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.

{Follow my Facebook page and blog for more Taipei updates!}

5.5 years old, 6 years old, Chinese Resources, Reviews

西游記 Journey to the West for Kids (Part I)

Happy summer 2019!

We are having so much fun in the sun and I have been so lazy to blog. But here I am, finally got off my lazy *** to share some of our favorite 西游記 materials for beginners. These materials are abridged for preschool/early elementary age and are introductory level, so don’t expect it to include all the details. The main purpose is to hook kids’ interest.

I’ll start out by saying that I had no interest in Journey to the West when I was a kid growing up in Singapore. I remember it being on TV and my thoughts were that Monkey King and the Pig looked sooooo fake and dumb. I especially hated how Pig’s ears looked glued on and his big belly and man boobs are so ewwwww.

xiyouji

Anyway, things change when you get older right. Especially after you have kids. It’s like you have to force yourself to do things you hate, and then realize that it’s actually not so bad after all. (Am I the only who feels this way?)

Why Read Journey to The West?

  • Reason 1: It is one of the four classics of Chinese literature. There are constant references to it in books, songs, tv shows… Last week, I watched a talk show and someone said her husband has “火眼金睛”, a reference to Monkey King. Yesterday, my son was reading a completely unrelated book and he recognized several characters in there like 牛魔王 (Bull Demon King) and  蜘蛛精 (Spider Spirit) from Monkey King. Like I said, it’s everywhere.
  • Reason 2: It is also a nice stepping stone to other Chinese mythology and legends as it introduces many Chinese “gods” and “goddesses” like Jade Emperor, Guanyin, Erlang Shen, etc. This is also a huge part of Chinese culture.
  • Reason 3: It’s FUN. Both boys and girls will find this story irresistible. Kids really love knowing about each “god” and their “powers” and “weapons” and who is more powerful and who will defeat who (comparison of “powers” is also why my son loves the 小妖怪 series).

Materials We Used

I’ll share what we used in the chronological order that we acquired them.

#1. 西游立體書 3D Pop-Up Book

This was my son’s very first introduction to at 5 y.o. and I think it was a great choice because he was jaw-droppingly WOWED by the stunning illustrations and pop-ups.

3d1
Click here for Taobao link to buy

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to read this book since it didn’t have pinyin and I wasn’t familiar with the character names (although I could probably read it now). My son was also afraid of the “spider” page. As a result he only requested me to read only the first two pages of this book over and over. As I later found out, the first two pages tell the story of 大鬧天宮 (Havoc in Heaven) which is sometimes told as a stand-alone story, so I guess it turned out just fine.

Regardless, this book was the beginning of his interest in Journey to the West so it served its purpose. It really is a lovely book.

#2. Little Fox Chinese

I really recommend these YouTube videos produced by Little Fox Chinese because it’s free, well produced (not crappy homemade videos), and short! Each video is only about 5-6 minutes long and easy to understand, perfect for short attention spans. Little Fox Chinese even has the companion printable books and MP3 for download on their website if you sign up for an account. We didn’t do this because, you know, lazy.

littlefox

These videos really helped my son understand the story. Little Fox is made for Chinese language learners so the language is by far the easiest to understand of the whole lot. This is a great introduction for kids.

#3. 西游記 注音版 Chapter Book (pinyin version)

This book comes in Traditional Chinese (buy from 博客來) or Simplified Chinese (buy from Taobao). What I like about it is each chapter is really short, only about 5-6 pages, so it was manageable both as a read-aloud and for kids to read themselves. The pictures are cute and I like them far better than the numerous other versions out there with ugly pictures.

The story is summarized (a bit too summarized in my opinion) into about 120 pages and a lot of details were left out. But, I definitely feel like it was a worthwhile buy since it was only $2 on Taobao. 👌 This was easier for me to read aloud to him since it has pinyin!

#4. 幼福 金鼎獎西游記 You Fu Audio CDs (24 CDs)

youfu

Link to buy here and here

This is an award-winning audio narration from Taiwan and highly recommended by many parents. I bought it when my son was ~5.5 and we only listened to a bit before he lost interest. It was probably too long and complicated for him at that time.

However, he suddenly picked it when he was 6.5 years old and this time he loved it and listened to the whole thing (12+ hours) in the car over several weeks. Goes to show that sometimes we just have to be patient and wait for kids to be developmentally ready.

