boost – Little Man got compliments on his Chinese everywhere he went. Everyone kept telling him how awesome his Chinese is (more due to the fact that they know he’s American than because his Chinese really is awesome). All the praise and attention made him feel really proud.
  5. Literacy – He really got to see how important and useful it is to be able to read Chinese. He was able to read menus, TV subtitles, advertisements, packaging labels, etc. Now he knows why his mom makes him practice reading every day!
  6. FUN – We had soooooooooo much fun. He had the best time and can’t wait to go back! There is no better way to encourage language learning than to have fun doing it. 

Here’s an interesting story: We met up with one of my son’s friends (an ABC like him), let’s call him E, when we were in Taipei. In the US, when my son and E play together they speak 100% English because E hardly spoke Chinese.

However, after E went to Taiwan for the summer to stay with grandparents, he made a complete 180 degree switch and only spoke Chinese.

When we met up for a play date in Taipei, my son and E spoke 100% Chinese. It is truly amazing to watch how bilingual those two kids are. Makes me wanna cry actually.

If you’re thinking about a trip to a Chinese-speaking country, GO FOR IT. The experience is truly amazing and life changing. Little Man remembers so much from all his trips to Asia (five times to Singapore and once to Taiwan) and often talks about them. Travel abroad really open up a child’s eyes to the world. 🌎

Side note is my Chinese improved so much from having to email, text, talk in Chinese for weeks. Not going to lie, it was really challenging at first but I did get used to it.

Read my tips on how to plan a trip to Taiwan: Planning a Fun and Educational Trip to Taiwan

One takeaway from this trip is: the day-to-day home environment is more important to a child’s Chinese proficiency than a short-term trip to Taiwan. No matter what huge gains a child makes in Taiwan, they will lose it rapidly if they go home to a non-supportive environment.

Conversely, if you have a “Chinese Language Ecosystem” (CLE) at home, a trip to Taiwan is great to have but not necessary. Like I said, my son speaks and reads Chinese regardless of whether or not we went on this trip. He just has a richer experience now.

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6 years old, Taiwan Trip

Planning a Fun and Educational Trip to Taiwan

Many folks online have shared their experience with taking their kids to Taiwan for full Mandarin immersion. It is a bit trickier for me since I don’t have friends or family there. I’ve been to Taiwan twice before but my last trip there was over ten years ago 😬.

The main reasons for 2019 being the year is because:

  1. Age – Last summer as a 5 year old I only enrolled him in activities and classes and no camps. This year as a 6 year old is the first year I signed him up for camps both within the USA and Taipei. Most summer camps are geared for kids entering 1st grade, for good reason. I have noticed him being much more independent this year. (Of course this is varies with personality, some kids being more plucky than others)
  2. Chinese Proficiency – His Chinese is really much better now than last year. Seeing him play so well with some kids from China a few months ago made me feel assured that he will get along with Chinese-speaking peers. I definitely don’t want him to have no clue what is going on or be unable to express himself.

As I was planning out our trip, it was immensely helpful to me to read other blog reviews so I’m typing out our experience to share as well.

Note that some details will be kept private because I am selfish and don’t want others to ‘steal’ my bookings from me.

When to start planning?

I started loosely planning more than a year prior! Here’s a suggested timeline:

A year before:

Summer Camp

Tip: Make lots of real-life and online Taiwanese friends because they can give you invaluable advice! The kind of advice you can’t get from Google.

Many people post online (e.g. Motherly Notes Facebook group, Summer Taipei Kids) about their experiences so read all the posts the summer prior, e.g. posts from Summer 2019 to help you plan Summer 2020. Think about what are your goals as a parent (“academic” or “play based” camp?) and your child’s interests (sports, cooking, science, crafts, outdoors, etc). Then go to their websites and jot down camp dates/costs for 2019 because it will likely be similar for 2020.

Your summer camp decision is THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE. That’s why I listed it first, because every other decision revolves around it. Obviously you need to make sure your flight dates correspond to camp dates, and ideally book accommodation close by.

Once you have narrowed down your camp(s), follow their Facebook page so you get notified when they begin enrollment, usually around April. REGISTER IMMEDIATELY. This is just like in the US where the popular camps fill quickly. You snooze, you lose.

Taiwan has their summer vacation for the months of July and August. There are some camps in June but not many. If you go during off-peak season it will be cheaper (and not boiling lava hot 🥵) but there will not be camps. Of course you can still do activities, classes, travel, or even enroll your kids in school.

6-8 months before:

Flights

I used Google to monitor the flight prices and found that the cost of flights from our city to Taipei ranged from $800 (non-peak season) to $1300 (peak season).

I started being more serious about the dates and booking flights in January. I booked my flights for around $1000 in end January which is a really decent price for peak-season. Many of my friends who booked in February and beyond ended up paying hundreds more per person. Again, you snooze you lose.

Lodging

If you’re staying for a few weeks or months in Taipei, probably your best option is to book an Airbnb or similar. It is more affordable and spacious than a hotel room.

My main criteria was 1) Walking distance to metro station 🚇 and 2) Walking distance to summer camp. Since we have to drop off and pick up every day, I figured walking would be the most convenient.

I found a place that was 1-min walk from MRT and 5-min walk from camp, and you can bet I jumped on it!

