5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, Teaching Strategies

Summer 2018: June Update

Wow it has been a crazy fun and busy month! My main job these days is ferrying him to all his classes and play dates and squeezing some “home learning” in. We didn’t have that many activities in previous years but somehow at 5 years old, everything just exploded. 💥

(I am already having shudders about how to squeeze Chinese into his ever-busy schedule once he starts Kindergarten)

We do two learning sessions a day. It shows more on the schedule depicted below but in reality we do about 30-45 mins in the morning and 30 mins in the afternoon. I guess some people might consider this intense but considering he used to have 3-hour work cycles at his Montessori preschool, he is actually doing a lot less “academic” time now.

Incorporating 2-4 hours of physical activity into our day is a MUST for my sanity. He is much much calmer and happier when he gets his physical/social needs met and as an added benefit, he has been sleeping for 12 hours every night which he hasn’t done since he was a baby!

Here’s an update on how we are doing on our summer goals which I set in May:

Chinese

I am not sure how many characters he knows but he is gaining several every day so he is not too far from 1000 characters. His speed of learning has definitely increased lately. It only takes a few repetitions to learn new words through reading books with me, without using any flash cards. Sometimes he blows my mind by knowing things that I never taught him, like when he read “小心翼翼” the other day I couldn’t even believe it. He somehow memorized it when I read it to him before.

Anyway, I state this not as a brag, but to encourage all the parents out there that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many parents expressed frustration that their kids are struggling to learn basic characters. This is perfectly normal because learning is always slow and difficult at the beginning. Don’t give up and your child will soon learn at an accelerated rate!

07learningcurve

English

The main success for English is Little Man is reading a lot more lately, ever since I instituted the “silent reading three times a day” rule. He has been mostly reading Usborne illustrated stories, Amulet graphic novels, and just started the 13-story treehouse series. Ok, so not exactly quality literature. I got a bunch of audiobooks from the library and hope to introduce him to more good books that way.

We are halfway through our Vocabulary Workshop workbook. I like it but find it inconvenient because we need the computer to listen to the audio.

Math

Math is going very well. I guess I did not give his Montessori enough credit because he knows more math than I thought he did. We stopped doing math at home for about a year to focus on Chinese and my assumption was he already forgot all the math that I taught him when he was 4.5. Thankfully this was not the case.

My favorite thing about math is asking him how he got the answer. He often does the sums mentally, so I ask him how he knows that 25 + 7 = 32 and he explains he split 7 into 5 and 2, etc. Sometimes if I did it a different way I’ll explain my way to him. These discussions make me very happy. 🙂

We are now working on the challenging word problems book. I feel like it’s less about math and more about how to not be sloppy. It is a test of reading comprehension, drawing the diagram and finally calculating the answer. Usually somewhere along the line Little Man makes a sloppy mistake and ends up with the incorrect answer even though he actually knows it. (This reminds me of when I was a kid and my teacher/parent yelled at me not to make careless mistakes. :P)

Overall…

We are doing well with minimizing electronics. He plays 30 mins of mindless video games every day but aside from that not much screen time. He really enjoyed watching the kids version of 西游记 on the Little Fox Chinese channel on YouTube and there are some other good kids shows that I may gradually introduce to him in the future.

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5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, Chinese Resources, Curriculum Review

Summer Goals 2018

SUMMER IS COMING! 🙂 ☀️ ☀️ ☀️

So many mixed feelings as we approach this summer. It’s the last one before my baby heads off to big kid school a.k.a. kindergarten. Because of his Fall birthday he’s actually attended three whole years of Montessori preschool and I know he’s ready for new adventures. Still I’m dreading him going to real school because it means more after-school commitments and less time to do our own thing.

In addition, since he will be attending Spanish immersion kindergarten and be in a Spanish environment for most of his day, I have to balance Chinese and English at home and make sure he is progressing in both.

Age: 5.5 years

Chinese

Present Levels:

  • Knows about 800 characters
  • Can read simple picture books without pinyin
  • Can read 3000-word bridge books with pinyin when sufficiently motivated
  • Produces correct tone about 70% of the time

Goals:

  • Increase word recognition to 1000 characters
  • Read 1500-word bridge books without pinyin
  • Read more 3000-word bridge books with pinyin
  • Produce correct tone 100% of the time
  • Get more fluent with 37 zhuyin symbols and blending (Don’t really care about this as much, but it would be nice if I could check this off my list)

Curriculum:

English

Present Levels:

  • Reads books with lots of illustrations
  • This week he read Fantastic Mr Fox and half of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but he didn’t seem to enjoy them. I feel like he may not comprehend lengthy text with limited pictures.
  • Does not like non-fiction
  • Lisp for /s/, /sh/, /ch/, /th/ is driving me crazy

Goals:

  • Increase stamina for books with higher text-to-picture ratio
  • Increase vocabulary and comprehension
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Fix his lisp

Curriculum:

Math

Present Levels:

  • Has general concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but has numerous gaps everywhere
  • Finished Singapore Math 1A and in the middle of 1B

Goals:

  • Convert his “Montessori math” (beads, snake games, etc.) concepts to more “traditional math”
  • Increase speed and accuracy of mental math
  • Memorize the whole multiplication table (has 4s, 6s, 7s and 8s left)

Curriculum:

As usual…

I have so many grand plans. As for whether they will come to fruition… It’ll be fun for me to look back at this in three months time LOLOLOL. 😝

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Bilingual Journey, Teaching Strategies

Bilingual Journey (7 months in): Successes and Failures

Last June when Little Man was 4 years 9 months old, I was struck by a sudden desire to teach him Chinese. Up until then he was 100% monolingual in English.