Note that this is not an audio book (where someone is reading out a book), but more like an 廣播劇 audio drama (with a narrator and actors acting out parts). There is a lot of sound effects and clinging and clanging and overall very LOUD. I did not like it at first but got used to it after a while. It has a lot of advanced vocabulary and idioms and we both benefited from listening to it.

#5. Back to #3

Shortly after listening to #4, my son picked up the book (listed in #3) and read it. I was beyond thrilled! I just wanted to point this out because it is evidence that listening leads to reading. Having your kids listen to the audiobook first will build their vocabulary and comprehension enough that they can eventually read the book.

#6.米小圈快乐西游记 Mi Xiao Quan Xi You Ji

Link here: XimalayaFM

mi

Mi Xiao Quan is a hugely popular series in China, the equivalent version of Wimpy Kids. I’ve mentioned numerous times how much my son loves Mi Xiao Quan, starting with the original books and audiobooks, then the other spin-off series like idioms and riddles. I recently realized there’s yet another spin-off series Journey to the West.

Unlike the Diary of Mi Xiao Quan audiobooks which are free, the Journey to the West audio cost about $12 USD. Well worth it in my opinion as it is extremely well produced. In the introduction they stated that the author spent six months writing it and they found the best voices in China to record and the best producers for the music.

I absolutely ❤️ it. I like it even better than #4 You Fu CDs listed above because they do a good job of providing lots of details and descriptions. It also includes interesting snippets from the unabridged 原著 Journey to the West – e.g. asking “Do you know how tall the Monkey King is?” then quoting that it says that he is not taller than 4 feet tall. What a good way to introduce kids to the unabridged version!

It is also more “modern” – it is a recent production so the music and sound effects are toned down, not as “old fashioned” as You Fu CDs which were produced in 2003. Nonetheless I think they both have their merit and I don’t regret buying them both.

And… that’s all I have for right now! I am looking for more intermediate-level books and will update more as we get to that level.

Kinder Reads, Learning to Read, Reviews

Review: 紅豆綠豆碰 Comic Books with read-aloud CD

It was love at first sight with these comic books when I saw them last Fall on another blog. At that time, we were 100% Simplified but I knew I had to get these even though they are in Traditional Chinese.

Why we love them

#1. KIDS LOVE COMICS!!!! If you want to get your kid interested and excited about Chinese, here’s a tip: comics!

#2. Each book has 30-40 stories of 4 pages each. Each story takes only a few minutes to read so it’s great for when you have just a few minutes to spare or short attention spans.

comic1comic2

#3. Stories are easy to understand – kids can also use the picture cues to figure out meanings of new vocabulary.

#4. They are healthy and educational – each book has a different theme such as protecting the earth, how to be a good friend, learning is fun, etc. My son has learned so much vocabulary and general knowledge, e.g. what to do in an earthquake.

#5. MP3 CD!!!! You can listen to the audio without the book because the narrator sets the scene and they have different voices to act it out. It’s amazing quality and really fun to listen to. My son surprises me with the Taiwanese phrases he picked up like “我就說嘛!” and “看我的厲害!” Sooooo funny.

If you have a C-Pen, you can easily transfer the MP3 to make your comic books read aloud. This is particularly awesome for non-Chinese speaking parents {Read more about how we use C-Pen}

#6. Affordable price – these are going for just $7.95 USD each. Considering how he loves it and listens repeatedly, I definitely got my money’s worth!

#7. They are a nice bridge to Kang Xuan Top945 Learning Magazine. Many of you are familiar with Top945 magazine which is one of the top children’s magazines in Taiwan with excellent informative articles. However, kids may find it difficult to read this magazine and/or may not be interested.kx1kx2

For me, I used 紅豆綠豆碰 comic books first to hook my kid’s interest before introducing the more difficult 康軒學習雜誌 Top945 Learning magazines. Because my son was already familiar with the Red Bean, Green Bean characters (same voices for audio CDs as well), he was immediately drawn to the magazines even though it is challenging for him.

Where to Buy

For U.S. customers, C-Stems is selling them for $7.95 each! This is lower than competitors’ pricing.

