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.

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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:


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!



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 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)


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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Pinyin, Teaching Strategies

Parent Guide to Teaching Pinyin

When I first started this journey to teach my son, I was completely clueless about how and where to start and what to do. I’m documenting our learning journey on this blog as a resource for other parents. Obviously I don’t know everything and I’ve only ever taught one child to read. So, just take what I write on here as my reflections and opinions.

When to teach your child pinyin? The short answer is: After he/she can read several hundred characters. 

According to this study, kids in China know an average of 627 characters before learning pinyin in first grade. In my case, I taught my son pinyin when he knew about 400-500 characters.

⚠️ Warning! Do not make the mistake of teaching your child pinyin before he has a solid base of characters – this will only result in over-reliance on it. As stated in this blog post by Parenting Joy, many children fall trap to only being able to read with pinyin and cannot read without it.

Little Man learned English reading first 1.5 years ago before we started pinyin, so he has never confused the two. I don’t have any experience with teaching English phonics and pinyin at the same time so I can’t comment on whether that is confusing to a child or not.

Pinyin is an extremely useful tool when introduced at the right time. Here are the benefits I’ve discovered:

  • Read Chinese books independently. At this point he only knows maybe 500-600 characters, a far cry from the 3000+ characters that you need to know. And yet he  can read harder, more interesting books by himself through the magical thing known as pinyin.
  • Learn new characters. I was completely blown away when Little Man recognized characters that he has never been taught — because he has seen them before paired with pinyin. He can remember the character in a different context, even after the pinyin is removed! (No my son is not a genius. Every child does this.)
  • Review characters by himself. It has made life a lot easier because he can review flash cards by himself on days that I have to work late. He is no longer dependent and incapacitated without me, the sole Chinese speaker in the house.
  • Improve pronunciation. Little Man is English-dominant and his Mandarin tones are frequently inaccurate. The visualization of the tone marks in pinyin help him get the tones right, or at least, better.
DIY flash cards to review characters

Learning Pinyin:

Pinyin is very easy for an English-reading child – most of the consonants make the same sound as English so you just have to learn the tones and vowels. It took him about a month to learn it through YouTube videos here and here and these Montessori-style cards that I made.

Right now he is about 80-90% accurate with reading pinyin, and he continues to improve through reading books. His current favorites of the pinyin books we have (not a lot) are 植物大战僵尸 Plants vs. Zombies picture books and 我会读 I Can Read.

As an example, three days ago I posted a video of my son reading PvZ in which he stumbled over the word “一次” which he has never learned before. After three days of reading PvZ, guess what? He can read 一次 without any help! Imagine if a child learns one character a day independently, that’s 365 characters a year or 1000 characters in 3 years! In reality it’s probably MORE than that because as a child gets more fluent, he/she will find it increasingly easy to learn new words.

An easy set of beginning readers
An easy set of books, great for building confidence and speed

We learned the first 500-600 characters without using any pinyin through the 四五快读 curriculum. However, lately I’ve switched to practicing reading both without and with pinyin: 10 minutes reading books with characters only, 10 minutes reading books with pinyin every day. This is working out well so far to balance both types of reading, which I think are equally important.

四五快读 Book 8 only has the new characters with pinyin. I like this approach of putting pinyin there only when needed and slowly phasing it out.

四五快读 Book 8. Only new characters in pinyin

If you have taught your child to read Chinese characters and pinyin, please share your 心得 with me! It is always so helpful to hear others’ experience.

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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)

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.

Four new characters every day
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

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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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.


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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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:

Source: k5 ChalkBox


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)
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.


#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.


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.



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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Chinese Immersion, Teaching Strategies

Immersion Parent Guide to Supporting Chinese

I used to think that the immersion parent’s job was to strengthen the home language, usually English. I’ve since come to realize that the immersion parent has the double job of strengthening both English AND Chinese. IKR?! 😛

There are powerful ways that you can support your child’s language development even if you don’t speak a word of Chinese!