In the last seven months I’ve tried (almost) everything to boost his Chinese skills. I thought I’d share what things DID and DIDN’T work for us, because it’s soooo annoying to waste resources on things that have little measurable impact.

FYI, I grew up in Singapore and am bilingual and biliterate in English/Chinese. English is my dominant language and my Chinese is very good but nowhere near native.

Report Card (Age: 5;4, 7 months into learning Chinese):

  • Comprehension: ~48 months
  • Speaking: ~24 months
  • Reading: ~400 characters

A member of a bilingual FB group told me this idiom: 万事起头难 (the beginning is always difficult) and this is the damn truth. Chinese was SO SO SO hard for him at first because he was unaccustomed to the sounds and grammar of the language… but once he learned about 150-200 words, things skyrocketed. He started understanding short sentences, then longer sentences, then whole stories. He gained 48 months of comprehension in 7 months!! So if you’re experiencing difficulty teaching your child Chinese, persevere. 💪🏼 An initial rejection or slow period is completely normal:

learning-a-second-language
Source: k5 ChalkBox

Successes:

These are the things that made a huge impact on his language development as compared to cost. High return on investment (ROI), so to speak.

#1. Speaking to him in Chinese

I am his primary source of language input as we do not regularly get together with other Chinese speakers. In the beginning I often spoke to him in Chinese followed by English, e.g. “把你的鞋子穿上. Put on your shoes”. As his Chinese improved I gradually reduced the English translations and now he is able to understand basic conversational Chinese well.

#2. Home library

Our Chinese home library is probably the costliest expense so far but 100% worth it for the exposure to new, varied, and advanced vocabulary. E.g. last night we read these “Butt Detective” books and encountered a heck ton of vocabulary that he was not familiar with like 案件 (case), 窃贼 (thief), 嫌疑犯 (suspect), 局长 (commissioner).

I’ve also gotten savvier about picking better Chinese books and he is enjoying them more and more.

#3. Music

We have a growing collection of CDs/books that we listen in the car every day for 10-20 minutes. On weekends we also listen to Hoop Kids 圈圈 music while doing quiet activities like dot-to-dot and coloring. The longest Chinese sentences that he can speak are lines memorized from songs! Plus it is really cute to hear him singing to himself.

#4. 四五快读 Reading curriculum

I started teaching him to read characters when he was about two months into learning Chinese. At that time he didn’t even know what basic words like 天,田,云 meant. Reading helped him learn language. I attribute this to the fact that he is more of a visual learner than auditory so seeing helps him learn.

The good thing about 四五快读 is that it starts out with easy words and short sentences in Book 1 and gradually gets longer and harder. This incremental approach has been very helpful and now in Book 6 he is reads and comprehends 4-page stories. 🙂

Easy sentences in Book 1 (Aug 2017)
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Now reading 4-page stories in Book 6 (Jan 2018)

Note: He was 4.5 y.o. and a fluent English reader when we started 四五快读. If your child is really young like 2 years old I would focus on listening/speaking and not reading.

Failures:

#1. Montessori at home

Honestly, attempts to Montessori at home have been a big flop so far. I cannot wrap my brain around why Little Man does so well at his Montessori preschool that he’s attended for almost 3 years, yet shows zero interest at home.

GAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

I have made my peace with the fact that while other bloggers have beautiful Montessori set ups at home and their kids LOVE it… it doesn’t work for us. I’ll still prepare activities occasionally but am not doing to spend too much time/money on it. Cutting my losses on this one.

#2. Toys, games, apps, videos, etc. 

These add to the overall FUN/COOL factor but have had minimal impact on his language development. Perhaps they will play a bigger role as he gets older and becomes more proficient in Chinese. I learned quite a bit from watching Chinese shows when I was in elementary-high school but that’s because I already had solid foundation in Chinese, e.g. when you can read 95% of the subtitles then it’s easy to learn the other 5% from TV. But if you can only read say 25% of subtitles you will not be able to learn 75% from watching TV.

Videos, apps and such are good for supplemental learning but they can never be the primary mode of instruction. Has anyone ever learned a foreign language through watching videos?? Doubt it.

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Goals:

My immediate goal is to get him to age-level comprehension. He is speaking more and more sentences which is very encouraging. We also started some handwriting. I’m also trying to spend less time playing on my phone and more time speaking to him in Chinese! 😛

I’ve also come to the decision that I’m 100% a-okay with him learning Chinese as a second language and therefore will not stress myself out by comparing with others who are learning Chinese as a first language. After all, I myself am first language English, second language Chinese and I turned out fine and proficient in both. What this means is I will not be teaching him Science or Math or other subjects in Chinese. Letting it go. 

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