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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Learning to Read, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读, Teaching Strategies

四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du: How We Use It

We are currently on Book 8 (final book) of 四五快读 reading curriculum, pictured below. The first six books took us about six months, averaging about 100 characters per month. I’ll share how we used the series, but of course you’ll have to adapt it to what works for you and your child.

For those of you that are not familiar with 四五快读, it comes as a set of 8 books. Books 1-6 teach 552 characters total, Book 7 is a review of the 552 characters, Book 8 is a short story collection that adds another 273 characters for a total of 825 characters when you finish the whole series.

As the name suggests, this series is ideally suited for 4-5 year olds and claims to get them reading FAST. (After trying it out, I’d say that it lives up to its claim)

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Set of 8 books

According to the author of 四五, native Chinese children should be able to learn 8-10 characters a day but my son with his weaker Chinese skills could not achieve that. After a bit of trial and error, the magic number that worked for him was 4 characters a day.

#1. Routine

Our daily lesson consists of three parts and takes about 15-20 minutes total:

  1. Introduce 4 new character flash cards and explain what they mean
  2. Review previous characters using flash cards and the book
  3. Read 2 new pages from the book (either 造词 or stories)

Read my post here on how I organized our 四五快读 materials so it’s not a disorganized mess. It is important for each new character to be reviewed for 6-8 consecutive days (read the Parent Guide in 四五快读 Book 1 for more detailed info) so that it is stored in the child’s long term memory.

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Four new characters every day
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Practice reading 造词 or story that reviews previous characters

#2. Behavior Management

If you’re wondering how I get my highly active 5-year-old boy to sit down and practice Chinese reading which is hard and no fun:

  1. We do it every day at the same time so he is used to it as part of his daily routine.
  2. He knows he only has to do ONE thing a day: Chinese. He plays whatever he wants for the rest of the day.
  3. He gets to do his absolutely favorite thing, which is play Plants vs. Zombies with daddy on the PlayStation, immediately after he finishes Chinese. This basically works great because he now requests to learn Chinese. 😀 If you don’t approve of video games then you can use other reinforcers like play dates, going to the park… whatever your child loves, USE IT.
  4. He gets 3 warnings. If I see him fidgeting or otherwise not try his best, he gets warning #1. If he does it again, then it’s warning #2. If we get to three strikes then he’s out — no PvZ that day. I make it clear to him that it is okay to forget words or make mistakes but it is not okay to have subpar attitude!

The initial part of learning how to read is no fun. Accept that. Reading is only fun after you are a great reader. We’ve been through this whole process before in English so he already knows how it is.

#3. Daily Practice

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be consistent and practice every day. A few months ago we were forced to miss three days practice due to 24-hour flight back to the US and severe jet lag. In just 3 short days he forgot something like 40% of the characters he’d learned!

Seriously, regression sucks. It’s a big time waster if you have to keep reviewing forgotten characters.

#4. Moving On

I had a FB conversation with a mom this week and she wondered how I teach my son 28 characters a week when she struggles to teach her kids 10 characters a week. After chatting for a bit, I realized the difference is I do not expect 100% mastery. Just 80-90% is good enough and if your child does not remember the character after learning it for 7 days, just move on.

The reason being that the characters taught in this series are very common characters and they will be reviewed time and again both within the series, and in other children’s books and songs. For example in Book 3, Little Man had difficulty remembering the characters “柳” and “菊” and “荷”. If I got hung up on it, we would probably spend days and days just drilling those three stupid words.

It doesn’t matter. Those characters crop up time and again in Book 3, Book 4, Book 7, Book 8… and various other children’s books. Which means your child will eventually learn it.

Ending Note

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Book 8: New characters shown in red

We are currently on Book 8 (short stories collection), which is different from the first six books because it doesn’t have flash cards and just introduces new characters as part of the story. I’m still figuring out a good system on how to teach Book 8 and what to use after 四五. I will share more when I figure it out!

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Learning to Read

Chinese Reading Goals for the Next 1.5 Years

These few days I’ve been thinking very hard about what my goals are for Little Man’s Chinese. Of course I would like to aim high, but I am also realistic about my own not-so-awesome Chinese and the fact that we live in a monolingual English environment.

Anyhow, I decided I need to make my goal more concrete. Because vague goals go nowhere.

Here’s the list of books I’d like us to read before he enters first grade, which is 1.5 years from now. This list is approximately ordered by difficulty of characters and book length. Most of these books don’t have pinyin so he will be reading characters only.