I find all of them to be pretty similar so choose them based on your child’s interest or your own preference, e.g. To focus more on social skills, get the book “交朋友好好玩”. If you want to read more on Chinese New Year, get “沒有紅包的新年”, etc.

Other Reviews

Four copies of 紅豆綠豆碰 was provided by C-Stems.com for review. Opinions are my own. As mentioned above, I already purchased some of these comics myself six months ago. 
Reviews

Customized Chinese Stickers and Gifts

Hello! Here’s another comprehensive post, this time about all the personalized Chinese items that I’ve used and love.

Name Labels

I ordered name labels from Taobao and they’re great! Very affordable at $2-$10 USD, lots of different designs to choose from and great quality. Pro tip: Since these stickers are so light, they can basically ship for free when you consolidate them with an order of books from Taobao.

Waterproof stickers that I use for water bottle, lunch box, school supplies, etc. {Taobao link}

img_3374

Iron-on labels for coat, snowpants, backpack and other clothing items. I wanted both English and Chinese names since it’s for school. {Taobao link}

Customized Gifts

Create some fun, unique items and to show the world how proud you are to speak Chinese! 🙂 Think of all the t-shirts out there that say things like “big brother”, “cool dude”, “little princess” etc. but in Chinese. How cool would that be?!

Check out my friend Marissa’s Facebook page Lexi Drew for You and send her a FB message. She was soooo patient with listening to all my ideas 💡 and changing my mind a million times. We messaged back and forth to tweak things to look exactly the way I wanted. Where else would you find a seller with such infinite patience??

Note

Marissa does not know Chinese so you have to send her an image of the Chinese characters you want. I used this Calligraphy Generator website: Type characters into the text box, then click on the fonts below to generate it. There’s so many different fonts to choose from! I also like this Font Generator which has a lot of cute fonts.

Save the images and send them to her:

I love the end products!

Shirt with Little Man’s interest and favorite Chinese saying. T-Shirt=$14

Pencil case with his Chinese name to store our C-Pen. Decal=$5

Pouch to hold baby teeth! Pouch=$5

Questions? Comments?

You can contact me via my Facebook page Hands-On Chinese Fun.

6 years old, Audiobooks, Home Library, Kinder Reads, Learning to Read, Magazines, Reviews

Review: 康軒學習雜誌 Top945 Learning Magazine for 3-12 y.o.

There are several Chinese children’s magazines out there but my personal favorite is Top945 康軒學習雜誌.

Magazines are better than books?!

Did you know that childhood experts recommend magazines over books? Magazines provide diverse knowledge and a wide variety of texts like fiction, non-fiction, poems, and interactive content.

Why we love Top945 Learning Magazine:

#1. Well-rounded vocabulary and General Knowledge – I want him to be able to converse on a wide variety of topics in Chinese, not just his limited interests of superheroes, potty jokes and all that useless stuff. 😝

pg1pg2

#2. Mix of real photos and drawings – My son loves the cute characters of Doudou, Nini and Professor Why. They really hold his attention and interest!

doudou

#3. TWO magazines per month for the elementary versions – This basically covers all of my non-fiction needs and is good value-for-money.

#4. Audio CD with every issue!! – Fabulous way for child to acquire advanced vocabulary especially if parent is not a native speaker.

#5. Ideal for busy families – We listen to this in the car and it makes our car trips so so enriching and productive. I don’t need to do anything except hit the play button. Yay for lazy parenting! 😉

The accompanying CD is REALLY REALLY GOOD. Worth its weight in gold in my opinion. My picky son who refused to listen to anything except 米小圈 for the last several months enjoys listening to them. The speakers have perfect enunciation and are very engaging.

Sample clip from CD (PreK-K version). The voices are younger and cuter.

Sample clip from CD (1st-3rd grade version). The voices are more mature and the language more advanced compared to the clip above:

We are listening to them for the second time now because there’s lots of idioms and complex vocabulary that he only understood about 50% of it the first time. The second time listening, his comprehension increased to 70-80%. I explained some key words to him in English as well. I always love materials that are challenging because that’s how kids learn and improve right??

Little Man is not able to read this magazine by himself yet (aside from the comics), so I am having him listen to build up vocabulary. Next year when he is in first grade, I plan on having him read it so he can learn how to read informational text, towards the long-term goal of reading newspapers as an adult.

