Chinese Resources, Learning to Read, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读

四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du: A Review

As you probably already know, I am a big fan of 四五快读. Out of all the Chinese materials I have, I would undoubtedly say this is the best one for boosting his language and literacy skills. Nothing else even comes close.

Anyway, momentous occasion today. We finished all 8 books! YAAAYYYYY!!!!!! 😊😊

Here’s a general overview of our experience.

Stats

Background: My son grew up in a 100% monolingual American English environment for his first 4.5 years. When we started 四五快读 he barely knew any Chinese and I taught him both the character and meaning at the same time, e.g. “This is 天. It means sky.” When we started Book 1, he didn’t even know what 火, 木, 云 meant!

Time: We started when he was 4 years 10 months old and completed at 5 years 7 months old. It took a total of nine months diligently working on it every day for about 15 mins.

As the name of the series suggests, it is designed for 4-5 year olds. Of course it could be used for younger/older children too, but younger children may not have the attention span and older children might find the animal stories kinda lame.

Cost: I bought the set of 8 books from Taobao for around $25 USD

Outcome: He can now read around 700-800 characters (equivalent to P1-P2 level in Singapore), short stories and simple storybooks. Technically the series covers a total of 825 characters but he has forgotten some of them. Most importantly, he has gone from rejecting and avoiding Chinese to really liking Chinese. Every now and then he will read Chinese books by himself without me even asking!

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Comprehensive program – everything is pre-planned for you and flash cards are included
  • Can be used with a child who doesn’t know much Chinese (as long as there’s an adult who is fluent)
  • Builds up a child’s confidence from reading simple sentences with lots of pictures to longer stories with hardly any pictures. THIS IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS PROGRAM! It trains kids to not be afraid of long pages of text.
  • No pinyin (I guess some people wouldn’t see this as a pro but I do!)
  • According to the author, child should be able to read about 80% of the words in children’s books after completing this series. I would say this is pretty accurate.

Cons

  • A few typos in every book
  • Printing error!! My Book 5 had like 20 misprinted pages OMG!!!!!!! 🤦‍♀️

I won’t say that my son loves 四五快读 because that would be a lie. There were complaints and whining initially but got used to 四五 as part of his daily routine and didn’t mind it. He is very proud of what he has accomplished and has even brought 四五 to his preschool for Show & Tell!

Some readers mentioned to me that they bought the series but find it so intimidating. I freaked out too and thought there’s no way my kid could learn all that. Here’s a tip: only look at the book you’re on and don’t look ahead. Focus on taking baby steps every day.

Progression from Book 1 to Book 8:

First week (Aug 2017):

Beginning of Book 1 (Aug 2017):

End of Book 1 (Sep 2017):

Book 2 (Oct 2017):

Book 3 (Nov 2017):

Book 5 (Jan 2018):

Book 8 (Apr 2018):

Leisure Reading

During the course of the last few months, I massively acquired Chinese storybooks and read to him as often as I could. We started with 1-2 picture books a day to now at least one hour of Chinese books a day. ME reading, not him, because he needs to hear what it’s supposed to sound like.

The impact of this on his language development was HUGE. His Chinese vocabulary and grammar exploded and he became able to read with increased speed and fluency. You will notice in the videos that somewhere along Book 3, he stopped reading character by character (e.g. 为,什,么) and started recognizing chunks (为什么) because of his increased Chinese ability.

Side Note

Because I did not expose my son to Chinese until 4.5 years old, he has substantial difficulty with pronunciation of tones. I did not take this seriously at first because I thought he would figure it out with time. Well, turns out we got until Book 8 and he STILL did not figure it out by himself and basically sounded horrendous since the stories were now very long. The longer the sentence, the more inaccurate his tones were.

Around the middle of Book 8, I started aggressively correcting his tones using the following strategies:

  1. Correcting him every single time he makes a mistake
  2. Listening to lots of CDs/MP3s of native speakers
  3. Improving my own pronunciation. I’m usually kinda lazy and mumble a lot but I make a conscious effort to pronounce as clearly as I can.
  4. Having him repeat after me, bit by bit. At first he could only imitate 2-3 characters with the correct tones, but he slowly became able to imitate 4-5 characters then longer sentences accurately.
  5. Taking a step backwards and reading EASY books. We practiced My First Chinese Words readers which has one repetitive line per book.
  6. Used the tone marks in pinyin to visualize it (I feel he is a better visual learner than auditory)

After several weeks of my intensive boot camp, he became a lot more aware of tones and got better at certain combinations which are hard for him (e.g. a lot of fourth tones in a row). Overall I would say he has improved markedly because I only have to correct him about 5 times per story now instead of 5 times per sentence!