  1. 《四五快读》 Book 8
  2. 《可爱的鼠小弟》series, 22 books
  3. 《我会读》series, 8 books
  4. Odonata Readers, 48 Books
  5. Odonata Self-Reading series, 8 books
  6. 《幸福小鸡》series, 5 books
  7. 《超人兔》series, 7 books
  8. 《亲爱的小熊》series, 5 books
  9. 《青蛙和蟾蜍》series, 4 books
  10. 《黄色小水桶》series, 5 books
  11. 《青椒小超人》series, 4 books
  12. 《小巴士》series, 5 books

I figure if we finish this list he will be able to read at least 1000 characters, have decent fluency, and a pretty solid level of comprehension. I am not setting a goal for speaking because it is increasing steadily on its own with increased comprehension.

I already have many books shortlisted for first grade, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ahhh… It feels so good to have a goal. 🙂

加油 everyone! Let’s keep encouraging and motivating each other!

English Reading, Learning to Read, Teaching Strategies

English Reading: Road to Fluency

One of my friends asked me the other day what my son is reading now (in English) because she wanted some ideas for her kids. This made me think that I should document the books Little Man read from when he was a beginning reader until now, as a reference for parents teaching their kids to read in English.

Background: I taught him English phonics between the ages of 1.5-3 years old, then taught him to read at 3 years 2 months old using the reading curriculum The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons. It took us four months to complete it, by the end of which he could read at about first grade level.

From 3.5 y.o. on, we practiced reading increasingly longer and harder books (see our reading list below) and it took him approximately 12 months to become a fluent reader. What I mean by fluent is he can read without thinking/hesitating and can read books by himself that he’s never read before.

Around 4.5 y.o., he could read a few chapter books Magic Tree House and Boxcar Children but he did not really enjoy those. He then fell madly in love with Captain Underpants (and Super Diaper Baby and Dog Man by the same author), which skyrocketed his reading ability to around 3rd grade level.

Now at 5 y.o., he desperately wants to read “grown up” books like Harry Potter, which he has tried three times (unsuccessfully) to read. He is able to read the words but cannot comprehend the complex plot and flashbacks because he is after all only 5 years old.

But, I am happy to report that he has now found a happy middle of reading books that are appropriate for his age and ability. I am absolutely thrilled that he has taken to reading non-fiction lately, which he has never shown interest before.

Back to what this post is about. Here’s a list of books that he read from 3.5-now. I don’t keep track of all the books he read, but these ones stuck out in my memory as being significant. FYI just borrow the beginning readers (BL 0.7-1.7) from the library. Libraries have hundreds of beginning readers and they are not worth buying IMO because 1) the stories are dumb, and 2) they get outgrown quicker than you can blink.

ATOS Book Level are shown in parenthesis, e.g. 0.7 level means can be read by a typical kindergartner in the 7th month of school, 1.2 means 1st grade 2nd month. I find ATOS levels to be inflated and always mentally take a year or two off. For example, Magic Tree House is listed as a 2.6 but most kids I know read it around K-1st grade.

To find the ATOS book level (BL) of any given book, go to this website and search the title. As you can see, “One Fish Two Fish” is listed as BL 1.7.

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Some publishers (e.g. Usborne) provide Lexile measures instead of ATOS. They can be converted using the chart here, e.g. Lexile of 440 corresponds to ATOS 3;0.

Books Little Man read, in order of difficulty:

Starfall Learn to Read (N/A)

Scholastic Sight Word Tales (N/A)

I Can Read, Step Into Reading, Scholastic Level 1 and Level 2 readers (BL: 0.7-1.7)

Elephant and Piggie series (BL: 0.7-1.1)

Dr. Seuss Beginner Books series (BL: 1.2-1.7)

Dr. Seuss I Can Read It All By Myself series (BL: 1.5-2.1)

DC Super Friends Story Collection (BL 1.2-1.6)

Fly Guy series (BL 1.2-1.7)

Lego DC Comic Readers series (BL 2.4-2.8)

Katie Woo series (BL 1.9-2.2)

Amazing Adventures of Superman series (BL 2.7-3.1)

Nate the Great series (BL 2.0-3.1)

National Geographic Readers (BL 2.9-3.9)

Magic Tree House series (BL 2.6-3.3)

Captain Underpants series (BL 4.3-4.7)

Dog Man series (BL 2.6)

Where the Sidewalk Ends (N/A)

Wayside School series (BL 3.3)

Currently reading: 