***I just found out only the US version of Top945 still comes with CD. If you order from Taiwan it will not come with CD but you can download MP3 from their website. ***

Look Inside

Click on the images below to see the inside pages. Full magazines are available online so you can see every page! Wow.

PreK-Kindergarten version 學前版:prek

1st-3rd grade version 初階版:1st

4th-6th grade version 進階版:4th

Supplemental Teaching Materials

Top945 comes with additional materials such activity books, board games and hands-on activities etc., (Click here for details on what is included with your subscription: PreK-K version, 1st-3rd grade, 4th grade and up).

supplemental
Annual subscription comes with activity books, hands-on toys, board games, etc.

Free Gifts!

Exclusive free gifts for my readers: The first 30 subscribers will receive two of the following comic books with MP3 CDs (worth $30)! These are additional to the other free books you will receive when you subscribe to 1 year or more.

These comic books are AMAZING. The quality of the paper and the audio CDs are top notch and my son absolutely loves them. Really recommend to increase kids’ interest in reading Chinese books.

{Click here for review and sample pages of 紅豆綠豆碰 comic books}

U.S. Subscribers

Click on the links below to subscribe to Top945 Learning Magazine (payment via PayPal). In the comments section, type in “Hands On Chinese Fun” to receive your free comic books!

C-Stems is the official distributor of Top945 and other children magazines like Ciaohu and Little Newton in the USA. An issue of Top945 was provided for review. 


Questions or comments? Contact me via my Facebook page!

Audiobooks, Elementary Music, Preschool Music

Music/Audio Devices for Chinese Learning

Because I’m too lazy to write separate blog posts, here’s a comprehensive summary of all the audio devices we’ve used for the last two years from 4-6 years old.

For those of you who are new to my page, I only started teaching my son Chinese at age 4.5. I feel that #1 and #2 listed below are geared more for the 2-5 age group, however, we used them when he was older at 4-6 years old and he still enjoyed them. I’ve also heard the songs in Chinese immersion classrooms so I do think they are okay even up to 6-7 years old if the child is a beginner to Chinese.

Toddler/Preschooler

#1. Songbooks with CD

What it is: Each book/CD has about 40 songs and there are lyrics and picture for each song. This was really helpful for my son when he didn’t know much Chinese yet and he could figure out the meaning of the song from the picture.

Verdict: SUUPER SUUPER love and recommend these because they are such value for money! Each book/CD set costs less than $5 each (90 TWD on books.com.tw or buy in store at Popular bookstore in Singapore) and my son listened to these repeatedly until the CDs were scratched and damaged. Aside from introducing him to all the well-known songs that every Chinese child knows, he also learned a lot of vocabulary and characters by reading along with the lyrics.

Also it turned him from a kid who hates and doesn’t speak Chinese to a kid who does!!

I’ve recommended this many times and parents always say that their kids just LOVE it.

#2. Story Machine 故事機

What it is: It has hundreds of songs and stories pre-loaded in it and the child can use the buttons to select what they want to listen to. Mine is a fancier version that has WIFI connection so you can tune in to a radio channel for a new story every day, voice command, and parents can also wirelessly download new audio into the machine.

Verdict: I bought mine from Taobao for about $35 and had to pay $85 in sensitive mail to ship it to the USA. If I could go back in time I probably wouldn’t have paid $120 total for this and would buy a simpler version from a US-based store like Gloria’s Bookstore or Yobabyshop for about $50. Because truth be told, we barely used the fancy features.

My son still likes to listen to it occasionally when he’s doing crafts or some other silent activity. Since it doesn’t have a screen, it is more difficult to navigate to find the song/story you want. Also, he started outgrowing Chinese 兒歌 and 童話故事 around 6 years old.

Elementary Age

#3. Smartphone Apps

What it is: There are hundreds of free apps out there but because I like to keep things simple, I only use three: XimalayaFM to stream audiobooks for him and NetEaseMusic and Spotify to stream Chinese pop music for me.

Verdict: Completely free and requires zero effort aside from hitting the play button!! I mean, can it get any easier? We use this on every car ride to play audiobooks via bluetooth. Occasionally he lets me listen to my music because… sometimes mommy needs a break from kids stuff.