FYI, Airbnb does not disclose their exact address so it takes some detective work to find the precise location you want. I did a search for the MRT station I wanted to be close to, short-listed a few apartments, then PM the hosts to ask how far of walking distance to the camp address. I asked three hosts and I got the answers 9 minutes, 15-20 minutes and 5 minutes. Obviously I chose the one that was 5 minutes away. I liked it the best anyway. 😉

Our apartment is small but has a full-size refrigerator and a washer. I did not care about having a full kitchen since I didn’t think we’d be cooking. I also decided to book with a Superhost (high reviews) since this was our first time with Airbnb and I figured we should play it safe.

Having an apartment right next to the MRT station was the best idea ever. Find a place right next to an MRT, not a 10-min walk from MRT, because really a 10-min walk with small whiny children feels about an hour long.

If you’re like me and have never used Airbnb before, you can get 15% off your first trip by clicking my referral link: Airbnb discount!

I suggest booking accommodation in a central location in the city. We stayed in Xinyi District and it was great. If you stay in the outskirts it may be cheaper per night but you’ll pay for it in higher transportation costs and inconvenience.

2-4 months before:

Bank Accounts

  • Do you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees? If not, apply for one.
  • Do you have a bank account that you can withdraw money at foreign ATMs? If not, apply for one.

A trusted friend recommended Charles Schwab checking account which enables me to withdraw cash at any ATM anywhere in the world for free. This is stupendously useful because I don’t have to carry large wads of cash while traveling and no money changers needed.

I’ve never tried other banks so I can’t compare but Schwab worked great. I easily withdrew cash from any ATM in Taiwan and Singapore. Note: You will need A HECK LOT OF CASH in Taiwan. Many food places and bookstores do not take electronic payment!

Book List

If you’re the over-planning sort (like me), then you probably want to put together your book list in advance so you know what to buy. That way you’re not in the bookstore overwhelmed by choices. Browse around online and get familiar with the prices to get the best deals.

You can order books online from 博客來 etc. in advance and have them ready for pickup at 7-11 when you arrive. This is a good option if you’re only visiting Taiwan for a few days and don’t have time to shop.

Itinerary Planning

Again, being the over-planner that I am, I put together a draft itinerary of all the fun kid-friendly spots that I thought my child would enjoy. After all, the main reason for this trip is to have lots of Chinese exposure and have a blast so that he wants to keep coming back and keep loving Chinese!

Refer to these posts for some ideas of kid-friendly Taipei activities: Motherly Notes: Visiting Taiwan. I’ll blog our favorite places as well over the next few weeks.

I used Google Maps app to save all the places I wanted to eat and play. This made life much easier as I could visualize and go to places close together on the same day.

As you can see, most activities are located in central Taipei. This is why I recommend finding lodging there because towing kids long distances on public transportation and boiling heat is NO FUN.

1-2 weeks before:

Unlock Cell Phone

Check with your mobile phone provider that your phone is unlocked and can accept a travel SIM card. You need to get a travel SIM card so you can have a Taiwanese phone number for your camp to call you in case of emergencies, make reservations, etc.

I initially thought I could get a pocket WiFi and stick with my US phone number but later realized I really do need a TW number. I got called a lot by everyone from the hotel to taxi driver to confirm bookings. And the SIM card is cheap (this is the one we used) and gives you unlimited data!!!

Download Apps

It’s almost crunch time so it’s time to get serious!! Book your airport ride (Taoyuan International Airport is ~45 mins to the city), tickets to museums, workshops, etc etc.

Kid workshops sell out fast so reserve your spots as soon as you possibly can. Taxis can be booked just 1-2 days before.

I don’t like having too many apps on my phone and always try to streamline things but these were absolutely necessary:

  1. Google Maps – must!!!!
  2. LINE – Taiwanese prefer to communicate by texting using this app. This is how I made appointments with hairdresser, taxi driver, etc. while I was still in the US.
  3. Klook, KKDay, FunNow – to purchase tickets for various activities
  4. Uber, Find Taxi – to book rides

Note:

I think a majority of my readers are in the USA. Keep in mind that traveling halfway around the world to Taiwan to a completely different time zone is very harsh on the body. My husband was extremely sick right after we arrived and spent the first two days incapacitated and throwing up.

We arrived three full days before Little Man’s camp started which I had thought was sufficient to get acclimatized. Nope. He was okay at first but then fell horribly ill on the fourth day. Also, due to the time change he kept waking up in the wee hours of the morning and hence was extremely tired by afternoon. All in all, the first week of camp did not go that smoothly due to illness and fatigue.

For me, I did not fall sick but I did not have an appetite for about a week!

On a similar note, one of my teacher friends who brought a group of 7th and 8th graders to China this summer said it was awful as half the students got so sick they almost had to be hospitalized. So yes, the jet lag does some horrible things to your body even if you’re normally a very healthy person.

(Maybe we will try Melatonin on our next trip to ease the symptoms 🤷‍♀️ )

Ideally, give yourself a full week to get adjusted to Taiwan weather and time zone. I also wished I had left a few days at the end of the trip for some free time. There were several things that Little Man really wanted to do again (e.g. Baby Boss, surfing) that we were sadly not able to as there was not enough time.

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