Usborne One Hundred Illustrated Stories (BL 4.1)

Usborne Stories from Around the World (BL 3.1)

Usborne Non-Fiction Beginning Readers (BL 2.9-4.5)

National Geographic First Big Book of Space (BL 4.1)

Random Notes:

  1. There is no point in pushing too high of a reading level. This is because books that are of higher reading levels are often of inappropriate content for young children. It appears to me that 3rd grade reading level is where he will stay for a while and it will not get any higher than that because he cannot comprehend even though he can read it.
  2. On the other hand, I caution you about waiting too long to teach your child to read because early readers have really dumb storylines like “A wig on a pig”, “The cat in the hat”, etc. An older child will find it extremely frustrating when they want to read more interesting books but their ability only allows them to read baby books. (Little Man currently has this problem in Chinese which he is very frustrated by).
  3. I’ve always tried to get him interested in non-fiction but failed. A few weeks ago, he suddenly picked non-fiction and now loves to tell me facts that he learned from books. JOY OH JOY!! Goes to show sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for time and development to take its course.
  4. The most important factor is to hook your child by finding books he/she absolutely loves. Looking back, he made huge jumps in reading ability when he encountered certain series that were highly motivating, like Lego DC comic books (jumped from 1st to 2nd grade) and Captain Underpants (jumped from 2nd to 3rd grade).
  5. Because of the huge selection of English books available (sadly not so for Chinese), you can easily find books of your child’s interests at different reading levels. E.g. He loves DC superheroes and I found K, 1st, 2nd grade level superhero books by searching on Amazon.
  6. He slowly became able to read everything around him like signs, recipes, instructions etc., a process that took around 12 months and I don’t think can be rushed. And this is in his first language English! I wonder how long Chinese fluency will take.
  7. Listening to audiobooks (or adult reading aloud) helped my son bridge to chapter books because he was already familiar with the stories. He loved the audiobooks: Where The Sidewalk Ends, Nate the Great, and Sideways Stories From Wayside School. Unfortunately, due to our focus on Chinese in recent months we do not listen to English audiobooks anymore. 😦
  8. He is now independent in English reading (except for the occasional word) and I only read to him in Chinese. He keeps wanting to read “grown up” books I keep assuring him it’s ok to read picture books. We’ve found a compromise with Usborne story collections which he likes because they are thick and “grown up looking” and I like because he can comprehend the stories. Joke books, poetry collections, comics are also a good fit for him now.
  9. I have an ongoing struggle with getting him to read more. He is not a natural bookworm like some kids are, and rarely picks up books on his own. We have mandatory reading time in the morning and evening, and he recently made up his own rule that he gets evening screen time if he reads 100 pages that day. I have no problem with this!

Anyway, I hope this is a helpful starting point for you. The key to English reading is simply to 1) teach your child to read (phonics) and then 2) keep reading longer and harder books until you achieve fluency. I’d like to think that Chinese will be a similar process but the problem with Chinese is no book levels so I have to make my own guesstimates for book levels. This is the current pain in my neck!!!!

I don’t claim to be any form of expert in English or Chinese reading. Just sharing our experience with you — take of it what you will. As always, I try to be objective in my information and not humblebrag too much. 😛

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Learning to Read, Teaching Strategies

Busy Parent Guide to Teaching Chinese

During our trip back to Singapore a few weeks ago, I got to catch up with some of my good friends who confessed that they have NO TIME to make crafts. And my blog makes them feel stressed and guilty for not doing enough with their kids.

!!!!! Obviously it’s not my intention to make anyone feel that way. 😬 So, this post is for all you busy parents out there who have no time. Which is basically every parent.

Best kept secret…

YOU DON’T NEED CUTE ACTIVITIES

Kids don’t need beautifully handcrafted activities or expensive wooden Montessori materials to learn colors, shapes, or anything else. Look at all these lovely activities I spent hours making…

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All completely unnecessary.

Kids learn just by having someone telling them “this is red”, “this is blue”, “your cracker is a square”, “that’s a ladybug”. So don’t even feel bad for not preparing activities. Remember that children have learned to speak, read and write for hundreds of years without Pinterest!

(If you’re wondering why I make activities despite the minimal impact on my son’s learning, it’s because I enjoy it. Making stuff and crafting and blogging is my hobby.)

PRIORITIZE

So what DO kids need to learn Chinese? It comes down to just 3 things. Anything else is just extra and for fun.