The downside is that of course my phone is MINE and he can’t have control over it to play it whenever he wants. Which is why #4 below is so important.

#4. MP3 Player

What it is: I spent a long time looking for a portable music player for my son that is HIS to listen to his audio whenever and wherever he wants to. It’s not exactly feasible to walk around with a Discman and CD binder with 20 CDs… 🤣. I didn’t want anything with apps like an iPod because he would probably use it to watch videos and play games instead of the intended purpose of Chinese learning.

Anyway I found this $35 MP3 player from Amazon. I have his files organized into folders “Audiobooks”, “Music” and “Podcasts” and it is easy to navigate. It also has built-in speakers so you can listen with headphones or without.

Verdict: It’s great!! I love seeing him curled up in bed listening to his favorite 米小圈 audiobooks. It is super small and portable for travel and really easy to navigate. Given that it cost only $35 I’m not expecting it to last forever but it’s been doing it’s job for six months now.

It does take time for me to rip files from CD or websites into MP3 but I find it completely worth it. Besides, I can multi-use the MP3 files by also loading them into…

#5. C-Pen

What it is: A reading pen that comes with 5000 stickers that you can use to either record your own audio or to play MP3/wav files that you transfer using your computer. I bought it on sale for $99 and it is now sold on Gloria’s for $121.

Verdict: I love this because it serves so many different functions!!!! It is also really easy to use although it does take time to record/transfer files. Examples below.

Read aloud Chinese/English books:

My son is learning Spanish which I don’t speak, so I rip the audio from Google Translate so that he can read along with it:

When I have to work late and can’t read Chinese with him, I have him record himself so that I can listen to it later: 

Summary

Music and audio play a big role in our Chinese learning journey, particularly since I’m not a native Chinese speaker. It is a trial and error process to find out what works for your child, but most importantly don’t stop trying!!! I’ve heard many parents bemoan that their kids don’t like listening to audiobooks. It took my son a long time to develop a taste for them since he is a more visual and active learner. Try everything! Science, comics, magazines, folk tales, silly stories… If you keep trying eventually something will be a hit! 🙂

Questions? Comments? Connect with me via my Facebook page.

6 years old, Kinder Reads

Chinese Goals for the Next 1-2 Years

I started out this academic year with very vague notions of what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted him to get “better” in Chinese, but what exactly does “better” mean?

The last few months have been bumbling along trying to balance reading that is neither too easy or too hard, as well as Simplified and Traditional, Pinyin and No Pinyin. 

But I think I finally have a plan. And having a plan makes me happy. Even if I don’t check off all of my goals, so what? We will still have accomplished a lot.

Condensed version of goals for 2019-2020:

  1. Learn 1500 characters by summer 2019 (end of Kindergarten)
  2. Learn 3000 characters by summer 2020 (end of first grade)
  3. Read Zhuyin fluently

Currently Little Man reads books with Pinyin fluently, ~130 characters per min when reading aloud. I think he has made really good improvement in this area because he used to read choppily and pause in all the wrong spots, like right smack in the middle of a 成语. Lately I’ve noticed that he pauses correctly, which is I think mostly due to his improved comprehension and language skills.

His Zhuyin reading is much more hesitant and has errors. I would say he can read Zhuyin probably 80-90% accurately and speed is on the slow side. He is also slow at reading vertical print. I have not measured his reading speed but I’m sure it’s less than 100 characters per min and I’ll really like to bump it up for him to read Zhuyin as fast as he reads Pinyin.

Character recognition is really pesky and annoying. The last few months I got super annoyed and frustrated with his forgetting previously learned characters. And some of them are not even hard ones, mind you. They were characters that he learned in 四五快读 but because he hasn’t seen them in a while.. poof! They’re gone.

Essentially what was happening was that he seemed to forget characters as he learned new ones, the result being that we were STUCK at 1000+ characters and it didn’t feel like we were moving forward and possibly even moving backward. The horror!

But I have since calmed down after realizing that this is totally normal brain 🧠 function and there is a lot of research showing that forgetting is part of remembering. What? Crazy, I know.

A month ago we started using a systematic method of a Leitner box (Spaced Repetition System) to improve memory to a reported 95% retention rate. I won’t go into the specifics because this webpage explains it extremely well and you should read it if you’re interested.

