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!

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!

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

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

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

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

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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:

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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

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Image from c-stems.com

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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

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Image from c-stems.com

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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, 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.

5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, English Reading, Learning to Read

End of Summer Update and Goals for 2018-2019

Wow, I can’t believe summer is almost over and I am heading back to work soon. I figured I better blog because my memory is not that great and I tend to forget if not recorded down.

Three months ago I set some goals for us (blogged here). For those of us that live in the USA, three months of summer vacation is the perfect time to boost a lot of skills that we might not have time to during the school year.

Of course, summer is also the time for lots of sports and camps and activities. I am so thankful to have made some Taiwanese friends in our area this summer and our kids had a blast together.

Present Levels

Chinese

Huge gains in this area. Little Man speaks Chinese frequently now, to me, to himself, to his non-Chinese-speaking dad, to the dog…!!! He speaks Chinese loudly in public with no reservation and I can only hope this continues. Growing up in Singapore, I remember being ashamed to speak Chinese and avoided it for many years.

His vocabulary is increasing rapidly and he sometimes regurgitates 成语 or phrases from books. Yesterday he said people shouldn’t yell and should “轻声细语”, I was so shocked! His grammar is a little off at times but he is starting to use complex sentences to express himself.

He loves for me to read him Chinese books and yesterday we spent 1.5 hours reading Chinese books. Hard to believe that this same kid used to hate Chinese books! I do not pressure him to read during these times. I cherish the special bonding of me reading to him. 🙂

I can’t keep track of how many characters he knows. It’s about 1000+ and can read about 90% of the characters in children’s books. He continues to gain several characters every day and can read with and without pinyin 3000-character books. His pronunciation, though far from perfect, is much better than at the start of the summer.

English

Nice gains in this area as well. We started out the summer using a reading chart and timer. In July we faded out the reading chart, and in beginning of August also faded out the use of the timer because he doesn’t need them anymore! 🎉

He has developed some really nice reading habits — I am seeing more and more of him reading everywhere, in the car, on the toilet, during breakfast… 😀

He has recently developed the ability to read for over an hour (sometimes). I cannot tell you how happy this makes me because he has always been a fidgety one who cannot sit still. This month he finished almost all the A to Z Mysteries, re-read Captain Underpants, Usborne Illustrated Classics and Greek Myths, Illustrated Children’s Bible, and some Geronimo Stilton.

Audiobooks and abridged books seem to be a good way to introduce classics to him, e.g. he read the abridged version of Wizard of Oz and Greek Myths, and listened to the full version on audio.

I got some Great Illustrated Classics this week and I’m so happy he’s taken to them. He read Robin Hood in two days and just started Journey to the Center of the Earth. On a similar note I am also reading him the abridged version of 西游记.

Mostly I am letting him read English on his own. He reads his math problems out loud and he sometimes has trouble decoding people’s names or multisyllabic words. Science or non-fiction books is also a good way for me to check that he is reading long words accurately.

I’m trying to let go of the idea of “reading levels”. Yesterday he re-read some Dr. Seuss from when he was a toddler, then a children’s encyclopedia, then some dumb comics. Clearly his reading and interests span quite a wide range! As long as we have plenty of good books around I’ll just (try to) chill out and let him make his own selections.

Math

We are almost finished with Challenging Math Problems 1. Wow was it challenging! Little Man breezed through Singapore 1A and 1B so I think he expected to breeze through this book as well. It was quite a blow to his self-esteem and actually resulted in tears doing this book (he is not a kid who cries often).

The reason for the tears was that he did a whole page incorrectly and was upset he had to erase and re-do it. Word of caution to parents: you will need to support your child through this book! Do not expect to throw this workbook at them to do independently.

Anyway, as with all things, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The last third of the book Little Man got the hang of it and became quite good and independent with completing 3-step word problems.

The biggest gains out of doing the Challenging Word Problems book:

  • Reading comprehension (really carefully between the lines for “clues”)
  • Logic (some of the problems are deliberately worded to confuse you)
  • Calculation (math operations to 100)

At this point he can add and subtract double digits mentally. He knows some simple multiplication and division but it was only briefly covered in this book and we didn’t have time to go more in depth into it.

Looking into next year…

It’s really hard for me to set concrete goals because a lot can change in a year’s time. Here are some non-specific goals I have for 2018-2019:

Chinese

Expect that he will read 3000-5000 character bridge books and stay at this level for a while. Little Man still has gaps in his Chinese vocabulary such as slang (e.g. 吹牛,開趴) and certain aspects of Chinese culture (e.g. school words like 班长, 值日生 and Chinese myths and legends) that he doesn’t understand, so he needs to spend more time building up on that. I do not think he can read full chapter books until he expands his vocabulary. Just because he can “read” the words (via pinyin) does not equate to comprehension.

I would also like to introduce some character writing using the Singapore P1 syllabus. In Singapore he would be P1 in 2019 so this corresponds to his age level.