#1. Language exposure

In the book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability (excellent read by the way), the author’s research showed that 25 hours per week of exposure is necessary for language proficiency. You must make sure your child is getting the minimum 25 hours of input from either a parent, nanny, immersion school, classes or some other way.

For me as a full-time working parent, this means speaking to my kid in Chinese for 2 hours every weekday and 8 hours per day on weekends. And listening to music as much as possible, like in the car on the way home from daycare.

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Listen to music or audiobooks as much as you can

#2. Read Chinese books

If you’ve watched TV shows like 《爸爸去哪儿》and 《爸爸回来了》, you’ll notice that native Chinese parents speak to their kids with extremely advanced vocabulary, grammar, and 成语 (idioms) in almost every sentence. 😱

Since I am incapable of speaking a high level of Chinese like that, the only source of advanced vocabulary for my son is through reading books. We read 2-3 Chinese books (and a few English books) every night before bed. I’d like to read more but that’s all Fidgety Boy can handle.

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READ READ READ

#3. Teach your child to read

I spend 15 minutes doing this every single day, including weekends, holidays, his birthday, when I’m sick, and when we go out of town. This is my #1 priority.

A child that can read fluently can independently learn and do so many things. I see this with my son in English — he basically just learns by himself through reading books, road signs, and everything around him.

Invest your time in teaching your child to read well.

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Daily practice with 四五快读

In summary…

Don’t stress about the unimportant things and just focus your attention on the most crucial things.

#1 and #2 are just part of daily life and don’t take up much additional time. #3 does take commitment but if you value it I bet you can find time for it.

加油!💪🏼

About Me: I am a speech-language pathologist and have taught PreK-12th grade language and reading for almost 10 years, including 5 years at a Chinese immersion school in midwestern USA. 

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Home Library, Learning to Read, Preschool Reads

Chinese Home Library Part V: Finale

This morning Little Man completely out of the blue said “I really like my library mom, thanks for my library.” AWWW. 😊 Allow me to bask in this moment because just a few months ago he flat out refused to read any Chinese books!

Here’s how I organized the ~350 Chinese books and ~150 English books we currently have. We have far fewer English books since there are five awesome all-English libraries within 15 mins of our house.

We used to have just one 3-cube bookcase in his bedroom, mixed English and Chinese books, and completely overflowing. This was a really terrible set up because most of the Chinese books are paperbacks with very thin spines, meaning my son pulled everything off the shelf onto the floor to look for what he wanted. URGHHH!!! Also many books were overlooked because he just didn’t see them.

In our new organization system (that I just put in place yesterday!), the 3-cube bookcase is now entirely for English books in one corner of his room. He also got a nice comfy beanbag chair for Christmas which he loves.

On the other side of his room, I bought an Ikea Billy bookcase and 12 Samla bins for Chinese books. I have it set up like a typical USA classroom library, which is books organized by genre and level, and forward facing as much as possible so that it grabs the child’s attention. Now he can browse books by bin without pulling them all into a giant pile on the floor. WIN.

The bottom two shelves are 绘本 picture books (designed for adults to read to kids) and the top shelf are 桥梁书 readers (designed for kids to read to themselves). I got a 3-shelf bookcase because it’s the perfect height for him at 5 years old. Ideally I would love the picture books in bins facing out too, but… space constraints.

The picture books are generally arranged by height from tallest to shortest. My OCD self really wishes all books were the same size so they can look perfect, but alas. For the readers on the top shelf, they are sort of arranged by reading level from left to right, with Bin 8 being the easiest and Bin 11 the hardest. I think Bin 6 looks a little pathetic being half empty so I am looking to buy some more books to fill it up. 😛

A few people asked me for book recommendations so I’ve listed the books with the following rating scale.

  • R = Recommended
  • Ok = Books that are not the greatest but my kid has somewhat enjoyed and learned something from them
  • TBD = To be determined because we haven’t read them yet. HAHA.

Note: 95% of my books were purchased online from Taobao but I am not able to give you direct links to them as TB sellers sell out of items fast. Also the prices fluctuate quite a bit so search around for the best price. If you are interested in the books, please copy and paste the title in Chinese and enter it into TB search. Alternatively, you can also copy the image and do an image search.