There are digital versions of this out there, such as using the Anki program where other people have already created digital flashcards of first 3000 or 5000 Chinese characters. However I decided to go the old-fashioned way and use paper flashcards. Part of the reason is that I already bought 1500 flashcards from Taobao that I should put to good use, and the other reason is for 6-year-old, I think it is beneficial to have the “hands on” component of holding, touching, seeing, feeling.

Instead of making my own Leitner box, I bought a craft storage container from Amazon. All I had to do it label it from 1-7. It is huge and roomy for hundreds of flashcards! Then I printed the revision schedule online and taped it to the box and we highlight what day we’re on.

We do 5 characters a day and assuming a retention rate of 90%, we should be able to master 1642 characters a year. Presumably then he can get to 3000-4000 characters by 2nd grade and be able to read fluently without phonetic assistance, which is particularly important for Simplified Chinese since there is no pinyin in all the books from China from 3rd grade and up.

I explained the basic principles of the Leitner box to Little Man so he understands the theory behind it. He has also assumed some of the responsibility to review the characters by himself. Since there is pinyin on the back of the cards, he is able to test himself and check if he’s right. This has been a really nice step for us – me letting go of micro-managing and him stepping up with independence.

In case you’re wondering, we are doing only Simplified characters. The reason for this is that Simplified and Traditional are 70-80% exactly the same, and even the 20-30% that are not the same are very similar looking. For myself and most of my friends who grew up in Singapore, we all learned to read Traditional Chinese not through any formal teaching but simply by osmosis from watching TV, reading song lyrics, etc. Little Man has exposure to Traditional Chinese through books and weekend Chinese school, I feel somewhat confident that he can learn it via exposure as well.

Obviously it is too early for me to gauge the success of this method, but it is going well so far. I just have to be patient, patient, patient, and continue trudging along bit by bit, every single day. I will report the results in a year’s time! 😉

6 years old, Bridge Books, Kinder Reads

Chinese Home Library 2019

Happy New Year everyone! Starting off this year with an update on our Chinese Home Library since there’s been massive changes since my last post about it. Our library actually changes quite frequently. Every couple months or so I do a purge and get rid of books that are either outgrown or we don’t like. Life is too short to read crappy books, right?

I estimate that we have about 500 Chinese books in “circulation” at our home library, which is modest compared to others I know, but we’ve barely even read one-third of it!

The factors to consider when building your library is considering your personality, child’s personality, age, Chinese level, budget, space, time, etc. Do what works for you and don’t succumb to peer pressure to buy what you don’t like or need. 😉

Little Man is 6 years old and all our books are for around 5-7 years old, or kindergarten to first grade. Personally I don’t like to buy too far in advance because his interests change rapidly.

Where to buy Chinese books:

90% of my books are Simplified which I buy from Taobao (China) directly. For Traditional books, I buy box sets from Gloria’s Bookstore (USA) and singletons from 博客來 (Taiwan). Generally I stick to Simplified (which is what I grew up with and most comfortable) unless there is a series I really love that is only available in Traditional then I get them in Traditional.

Copy and paste the book names below into the bookstores’ search engines and you will be able to find the links.

What to buy:

My tip for people just starting to build their home library is: buy famous, well-known sets. Well-known books have better storylines, better quality paper, and good resale value. Stay clear from obscure authors and obscure sets – they can be really bizarre or awful quality!

I have included the Traditional Chinese names for them in parenthesis if available. I also linked to book reviews by the awesome Julie @ Motherly Notes. Big thanks for her hard work and time! I always watch her videos to determine if it’s a set I’ll like or not.

How to Organize:

You can see that I organized my stuff into three main categories: Picture Books, Pinyin Books, Bridge Books. Aside from being the most logical way to sort them, it is also because books in the same category tend to be of similar size. For example, all the bridge books are small and narrow and fit well on the rotating bookcase. They are then organized by height from tallest to shortest, and following that, they are organized by color in rainbow order.