This is a video of how he sounds now (May 2018). He is REALLY trying to say them right:

Of course, my other job now is correcting his lisp for /s/, /sh/ and making the /r/ sound. Good thing I’m a speech pathologist? *facepalm*

Conclusion

I know we still have a long way to go for language, reading and pronunciation, but I think his progress from the first video until now is very evident. 🙂 For those of you just starting this journey, 加油! Persevere and you will see the fruits of your labor very soon.💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻

Read other blog posts about 四五快读:

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Chinese Resources, Online shopping

How to Buy Books from Taobao When You Can’t Read Chinese

Honestly I don’t know if it’s advisable to purchase from Taobao if you don’t know Chinese. Several people asked about using Google Chrome Translate and I think it is possible but proceed at your own risk!

If this is your first time buying from Taobao, here’s some tips:

  1. Limit yourself to $20-30. That way even if you screw up, the worst that could happen is you’re out $30.
  2. Buy from just 1-2 sellers. One seller would be the best because then the chances of screwing up are less.
  3. The prices fluctuate. Taobao is like Amazon in that prices can fluctuate every day, sometimes by $10 USD! I usually add a bunch of stuff into my shopping cart and monitor prices over time. There is usually a sale once a month.
  4. Have a Chinese-speaking friend who can translate for you in the event that the seller texts you in Chinese and expects you to text them back in Chinese. This happens about 30% of the time, so pretty often.
  5. Expect to pay more for shipping than the items. You won’t know how much international shipping costs when you first purchase the items. Estimate international shipping to cost around 1.5-2x the price of the items, e.g. if your items cost $30, shipping might cost $45-60. Mentally prepare yourself for this so you don’t get sticker shock when it comes time to pay for shipping! Because the books themselves are SO cheap, it will still be completely worth it. (E.g. Little Bear books cost $5, say shipping costs $10, the total is still only $15 compared to the $50 you’ll pay if you buy them within the USA.)
  6. Getting book sets will save you the most. They are cheap and I get the whole series one fell swoop. Win. 🙂
  7. The first time is the hardest. Don’t worry it gets much easier after the first time. Taobao will become your best friend and you can join me in the #taobaoaddicts club.

Ok are you ready? I even set up a new TB and Alipay account so I can show you how it’s done.

What you need:

  1. Smartphone with Taobao app
  2. Computer with Google Chrome
  3. Visa credit card
  4. Patience 😉

You can do the first part of the process on the computer using Google Chrome but you will still need the app. For whatever reason sellers can only text you via the app. You will not get the messages if you log in on the computer. I don’t know why, I’ve tried. If you don’t respond to their text messages then your items may not get mailed out or will get returned or whatever. The app is of course only in Chinese, which is why I said hopefully you have access to a Chinese-speaking friend you can ask for help if you need it. 😛

Step 1. Open the Taobao website on Google Chrome

If you in the USA it will automatically take you to the World Taobao website and display prices in USD. On the top right corner of your browser you can click the little symbol (to the left of the star) to translate the whole website into English and it will look something like this:

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Step 2. Register for an account

Click on “Register”, enter your phone number, and type in your verification code when you get it.

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On the next screen, type in the following information:

  • Line 1: Country 美国 (USA)
  • Line 2: Full address
  • Line 3: Zip code
  • Line 4: Name
  • Line 5: Cell phone number
  • Line 6: Phone number

Click to checkmark the box to use this as your default address, then click the button “保存” to save.

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Step 3. Add items into your shopping cart

This post assumes you already know what you want to buy. If you don’t know what to buy, please refer to my other posts about Buying Books from Taobao, Book Reviews, Chinese Resources, How to Choose Books, etc.

Like I said, if this is your first time, try to stick to buying from one TMall (天猫) bookstore. TMall (shown by the symbol of little red shopping bag and black cat) are bigger companies and less risky. In my example below I’m buying from three different TMall bookstores because I’m a Taobao pro. 😛

These are the TMall bookstores I’ve bought from with good selection of children’s books and high ratings:

It is pretty easy to get free domestic shipping. Most sellers offer “免邮” (free shipping) when you meet minimum purchase of 48 yen (around $7 USD).

Step 4. Select your international mail carrier

You have three choices for your international mail carrier: EMS (default), USPS or UPS. This is the company that will collate your items for you in their China warehouse and mail them to your US address.

I always choose USPS because they are the cheapest, fast, efficient and package the items pretty well. I’ve had bad experiences with EMS so I do not use them anymore and I’ve never tried UPS.

If you don’t change the international mail carrier, it will automatically use EMS. If you do want to change it, then click on “修改服务商” and select USPS. For USPS, the first 1kg is 72 yen and every next 0.5kg is 20 yen, meaning the more you buy, the more you save on shipping. For this reason, I usually wait until I have several things I want before making a purchase.

