小雞過生日: 5 Minute Book Review


Title: 小雞過生日 (xiao3 ji guo4 sheng ri4)/Baby Chicks’ Birthday

ISBN: 9789862113486

Authors/Illustrations: Noriko Kudo (translated from Japanese) 文、圖/工藤紀子,翻譯/劉握瑜

Publisher: 小魯文化事業股份有限公司 (Xiao Lu Wen Hua/Tsai Fong Books)

Published: 2012

Level: Beginning Reader, Zhuyin, Picture Book, Fiction

Pages: 36

Summary: The five little chicks go with their mother to the bakery, the grocery store, and a toy store to buy food and presents for their birthday. When they get home, they eat yummy food and open their present. 

Sample Pages:





Rating: 5/5 stars

5 Minute Review: As I have mentioned before, Gamera (5.5) LOVES the 小雞 (xiao3 ji)/Baby Chick series. She particularly loves Kudo’s cute illustrations of the chicks. 

Gamera’s favorite part in this particular book is when the chicks say, 「真討厭 (zhen tao3 yan4)/how disagreeable !」She finds it SO CUTE and always reads it in a baby chick voice. 

Again, Gamera has read this book close to 10 million times (actual number) and shows no sign of losing interest. It’s been at least 2-3 years since she first heard them at her Chinese preschool. 

The storyline is simple, the illustrations are detailed, and there are a few non-zhuyin characters that Gamera loves to read as well. But mostly, she just likes to talk in a baby chick voice. 

Highly recommend.

Here’s a video of Gamera reading an excerpt. 

糖果姐姐說故事: CD Review


Title:  糖果姐姐說故事 Set 1 (tang2 guo3 jie3 jie5 shuo gu4 shi4)/Candy Sister Telling Stories

Publisher: Christian Cosmic Light Holistic Care

Level: Children

Includes: 16 CDs, 48 stories, no book

Summary: This first (out of four) collection tells Old Testament stories from Adam and Eve through Samuel, covering 15 major Bible characters. (Eg: Cain and Abel, Noah, David, etc.)

Each segment is about 12-15 minutes long and has the following format: Candy Sister introduces a story, tells the story, and then ends with a 甜蜜的小叮嚀 (tian2 mi4 de5 xiao3 ding ning2) or Sweet Exhortation. 

The second set is from Saul to Jesus. The third and fourth volumes have translated fantasy and children’s stories. 

Sample Pages: 






Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

5 Minute Review: There can be no doubt of the high production values of this set. The narration, the voice actors, the classical music, everything about it is top notch. 

So, why the 3 star rating? (Which incidentally, isn’t a bad rating.)

Mostly because my kids were terrified and/or didn’t understand a lot of the stories. They were terrified (they were 3-5 at the time) because Old Testament stories are full of fighting and death. Even when “sanitized” for children. And these CDs do not sanitize. 

Also, I am somewhat dubious of what the producers deem to be the lesson learned from each story – as well as how they choose to tell the story (in terms of what gets included and what gets excised). But that is to be expected in any translation, biblical or otherwise. 
It is, however, a great summary of the main Bible stories. So if your kids can understand Chinese really well, and are familiar with the characters, and are familiar with the Bible, it is a good supplement. 

Let’s just say that my Chinese was not good enough and the only reason I knew what was going on is because I have a really good working knowledge of the Old Testament. 

Definitely for older kids (like 8+?) and for fluent or near fluent kids. This is not appropriate for introducing Chinese to beginners or non-speakers.

Hope that helps! I think the website might offer samples to download or listen to online. 

同行 Book Review


Title: 同行 (tong2 xing2)/Travel Together

ISBN: 9789861612164

Author: 林文玲

Publisher: 信誼

Level: Beginning Reader, Zhuyin, Picture Book, Fiction

Summary: A train and the sun are traveling together up and down a mountain. They are racing and seeing the sights together. They encounter a tunnel, fruit trees, and race the wind. At the end of the day, they say good night and then promise to travel together again the next day.

Sample Pages:


Rating: 5/5 stars

5 Minute Review: Cookie Monster (7) enjoyed this book a lot and even asked me if he could read it again in the future. He has never asked me that before!

The story is cute and fun. Cookie Monster didn’t quite get what was really happening, but he is a very literal child. Once I explained the conceit, he thought it was hilarious.

Below are two video excerpts of Cookie Monster reading.

How a Chinese Boy Band Improved My Kids’ Chinese


Friends, it should come as no surprise that I am an unapologetic snob.

Alright, occasionally, I am apologetic – but only because people expect it. Not because I am actually sorry.

And thus, even though I knew that part of creating a Chinese Language Ecosystem (CLE) was having my kids listen to Chinese popular music, I had less than zero desire to do so.