Disclaimer: The following information comes from my experience working at an award-winning Chinese immersion school for five years and German immersion school for one year. Ideas and opinions are my own and not representative of any school I previously or currently work at. 

7 Top Strategies:

#1. Teach your child to read in his first language

I put this first because it’s probably the most overlooked strategy. Reading is a transferable skill, even if it’s between two completely different languages like English and Chinese. A child that can read fluently in his first language will have attention, stamina, understanding of how phonics and reading works… these will help him read in Chinese!

Reading in English enabled my son to read pinyin easily and he used that to learn characters.

Reading in the first language boosts reading in the second language

If you’re looking for a good English reading program, I recommend The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Lessons.

#2. Become BFF with your child’s teachers

This is hard for me to do as an introverted person, but really reaps huge benefits. When you get to know the teachers, they will share all kinds of unbelievably useful information and resources with you.

Obviously, don’t be a pest or parasite. I maintain mutually beneficial relationships by helping teachers with small tasks and they in turn help me with Chinese stuff. Win win. 🙂

#3. Hire a tutor

Assuming a 6-hour school day and 28 kids per class, your child only gets about 12 minutes of speaking per day! If you can afford it, hire a tutor to increase the amount of individualized attention for your child.

I suggest not doing academic activities like worksheets because your child already does enough of this during school hours. Instead ask your tutor to engage in interactive reading (video example below) to discuss storybooks with your child, which is FUN and will improve language and literacy.

Many immersion teachers tutor after school. They can also help you choose and borrow Chinese books from the school library, thereby eliminating the need for you to source down Chinese books yourself. 🙂

#4. Understand Chinese language

Without prior background, the chances of you mastering Chinese language as an adult learner are… slim (sorry). Instead of trying to learn Chinese, set a goal to learn about it like what are radicals, tones, pinyin, strokes, etc. so that when your child’s teacher talks to you, you will understand what he/she is saying. (And if you still don’t know what they’re talking about, write it down to Google later)

View this PPT by Kexian Qu, Professor of Chinese Literature and Culture, A Brief Introduction to the Chinese Language

#5. Extracurriculars

Your school and community probably offer extracurricular activities like Chinese calligraphy, art, orchestra, dance, etc. Find out which ones are taught by native Chinese speakers and sign up for them. Some teachers may not have websites or advertise online so you will only find out about them through word of mouth, which goes back to #2 above.

Photo from CAAM/CDT

There may be opportunities to host an exchange student from China. DO IT (free language learning for your child!).

#6. Book/CD sets

If you’re not able to read to your child yourself, then book/CD sets are your best friend. These are preferable to just CDs as beginning Chinese learners (K-1st grade) NEED pictures to help them understand.

Here are some options from AsianParent.com:

Options from China Sprout:


As your child gets more proficient (2nd grade and up), you can transition to more challenging audiobooks of chapter books, many of which can be found online for free. I would suggest that you get copies of the books too so your child can attempt to read them after listening to them.

#6. Print environment

Increase the Chinese print environment in your home with books, posters, games, movies and TV shows on Netflix and YouTube. Always turn on the subtitles when watching Netflix so your child can absorb the print (I learned a lot of characters from reading subtitles).

The more print you have available, the more your child will learn without you even teaching him. Seriously, kids are crazy observant and my students are always pointing out things on the wall that they see and know.

Love these Tuttle Chinese flash cards and posters

#7. Always speak positively about Chinese

Even in Singapore (where 80% of the population is Chinese!), people often make disparaging remarks about China and Mainland Chinese people. Or they bemoan how difficult Chinese is. These types of comments will 100% derail your child’s learning! I avoided speaking Chinese for most of my growing up years because I associated it with being uncool.

Do whatever you can to make Chinese fun and desirable and COOL. Often what hinders kids is not the lack of ability to speak Chinese, but the lack of motivation to.

Little Man’s favorite Plants vs. Zombies in Chinese

A final note of encouragement…

The gift of being bilingual will benefit your child for his entire life. The journey is not easy but the results are so worth it.

Share this article with your friends if you found it helpful!

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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…


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…


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.)


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.

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.


#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.

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.


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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