English

Little Man will be in a Spanish immersion program so some level of supplementing English is necessary as well. I’m hoping it can be done more informally through a lot of reading and audiobooks because ain’t got no time for so many workbooks!

His dad reads to him from our non-fiction Usborne collection every night so I’m assuming he can continue developing higher-level vocabulary this way.

Math

Really torn about what to do for math. I know that we will need to continue math practice because otherwise he’ll just forget everything he’s learned this summer, essentially putting all our hard work to waste. Currently undecided on which math books to use.

Other thoughts…

Given that he will probably be pretty tired from a full day of kindergarten, I don’t want to give him too much additional work when he gets home. My plan is to keep to 30 minutes a day of Chinese “enrichment” or “mommy tutoring”, whatever you want to call it.

Informally, I would like to continue reading to him in Chinese an hour a day and have him read English himself an hour a day. This should be pretty relaxing and fun and doesn’t count as “work”.

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5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, English Reading, Teaching Strategies

English Reading: Progressing to Chapter Books

Little Man made some nice progress in English reading lately. Thought I would share some notes on here for others who are supplementing English at home as well.

This is Part III of my English reading posts. Previous posts: How to Teach Phonics and English Reading: Road to Fluency.

After putting a halt to English reading for the last ten months to focus on Chinese, I’ve gradually introduced more English back into our lives. We live in the USA after all and English has always been my priority. Truth be told, I view Chinese as a second language and more “extracurricular”.

Little Man has strong reading ability in English but does not often choose to read. I have some friends who tell me their kids read for hours and hours with no prompting whatsoever. Lucky them! My son happens to be a very active boy with limited attention span for books. It’s not that he doesn’t like them, it’s that he would rather be doing something else.

Tip #1: Remove Distractions

My son used to have an hour of screen time in the morning. On the advice of some good friends, I cut out that screen time. I also stopped buying him as many toys as I used to. The effect of reducing screens and toys is… he now spends more time reading. Voila!

Tip #2: Read, Read, Read (duh!)

From the day my son was born, I followed the pediatrician recommended 20-30 mins reading to him every day. It was not until recently that I realized that is grossly insufficient! My new standard is doing what other successful parents do, aiming for 2-3 hours a day.

Tip #3: Build Good Habits

My son used to only read before bedtime and never at any other time during the day. Since reading this excellent post by Growing Hearts 123, I implemented reading 3x per day: when he wakes up in the morning, before afternoon snack, and bedtime. He quickly got used to his new routine, kids learn fast! My friend Julie @ Motherly Notes says it only takes 21 days for kids to develop a new habit.

I also got him a timer to keep track of his reading time. He absolutely loves this little timer from Daiso and uses it all the time. He wakes up in the morning and immediately sets the timer and starts reading.

We started a reading chart in June with a special treat every 1000 minutes he reads. He was really into it at first but now rarely remembers to color his squares. He is still reading >100 minutes a day, but doesn’t need the prize anymore!!!!! That is power of habit.

Tip #4: Illustrated Novels

Graphic novels (different from comics) and heavily-illustrated chapter books have turned out to be a good bridge for him towards text-only chapter books. It takes kids a while to develop the skills to comprehend longer and more complex plots, so having more pictures is helpful and of course fun to look at.

It also looks less intimidating. Many kids see a whole page of text and immediately freak out.

Little Man has been a big fan of Captain Underpants for a long time and he recently enjoyed Usborne illustrated books, Amulet (graphic novel), Boxcar Children (graphic novel), 13-Story Treehouse, etc.

Tip #5: Choices

I suggest you borrow from the library so you can try everything for free. I find that my son is not so good at selecting chapter books for himself at the library. Instead, I do a bit of googling to find out appropriate books and pre-select a few series I think he would like. It is much easier for him to choose from 2-4 options than the 1000 options at the library.

Note: I am often wrong about what my child might like. I thought he would love funny stories like Junie B. and My Weird School. Nope! Instead he likes stuff like Greek Myths and Bible stories. So try everything, even if you don’t think your kid will like it.

Tip #6: Audiobooks / Read Aloud

And finally, most important tip. The way to transition from illustrated chapter books to text-heavy chapter books is… read them to your kid. Be a salesperson! Sell the book! Suck them in! When I think back to all the books I loved as a kid, they were all “promoted” to me by others.

Highly recommend for all parents to read Jim Trelease’ The Read-Aloud Handbook. I’ve owned this book for a couple years and still gain so much every time I re-read it. In it he talks about how important it is to read chapter books to young children, starting from 3 or 4 years old, to train their listening skills. I wish I did more of this when he was younger.

True Story: Last week I got the A-Z Mysteries audiobooks to play in the car. After listening to it, my son is now zooming through the books, reading one every day.

The basic principle is, keep reading harder books to your kids and they will read harder books to themselves. I do this for Chinese as well.

Questions? Comments? You can leave me a message on Facebook or Instagram.