And without further ado… I present to you our January 2019 inventory! 

img_8500

Pinyin Series (left to right):

  • 流利阅读 注音版 Set of 4
  • 蜗牛典藏屋 童话故事 Set of 4
  • 老师没说的为什么 Set of 8
  • 米小圈上学记 一年级 Set of 4
  • 小屁孩上学记 一年级 Set of 6
  • 台湾大奖好性格童话故事 Set of 8 (小兵快樂讀本)
  • 罗尔德达尔 注音版 Set of 5 (Roald Dahl)
  • 笨狼的故事 Set of 8
  • 趣味漫画名著:西游记
  • 中国传统节日故事绘本 Set of 10
  • 好宝宝健康成长儿童绘本 Set of 4

Comics (left to right):

  • 紅豆綠豆碰
  • 米小圈 成语漫画
  • 植物大战僵尸 爆笑漫画
  • 闹闹漫画乐园 Set of 5

Picture Books:

You can see our favorite picture books in this blog post. Other picture books I love are 壳斗村 and 蜡笔小黑 (pictured below), 3D 西游记 pop-up book, and 奇先生妙小姐 Mr. Men series.

Bridge Books (3000-7000 characters):

Section 1:

  • 阅读123 第一辑 第二辑 Set of 21 (閱讀123, Reading 123)

Section 2:

Section 3:

  • 中文识字典
  • 儿童财商教育绘本 Set of 10

Section 4:

Section 5:

Section 6:

Section 7:

Section 8:

  • 怪杰佐罗力 Set of 5 (怪傑佐羅力, Zorori)
  • 小妖怪系列 Set of 6

Others:

I have some other sets scattered around the house but I’m too lazy to take pictures of them. 😛 I also update our book display pretty often with holiday-related books or books that I want to “promote” to him. His current interests are Chinese legends and 米小圈.

Questions? Comments? You can follow our updates on Facebook or Instagram.

6 years old, Bilingual Journey

Chinese Home Learning Schedule (2018-2019, Kindergarten)

Hello friends! It’s been three months into the start of Kindergarten for my son and we finally have our Chinese learning routine down. Undoubtedly, some people will find what we do either too darn little or too crazy much. 🤷‍♀️🤣

Social media is really a double-edged sword. It can be inspirational and helpful, but on the flip side, competitive and stressful. As they say, 一山还有一山高. There will always be someone who does things bigger and better, so I just try to do what I can and be okay with it.

What is his current state of Chinese? At 6 years old (~1.5 years of Chinese exposure):

  • Listening and Speaking: A couple of weeks ago, we were at a holiday party and Little Man played extremely well with two 6 and 7 y.o. boys from China (children of visiting professors) and conversed in Chinese for hours. While his speaking ability is below theirs, they had no issue understanding and conversing with one another. 🙂
  • Reading: I have lost track of how many characters he knows, around 1200+. He is more comfortable reading Simplified books with/without pinyin and to a weaker degree Traditional books with zhuyin.
  • Writing: Knows basic strokes and some basic characters. More importantly (to me at least), he is showing interest in writing and often writes on his Boogie board for fun. He is learning to write zhuyin in Saturday class.

We devote most of our time towards listening/speaking/reading and minimal expectations for writing.

Read Aloud

Because my spoken Chinese (Singaporean Chinese) is not the best, my son’s primary means of acquiring advanced language is through read aloud. Most days I squeeze in 30 minutes read aloud and on an extremely good day, around an hour.

I try to select books that target his specific gaps in vocabulary. For example, I felt that he was missing “school vocabulary” and “slang” and hence decided to read him 米小圈上学记, which is the diary of a 7-year-old first grader in China. Through reading aloud this series (now on Book 4), he acquired a lot of vocabulary pertaining to schooling in China.

Follow my Pinterest board to see what we’re currently reading:

readaloud

Daily Routine

#1. Reading

I have him read aloud to me around 15-30 minutes every day. It is usually shorter on weekdays and longer on weekends. I used to pick out the books for him, according to what I deem an appropriate reading level, however lately he has been selecting his own books to read. It’s nice that he is starting to be more confident and self-directed with Chinese reading.

I try not to obsess over reading levels (let it go, let it gooooooo…). We jump around quite a bit, sometimes reading easy picture books and sometimes longer bridge books. It doesn’t matter how easy a book is, there will be at least a few characters he doesn’t know. And it also doesn’t matter how hard a book is, he will read it if he’s interested. So, we’re just going with the flow.

Somehow we ended up with a routine of reading 简体 Simplified on weekdays and 繁體 Traditional on weekends. This enables us to maintain our current level of being able to read fairly decently in both.