Why? Because I still recall the derivative Taiwanese pop from when I was a kid.

And truthfully, I don’t even know if it was derivative. I didn’t listen to enough of it to judge. But since when has the lack of evidence ever changed my opinions?

That’s right. NEVER.

Anyhow, despite my friends telling me about this Chinese boy band, TF Boys, at least a year or two ago, I did nothing about it. I mean, they sent YouTube links to their kids’ favorite songs. They made it super easy for me to follow up.

Nope.

I didn’t even bother clicking on the links. (Sorry, friends!)

But then, Taiwan camp happened. And because the kids were in local Taiwanese camps, they were exposed to Chinese popular music.

Cookie Monster and Gamera had to do separate dances to 青春修練手冊 and of course, Glow Worm watched them like a hawk.

Truthfully, I had no idea how the kids found TF Boys on YouTube after that. I didn’t even know the kids knew the songs. (Hey, I never said I was an observant parent.)

But maybe Irish Twins showed them the videos on YouTube and they asked me for them. (I blame and thank Irish Twins. I abscond all responsibility.) Or maybe I searched for TF Boys.

Or maybe, because my children are super unsupervised and Master YouTube Navigators, and some combination of Google algorithms and my children’s surfing habits and being in Taiwan triggered something, but SOMEHOW, my children found TF Boys and their music videos.

And the rest, they say, is history.

Now, I’m somewhat embarrassed (but not really, because let’s face it, I’m quite a mediocre parent) to say that my children surf YouTube relatively unsupervised. I mean, I do say something if I hear swearing or objectionable content, but that would require me paying attention.

I don’t.

And so, somehow, TF Boys’ catchy songs, easy lyrics, and pretty music videos spawned months and months of Chinese YouTube viewing.

Via YouTube’s suggestions (the bane of parents everywhere – and yet, LOOK AT HOW WELL IT WORKED OUT HERE), my children (especially Gamera), hunted down every single possible TF Boys video on the internet.

Whether it was a TF Boys music video, a live concert performance, a variety show performance, or random interviews and game shows that featured TF Boys, my children found them ALL.

In fact, for the longest time, my children were absolutely even MORE obsessed with watching (and then playing) this 獵人 (lie4 ren2)/Hunter Episode featuring the TF Boys.

Basically, the TF Boys, along with some friends, are trying to evade a team of “Hunters” and they wander through different time periods in China’s history. It’s like, they’re in some type of amusement park, running through all these people dressed in historical costumes, trying to evade hunters who will shoot them with a yogurt filled gun.

All three of my kids, but especially Glow Worm, LOVED to play 獵人/Hunter. I would find them stalking each other all over the house with makeshift guns. They would even add a narrative/narrator (like in the show) and have running dialog and commentary – all in Chinese.

Who makes up this stuff?

They were also obsessed with some game show the TF Boys were on where the boys have to go through obstacles and answer trivia about their own songs. I would link to it but that would drop me in some TF Boys black hole and I would never finish this post.

My kids were so obsessed with TF Boys that they would argue about which TF Boy they were going to pretend to be. Like, some kids pretend they’re Batman or Superman. My kids pretend they are different TF Boy band members.

But because they watched so much programming in Chinese, and all that programming is subtitled in Chinese, my children’s Chinese vocabulary expanded by leaps and bounds. So did their reading!

We would be reading Chinese books and they would come across a character and Gamera would tell me that the character is in so and so’s name or in the TF Boy lyric.

In fact, they became like religious zealots. Every possible topic could be turned into an opportunity to expound upon TF Boys and their lyrics, their hand motions, their dance moves, their likes and dislikes, their EVERYTHING.

And the best part? They would discuss all of these subjects IN CHINESE because they learned and absorbed all these subjects IN CHINESE.

It came to the point where Cookie Monster asked me if TF Boys were real people. And when he found out they were real (as opposed to actors in a movie or show), and that they lived in China, he asked me if we could go to China to find them.

Then, because of YouTube suggestions, my children found other things related to TF Boys.

Like I mentioned earlier, they found Chinese game shows, variety shows, talk shows, and other popular Chinese YouTube acts like Zony and Yony (左左右右). There is another set of Chinese twins that are popular on YouTube, but they are a boy and a girl.

And because most of the shows are aimed for adults or at least, the general Chinese public, my children’s Chinese improved even more because they were exposed to Chinese spoken by adults.

Really, I should say that it is mostly Gamera who is showing her pre-teen girlish future self when she obsesses over these Chinese YouTube celebrities. But since Cookie Monster and Glow Worm are next to her, they get Chinese exposure, too.

Incidentally, Gamera is also the only one of my children to request and beg to watch Chinese science videos. Bless her.