In this example I am purchasing 17 paperback picture books, 2 hardcover picture books and 2 paperback textbooks.

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After changing your mail carrier, check that your items are correct, your address is correct, then click the red button “提交订单 (confirm order).

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Step 5. Set up Alipay account

You will then be taken to the payment screen to set up Alipay, which is the China version of Paypal. Think of a 6-digit PIN number with no repeating numbers, then type it in twice in the blank spaces shown. Remember your PIN number. You will use it a lot.

Click to checkmark the box to agree to their terms and conditions, click the orange button to confirm.

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Step 6. Enter your Visa card number

I did not have any difficulty with this step, although I was taken to a separate verification screen for my Wells Fargo card. If you are having trouble with this, either try a different card or call your bank. Sometimes credit cards get declined due to fraud prevention.

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On this next screen, IMPORTANT!!!! NOTE!!!! Under “cardholder name”, enter your Last Name in the first space, First Name in the second space. 

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Step 7. Success! 

Hopefully you will be taken to this screen. Do a little dance for finishing Part I. It’s not over yet though.

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Step 8. Download the Taobao app and log in.

The second I logged into the app, I received a message from each of the three sellers asking me to confirm my order and address. Click on “确认” (confirm) for all of them.

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Step 9. Wait for your items to arrive at USPS warehouse

OPTIONAL: Over the next couple of days, the sellers will mail out your items and you can check the status on your app. If you click on “我的淘宝” (the little person on the bottom right corner), your items will be shown under “待发货” (the briefcase looking thing) when they have not been mailed out. They will move to “待收货” (delivery van) when they have been mailed out and you can click on the delivery van to track your package.

You don’t have to obsessively check on the status unless you want to. The app will send you a message when the item has been signed for at the warehouse “订单已签收”, and send you a 2nd message when your item is safely deposited at the warehouse and you need to pay for international shipping “您的包裹已入库,点击支付海外段运费”.

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Wait for all of your items to arrive at the warehouse before you pay for international shipping. Since I bought from three sellers I had to wait for three packages to arrive. They can combine up to twenty packages for you! Do this only when you’re a TB expert.

Step 10. Pay for international shipping

When your items have been accepted at the warehouse, the option “合并转运” will pop up:

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In this screenshot below, you can see that two of my items have arrived but one (in the middle) has not.

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A few days later, the third package arrived. Now I have the option to pay for international shipping for all of them. When I select all of them, it shows that the package weight is 3.62kg and shipping costs 192 yen ($30.47 USD).

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Click on the orange button “运费结算” (calculate shipping) and you will be taken to the payment screen. Then click the orange button “确认订单” (confirm order) and pay via Alipay.

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Step 11. You’re DONE!

Sit back, relax and wait for your package to arrive! In a few days, it should show on your Taobao app that USPS has sent your package on its way and its tracking number. There’s nothing else to do except wait for it to show up on your doorstep in about two weeks.

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Stats:

  • Total number of books: 19 paperbacks + 2 hardcover
  • Cost of books: $32.97
  • Cost of shipping: $31.36
  • Total cost: $64.33 ($3.06 per book)

Timeline:

  • Order placed on: Jan 29, 2018
  • All items arrived at USPS warehouse and I paid for shipping: Feb 1, 2018
  • Package dispatched from USPS warehouse: Feb 2, 2018
  • Package arrived at my home (USA): Feb 21, 2018

Wow that was a long post. Hope it helps!

You can contact me via FB Messenger on my page Hands-On Chinese Fun if you have any questions.

 

Chinese Resources, Reviews

Chinese Resources: Sticker Books

There are so many things to consider when buying Chinese materials for your child:

  • Chronological age
  • Language age
  • Interests and personality
  • Laziness level of parent 😝

If you’re a lazy parent like me then I have just the thing for you: Sticker books!

The only thing you need to do is cut the sticker sheets out with a craft knife:

And read them to your child, of course. Personally I much prefer reading than thinking of what to say. Because thinking in Chinese 💭 is TOO MUCH WORK.

Here’s what I like about this particular set.

#1. Cheap

TEN sticker books (24 pages each) cost less than $4 USD! IKR?! I think I paid more for each English sticker book when Little Man was a toddler.

#2. Covers a wide variety of topics and age range

Some books have age ranges on them 2-3 years, 3-4 years, 4-5 years, 5-6 years and others are based on topics like Science, Math, Logic, Language.

It goes from simple stories and vocabulary (animals, clothing, occupations) to more advanced concepts like food chains, telling time, character recognition and 成语 (idioms).

