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, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读

Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读:Organization Tips 

When we first started《四五快读》(description here) I kept misplacing our flash cards and it was a frustrating and time-wasting endeavor every day. 😖 Seriously, it sucks to dig through piles of little cards to find the ones you need.

Anyhow I figured out a system to stay organized. I got these supplies from Dollar Tree during back-to-school shopping in August:

#1. Zippered pencil pouches

I got six of these 3-ring pencil pouches, one for each 四五快读 book (there are 8 books but only the first 6 books come with flash cards).

All nicely labeled and stored in a 1.5-inch binder:


#2. Accordion card holder

All the flash cards we are currently learning go in this index card holder. We start our lesson by reviewing flash cards from previous days, and I move them backwards by one sleeve pocket every day. New words for the day are placed in the front.

The flash cards keep moving backwards until they are mastered (around 6-8 days), at which point I take them out and put them on the word wall (#4 below). 

#3. Working Tray

Our current book and everything we need go into this tray. We usually do our reading lessons in the dining room, but sometimes in his bedroom or basement school room, so this tray makes it easy to grab and go. We do flash cards and a few pages of the book every day.

#4. Pocket Chart

I put all the words that he has mastered on the wall in our “homeschool” area. We don’t review these daily, just whenever the chart gets full, which is about every two weeks. I then have him read all the words, and the ones that he remembers (80-90%) are taken off and put into permanent storage.

The ones that he forgot stay on the chart until the next time we review again.

Materials needed:

  • 6 zippered pencil pouches
  • 1 binder
  • 1 accordion card holder
  • 1 tray
  • 1 wall pocket chart

Total cost: $10

With this system in place, we have a nice rotation of learning new words and reviewing previous words until they go in his long-term memory. I really like these basic 四五快读 flash cards as they train him to recognize characters for what they are instead of using pinyin, pictorial, or context clues.

Generally he retains characters pretty well, but I’ve noticed lately that the more he learns (right now about 250 characters), the more interference and confusion there is. For example, he used to know 宝 (Book 1) really well until he learned 玉 (Book 3), and now he names 宝 as 玉. Anyhow I think this is a normal phase of learning and it will eventually work itself out.

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Curriculum Review, Learning to Read, Reviews, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读

Curriculum Comparison: 《四五快读》vs. 《基础汉字500》Sagebooks

There are two highly popular curriculum out there for parents to teach their child to read Chinese. In this post I will do a comparison of《四五快读》and《基础汉字500》, also known as Sagebooks or Basic Chinese 500, to help you decide which to get!

Disclaimer: I do not have personal experience using Sagebooks, just my extensive internet research and browsing them at the bookstore.

First, what are they?

They are curriculum designed for the child to learn the most commonly used Chinese characters, by the end of which they should be able to read simple reader books by themselves.

《四五快读》covers more characters at 552 (in the first six books) and 800+ by the eighth book compared to Sagebooks which has 500 exactly. Some parents buy both and use them concurrently, but I think one is sufficient. The characters covered are largely the same.

Cost Comparison:

The total cost for《四五快读》is ~$25, as compared to Sagebooks which cost at least $100-300. A huge price difference!

The other thing I really like about 《四五》is that you just buy one nice complete set of 8 books. Everything is included. Bam.

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In contrast, Sagebooks has 5 levels and 5 books per level, for a total of 25 books. At Popular bookstore in Singapore, they sell each book individually and a few books were not available. Meaning you have to run to several stores or buy from several sellers on Carousell to collate all 25 books. 😣 In addition, the parent guide is found separately on the website, and flash cards have to be purchased or you have to make your own.

chinese_readers__ji_chu_han_zi_basic_chinese_readers_500_very_popular_series_1507083662_4d0029a4

Alternatively, the complete set of books can be purchased online from the HK publisher for a whopping $243 USD, not including shipping. 😱

Teaching Style:

The primary difference between these two is the teaching style. 《四五快读》is more “textbook style”, and the child learns to read characters, phrases, sentences, and short stories (sample lesson shown below).

I really like that it teaches different 造词 combinations for each character. My son has learned a lot of new vocabulary like 大学生,小学生 which I don’t think he would otherwise encounter.

After the child reads each sentence, he points to the picture that matches what he read. A great way to check for comprehension!


Flash cards for the characters are included in the back of each book to cut out. Very convenient. There’s multiple of each character so you can make your own sentences.

I ❤️️ these reading charts which are found every few lessons. The intensive practice really helps my son differentiate similar looking characters like 白,日,目.


As the books progress, the font size gets smaller and smaller, pictures get fewer and fewer, and story gets longer and longer. I love this! It has really helped build up my son’s confidence and reading ability. Overall, I find 《四五快读》very similar to the book I used to teach my son to read in English. This is the main reason why I chose it, because I already know this method works for us.

Sagebooks on the other hand teaches through a “storybook style”. Every lesson introduces a new character and you read a story that has many repetitions of that character as well as previously taught characters. It is like the Chinese equivalent of Bob Books or Dick & Jane books.

set_of_basic_chinese_500__500__level_4_1454208686_6e7e2944

As you can see, each page has a picture and the sentence in characters, pinyin and English. I’m pretty sure my English-dominant son would rely on the pinyin, resulting in me not knowing if he is reading pinyin or characters.

Target Audience:

As the name suggests, 《四五快读》is ideally suited for 4-5 year olds. I think it would be okay for a 3-year-old who has strong Chinese background. The author actually taught her daughter to read 1000 characters before she turned 3!

《四五》was designed for Mainland China parents to teach monolingual Chinese children, however I am using it successfully to teach my American-beginning-Chinese-learner to read. So I would say that it is ok for use with children even if their Chinese is not strong, BUT the parent’s Chinese must be strong! This is because the parent guide is 30 whole pages in Chinese! 😂


This parent guide is a must read and full of important information. Please do not use 《四五》without reading the parent guide first. It would be akin to trying to build complicated furniture without reading the instructions.

I don’t know if there is an official recommended age for Sagebooks, but most parents also use it around 4-5 years old or slightly younger. There seems to be consensus that 3-5 years is the optimal age to teach Chinese reading.

Sagebooks seem to be designed for bilingual children and bilingual parents, because both the books and parent guide are Chinese-English. It is better suited for parents with limited Chinese proficiency.

Time Commitment:

Similar for both. It takes about 15 minutes practice a day, 5-18 months to complete, depending on child’s age, temperament, and how diligent you are!

In summary…

I do not think one is better than the other; there is no one-size-fits-all. If you are consistent with practice, I’m pretty sure either of these curriculum will succeed in creating a reader.

For me, I like things 1) cheap, 2) organized, 3) simple black-and-white, 4) focused on characters only, 5) pedagogy and research based, so needless to say I went with 《四五快读》and LOVE IT. ❤️

Have you used either of these? Share your experience in the comments!

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