Anyhow, the point of this article isn’t to spread the TF Boys obsession to your children. (Although, their songs are quite catchy and they seem outwardly wholesome.) But to encourage you to find your kids’ version of TF Boys.

If you find something your kids can obsess over and have it be obsessed over in Chinese, then YouTube (if you let it) will suggest similar videos and your child will thus be sucked down into automatically absorbing Chinese.

Of course, I realize that not everyone is as terrible a parent as I am, so perhaps, you will curate it. But honestly, if you’re lazy and want them to organically find stuff, just leave them alone.

Have your kids obsessed over a band or a movie in Chinese? Did it lead to more Chinese? Let me know in the comments.

 

Miao Mi TV


** Compensation for this post was provided on behalf of Miao Mi TV. A free code was also provided so I could review the app. Opinions expressed here are my own. 

People always say we should have our kids watch and listen to Chinese media in order to improve their Chinese, but you know, it can be really hard to know where to start.

It’s especially hard if you don’t speak or understand Chinese.

I mean, I suppose you could just do a search on YouTube for Chinese cartoons, but if you don’t understand Chinese, how do you do any sort of quality control or parenting? What if the cartoons are really bad dubs? Or really bad translations? Or worse – that pernicious sub-type of YouTube video where jerks dub cute cartoons with inappropriate dialog?

How do you know what your kids are watching?

On the other hand, even if you do understand and speak Chinese, there is also the matter of time and money invested in purchasing Chinese DVDs (some translations on Amazon are really expensive!) or getting a DVD player that can play the appropriate region code.

And then, there is no guarantee your children will actually LIKE what you bought! (For instance, I bought so many sets of Charlie and Lola, but my kids don’t like it at all. You’d think that one out of the three older children would, but NOPE.)

Recently, I was approached by our sponsors to review the Miao Mi TV Channel on Amazon Prime and I think I have found a reasonable and easy solution to the What Should My Kid Watch In Chinese Dilemma.

Here are the important things to know about Miao Mi TV:

1) It is available in the US as an Amazon Prime Channel for $5.99/month.

2) It is also available as a free download in the App Store today and on Google Play in May. You can subscribe for $5.99/month.

3) Both versions come with a 7 day free trial.

4) The programming is geared towards 3-6 year olds and the vocabulary level is supposed to match what K-2 students in US Mandarin Immersion programs are learning.

5) The app is a safe, secure, and ad-free environment that features a child-friendly user interface.

6) Both the app and the Amazon Prime Channel have English/Mandarin language support.

7) The shows and educational videos are in Simplified Chinese. (This obviously doesn’t affect the spoken language – just the titles and characters used in the videos.)

8) There are currently 8 animated shows available in both English and Mandarin as well as educational videos that focus on teaching children some basic Chinese. Each show has at least one season available with around 50+ episodes per season. Most episodes seem to clock in at about the 12-15 minute mark.

9) Here are some of the shows available:

– Pleasant Goat & Big Bad Wolf/喜羊羊與灰太狼 (xi3 yang2 yang2 yu3 hui tai4 lang2): This is the only show I had heard of and Cookie Monster (7) and Gamera (5.5) were familiar with them.

 Star Babies/星與星願 (xing yu3 xing yuan4): A highly acclaimed animated series inspired by Chinese icons such as Bruce Lee and Monkey King. Gamera really liked this series.

– Our Friend Remy Bear/我們的朋友熊小米 (wo3 men2 de5 peng2 you3 xiong2 xiao3 mi3): An award winning animated series that teaches children important life lessons about kindness and camaraderie. Glow Worm (3.75) really enjoyed this cartoon.

Eori/優瑞歷險記 (you rui4 li4 xian3 ji4): A high-quality Korean animated series that features stories based on Asian folktales.

– Secret Y/因為所以 (yin wei4 suo3 yi3): An animated series that introduces scientific knowledge to young children through the lovable characters from the hit animated movie Axel: The Biggest Little Hero. This was Gamera’s favorite and she constantly requested this show throughout the week.

Pleasant Goat Fun Class/智趣羊學堂 (zhi qu4 yang2 xue2 tang2): An educational series featuring world-famous characters from the “Pleasant Goat” franchise that promotes cognitive skills and life skills.

Although I was only going to have my kids watch 2-3 episodes, they clamored for more and insisted on watching as many as I would let them.

Cookie Monster wasn’t that interested in some of the cartoons, but he is a little older than the recommended age range. Despite his initial complaint, he had no problem watching several episodes in a row.

Gamera liked the most shows and kept requesting to watch the Secret Y series. Who am I to complain? They’re educational and answer common questions like, why does the moon change shape? Is it being eaten? My kids got tricked into learning science.