Follow my Pinterest board to see what he is currently reading:

readinglist.PNG

#2. Flash Cards

We do a review of 10 characters every day using flash cards (video demo below). This takes around 5 minutes and I have found it to be stupendously helpful in making sure he can read characters in isolation without any contextual clues, and also pay attention to the radicals/meanings for words that look or sound alike 油,邮,由.

We are using a set of 1500 flash cards I purchased from Taobao and randomly review 10 every day. For characters he knows very well, I store away in a box. For characters he made mistakes or is not 100% certain, we do spaced repetition until they are mastered.

#3. Writing

We started the school year using Singapore Chinese textbook 1A, however, after completing it I decided not to continue to 1B. The main reason for this is that juggling Singapore textbook/workbook/exercise book in addition to Meizhou textbook/workbook/worksheets (below) proved to be TOO MUCH for me.

I decided to simplify things and just use one handwriting book shown below. He copies 4 lines every day. I do not bother giving him 听写 to test what he remembers. I periodically supervise to make sure he is writing in the correct stroke order and his writing is acceptable-looking. Again, we are just going with the flow.

Saturday Chinese School

We love our Saturday Chinese School because everyone there is so friendly and it’s great to connect with Taiwanese families and local resources. We had so many fun play dates together last summer!

We spend almost our whole Saturday involved in Chinese activities – 2 hours zhuyin class, 1 hour extension class, 1 hour art class. On top of that we have homework (~30 mins per week) and preparing for tests/exams (~30 mins per week). Not going to lie, some weeks it’s a drag to supervise homework and force myself to review zhuyin with him. Especially since I don’t even know it myself!

In spite of the workload, I really really appreciate our Chinese school because I probably would not have introduced Little Man to Traditional Chinese otherwise. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my son would pick up both Simplified and Traditional at 6 y.o., something which I did not do until I was in my teens.


So there you go! That’s the state of our busy lives right now. Overall I am just really thankful that I got his Chinese on track before he entered school and now I just have to maintain it.

More challenges up ahead I’m sure, as he gets older and ever busier. 😝

Comments? Questions? Leave me a comment on my Facebook page or Instagram.

Online shopping

Simplified Book Shopping for those Fluent / Non-Fluent in Chinese

Lately there has been a lot of interest in buying books from Taobao so this post is sort of a catch-all. This post refers to US residents, because the information/costs vary widely for different countries. For example if you live in Singapore I would suggest using an agent because they are cheap and great. Not so for US.

Firstly, many people ask about buying Traditional books on TB. TB is not the place to buy Traditional books because it is based in China which uses Simplified. While there are some Traditional materials on TB, I would suggest you buy most of your Traditional materials from books.com.tw (Taiwan-based online store that ships internationally) or Gloria’s Bookstore (US-based online store). If you don’t know how to buy from books.com.tw, please refer to this blog post.

If you want to buy Simplified books however, TB is a really good place to get them because they are soooooooo much cheaper on there.

As an example, this set of five Little Bear books cost me around $10 to buy them directly from TB myself. If you use an agent (details below), it would cost you around $15. If you were to buy from a U.S. based online store, it would cost you a whopping $50!!!!

If you’re buying just ONE set of books, perhaps it’s no big deal to pay $5 extra. However, if you’re buying $1000 worth of books, this adds up to $500 that you’re paying an agent!

So, TB shopping essentially comes down to one factor:

Can you read Chinese? 

If you can read Chinese, then buy directly from TB yourself:

Let me assure all of you out there with “half bucket” 半桶水 Chinese like me that it is completely possible and manageable (and actually very easy after the first time) to shop on TB yourself.

If you have the ability to read to your child in Chinese, then you most definitely have the ability to TB!

If you can’t read Chinese, use an agent to buy from TB for you. When you use an agent you will be paying ~50% more, however this may still be completely worth it since your other options would be to 1) not have any Chinese books, or 2) pay US-based stores 100-500% more.

Please read this amazing cost analysis about the true cost of using an agent. Many agents advertise on the website that there are “no hidden fees” when in reality there are many hidden fees and questionable practices. Of course I’m not saying that ALL agents do this, I do think there are some good ones out there.

I hope this blog post clarifies things a bit. Or did it confuse you even more? 😛