#3. Vocabulary and comprehension

Overall they are a good fit for Little Man (age 5) and are great for Chinese language bonding time. It helps me realize the gaps in his vocabulary because sometimes he doesn’t understand when I read him the instructions. Actually I don’t know the meanings of half the idioms shown above so it’s educational for me as well. 😛

Dislikes:

The books don’t lay flat because of the binding. Most of the time I have to hold it flat for Little Man while he sticks the stickers on. GAH. Same problem with many English sticker books that I’ve bought from Amazon so it’s not just these ones.

Also I find it hard to believe a 2-year-old would have the fine motor dexterity to manipulate the teensy stickers. Use your parental judgement on that one!

Buy from:

Taobao link here. Like most items I buy from TB, the shipping costs more than the items.

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Other sticker books I’m eyeing:

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Chinese Resources

Chinese Resources: Twinkl Review {GIVEAWAY}

3/7/2018: This giveaway contest has ended.

I came across Twinkl by chance when browsing online for Chinese coloring sheets. They are a UK-based company so most of their resources are in English, but they also have a huge variety of resources in Simplified Chinese and many other languages.

A Twinkl subscription gives you unlimited access to all their high quality printables in every imaginable topic. In my work as a speech pathologist, I help students of all ages across all subjects from Chinese, English, Social Skills, Math, Science, Social Studies, and even PE. Sometimes the kids want to color pictures or do crafts. I can find almost everything I need on Twinkl!

 

Many of my students with special needs have difficulty writing and cutting worksheets, so I often turn the printables into file folder games which are fun, hands on, and reusable. 🙂

The other thing I like to do is turn printables into Montessori-style cards by adjusting the printer settings to print 6 of them on a page:

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The Twinkl search engine accepts English and Chinese searches, e.g. typing in “形状” yielded a mind-blowing FIFTY-TWO shapes printables in Chinese:

They also have a nice variety of real photos and more cartoon-type illustrations so you can choose what you like based on your preference:

fruit

I also like to browse all the Chinese resources available by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking “中国 China”. Look at all the different languages available!

They frequently have new printables based on current holidays or events. Here’s a sampling of the materials for Winter Olympics and Chinese New Year:

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Every time I browse around, I end up finding yet another super cool thing. The other day I randomly discovered Singapore (my homeland) coloring sheets and National Day printables and about fell out of my chair. AMAZING!

How does Twinkl work?

You get unlimited access to all their materials with a flat fee of $6.99 USD per month ($78 annual). They have great customer service and are responsive to emails/feedback in a few days. The printables are often available in a variety of options like English, Chinese/English, Chinese/Pinyin or Chinese only so you can select what you prefer.

If there is a printable that you like that is not yet available in Chinese, you can contact them to translate it. So far I’ve requested for a handful of printables to be translated and they have been so obliging each time and email me when it’s ready. 😀

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Downsides:

Twinkl has a huge array of materials for teaching vocabulary, language, and themes and you can find most of the units covered in school like body parts, colors, weather, seasons, holidays, etc. However there is not much for teaching the more technical aspects of Chinese like strokes, radicals, and character writing.

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The other con is that some materials are only available in UK English and when I use them with my American students, I get comments that things are “spelled wrong”. I do not mind this really as it gives me an opportunity to discuss with them that there are variations in English around the world.

Is it worth it?

You’re probably wondering if the subscription fee is worth it and the answer is… it depends on how often you use it. If you use it almost every single day like me, then of course it is 100% worth it for the high quality materials AND time saved AND convenience of downloading what you need immediately.

The best way for you to decide is to browse around and try the free Chinese sample pack (link below), which includes the printables shown here and more:

Download the absolutely free Chinese Resource Pack here! You don’t even need to give them your email.

Giveaway Details (This contest has ended)

  • This contest will run from Feb 26, 2018 – Mar 5, 2018, 7pm CST. One winner will be selected at random.
  • The winner will receive a 12-month Core Twinkl Subscription sponsored by Twinkl. Since this is an online subscription, this contest is open to anyone from any country! Click here to read Twinkl Terms & Conditions
  • Each person can have a maximum of three entries, as listed below.
  • The winner will be contacted via Facebook Messenger after the contest ends to claim his/her prize directly from Twinkl.

To enter the contest:

  • Must like and follow both Hands-On Chinese Fun and Twinkl USA Facebook pages.
  • Must comment on this Facebook post with the country you are residing in.
  • (Optional) For an extra entry, share this Facebook post. Remember to set the post to public.
  • (Optional) For an extra entry, follow both @handsonchinesefun and @twinklusa on Instagram and comment on this Instagram post with the country you are residing in.

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