Picture Books:

 

100层的巴士 The Hundred Decker Bus (R)

生气王子 The Angry Prince (R)

我变成一只喷火龙了 I Turned Into a Fire-Breathing Dragon (Ok)

帕拉帕拉山的妖怪 The Monster of Papa Pala Mountain (Ok)

过年啦 Chinese New Year (R)

首先由一个苹果 First There Was An Apple (R)

开车出发系列 Tram series (Ok) – Better suited for 2+

100层的房子系列 100 Story House series (Ok) – Better suited for 3+

Bin 2:

 

你看起来好像很好吃系列 Tyrannosaurus series (R)

青蛙弗洛格系列 Frog series (Ok)

小猪佩琦系列 Peppa Pig series (Ok)

Bin 3:

 

屁屁侦探系列 Butt Detective series (R)

可爱的鼠小弟系列 Little Mouse series (R)

Bin 4 and Bin 5: 

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奇先生妙小姐系列 Mr. Men and Little Miss series (Ok) – Print quality is disappointing

Bin 6:

 

 

 

中国传统节日绘本系列 Chinese Holidays series (R)

上下五千年系列 5000 Year Chinese History series (TBD)

Bin 7:

 

爆笑虫子漫画系列 Larva comics series (Ok)

植物大战僵尸漫画 Plants vs. Zombies series (Ok)

闹闹漫画乐园系列 Nao Nao comics series (Ok)

Bin 8:

 

我会读系列 I Can Read series (R)

亲爱的小熊系列 Little Bear series (Ok)

笨狼的故事系列 Stupid Wolf series (Ok)

Bin 9:

 

青蛙和蟾蜍系列 Frog and Toad series (Ok)

我爱阅读 蓝色系列 I Love Reading Blue series (Ok) – Some people like this but I don’t. I ended up selling them.

Bin 10:

 

我爱阅读 黄色系列 I Love Reading Yellow series (Ok) – Some people like this but I don’t. I ended up selling them.

阅读123系列 Reading 123 series (R)

Bin 11: 

 

成语故事系列 Idiom stories series (TBD)

十万个为什么系列 10,000 Why series (Ok)

And finally… here is a bookcase in the basement that I refer to as my “dumping ground”. This is an old bookcase that I use to store books that are either too advanced or outgrown or books that are crap. We have a lot of books like Dr. Seuss and Elephant and Piggie that my son used to love but rarely touches anymore. So they get sent to this dumping ground for a year or so before they are purged. HAHA.

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Read the rest of my Chinese Home Library blog posts:

A special THANK YOU to Guavarama for her Building a (Traditional Chinese) Chinese Library posts. They are so informative and I refer back to them frequently.

Questions? Feel free to contact me via Facebook or Instagram

Learning to Read

How many characters should my child know?

I admit I’m a little bit obsessed with numbers. Must be an occupational hazard of being an educator because I feel a NEED to know reading levels. What level my son is at. What level he should be. How he compares to kids in Singapore and China.

#tigermom

Here’s what I’ve found so far in my research:

Anyway I’m really glad I did all that googling because I found out that kids in China know A LOT more characters than their Taiwanese counterparts in the early years. I assume that eventually in middle and high school they end up the same, knowing about 3500 to 4000 characters.

Kids in Taiwan use zhuyin (bopomofo) to aid reading from preschool all the way to about 4th grade. (Read Mandarin Mama’s informative article about this) Not so for pinyin. In China pinyin is used only for a very short period in 1st-2nd grade. There is a stronger emphasis on character acquisition and I read that kids learn 7 characters a day!

Traditional Chinese books, from picture books (e.g. Mr. Men) to beginning readers (e.g. Elephant & Piggie, Little Bear) to chapter books (Reading 123, Magic Tree House, Roald Dahl) are all accompanied by zhuyin.

In contrast, the same Simplified Chinese books DO NOT have pinyin. A quick browse on Taobao will show you that only 1st-2nd grade books like 笨狼的故事 and 米小圈 come with pinyin. Picture books? No pinyin. Early readers? No pinyin. Anything beyond 2nd grade? No pinyin! 😬

I guess what this tells me is… if I want my child reading Simplified Chinese books, he’s going to need to know A LOT of characters. Heck of a lot. Otherwise he will find himself unable to read the books he’d be interested in (age wise) at the elementary level.

My #tigermomgoal is to get my son to the level that is around Singapore Higher Chinese and maybe a little bit more. Because can I really expect my American child to compare to China/Taiwan children who eat and breathe Chinese every waking moment of every day? NOPE. Singapore Higher Chinese, for English/Chinese bilingual children, is a much more realistic and attainable goal.

FYI I’m from Singapore and took regular Chinese, not Higher Chinese. I think that Higher Chinese at the secondary level is much more rigorous than primary level but I have not found that data yet.

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