Glow Worm liked most of the shows, too. He preferred the action cartoons because that’s about the level of his understanding.

We did not check out the educational videos because I was worried my kids would be bored and then I wouldn’t get buy in from them to watch the rest of the videos.

Here are the things I loved about the shows on Miao Mi TV:

  • Though there isn’t breadth, there is DEPTH.
  • Good for beginners and non-speakers – especially the lessons on body parts, common phrases, and family members.
  • Cartoons are in both Chinese AND English – which is helpful to non-speakers or speakers who aren’t as fluent as they’d like.
  • Shows are pre-vetted so we don’t have to
  • Many shows are indigenous to China and not translations so the language is more likely to be what Chinese people actually say.
  • Very Chinese/Asian content.
  • Titles and descriptions are in English – which is SO HANDY for illiterate people such as myself. I have a ton of ripped Chinese videos and DVDs but it’s virtually impossible to keep track of which episodes my kids have seen because the file names are MMCH_06_05 and has no info.
  • $5.99 /mo is less than 1 DVD.

Here are some of the things I wished could be improved:

  • I wish there were Chinese subtitles at the bottom of the cartoons. I know the purpose is not to teach written Chinese to children, but it would be an added bonus. Especially for the times where I’m not sure what the characters are saying – and the kids don’t know what a term means. If there are subtitles, I can at least look it up. Without subtitles, I have to randomly guess based on tones, etc. and then blindly Pleco and hope for the best.
  • The Amazon Prime interface is a little clunky – but workable. The app is much easier to navigate – especially for children.

Overall, I am pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this channel.

I fully admit to being a snob and thinking that I wasn’t going to like it and thinking it might be helpful for non-speaker families but certainly not for my kids. But guess what?

I really liked Miao Mi TV.

I liked it so much that I told a bunch of my really good friends about it while the kids were watching the videos.

I liked it so much that I paid for another month and did not cancel after the first 7 free days. (Although our sponsors offered to reimburse me for it, I did not accept.)

Miao Mi TV is perfect for people who want their preschool kids to be exposed to Chinese in a way that is fun, easy, and entertaining. It is great for speakers and non-speakers alike and I am so glad I got the chance to check it out.

I highly recommend you check out Miao Mi TV, too.

小黃點 Book Review


Title: 小黃點 (xiao3 huang2 dian3)/Mix It Up!

ISBN: 9789577625038

Author/Illustrator: Hervé Tullet

Publisher: 上誼

Level: Chinese Picture Book, Fiction

Summary: Follow the instructions and see what happens to the Little Yellow Dot! Press the dot, shake the book, and blow on the pages.

Sample Pages:





Rating: 5/5 stars

5 Minute Review: This book is hands down, my children’s favorite of the bunch. It definitely is Glow Worm’s (3.5) favorite. He never gets tired of this book and doesn’t exactly follow the directions, but he loves to hit every single dot and count all the dots of each color. It can be mindnumbingly dull when he does this. But hey. He’s 3.5.

He also enjoys pointing out all the characters he recognizes so that’s fun, too. Like the other books in the series, there is no zhuyin and some of the characters are unfamiliar to me and despite me looking them up a bjillion times, I forget them just as quickly.

Such is the consequence of having an older brain.

At least it’s pretty easy to figure out what they are saying from context and it’s ok with me to just guesstimate. Perhaps not the best for increasing literacy, but laziness wins.

 

Highly recommend.

Below is a video of me reading the book to Glow Worm.

Chinese Progress: 9 Months After Taiwan


Has it really been nine months since we got back from Taiwan? That’s a PREGNANCY, people!

Anyhow, I meant to do an update earlier and keep better track of when my children made the switch from Chinese default to English default, but that would have required me to pay far greater attention to my children than I am wont to do.

So, I want to say the kids kept up their Chinese for about five or six months before they started to backslide into English a lot. And the only reason it kept up for that long is because we homeschool in Chinese, the majority of their classes are in Chinese, and for awhile, all they did was watch Chinese YouTube.

Just to give you an idea of how quickly they can convert to English only, for our Spring Break, I had the older kids in a basketball camp as well as a cooking camp. Thus, they were surrounded by English speakers and spoke English for six hours a day for five consecutive days.

The effect was almost instantaneous.

It was all English all the time. And not only that – their English improved.

I tried to combat it with listening to Chinese stories in the car, but we really didn’t drive much so they didn’t hear much Chinese at all that week. I can only imagine how much their English would outpace their Chinese if we were not homeschooling in Chinese.

This is all just to say that the after glow of Taiwan was only sustainable for so long because we homeschool in Chinese as well as have the majority of their classes in Chinese. 

I cannot say that the Chinese effect would be as pronounced or sustainable if they went to an English speaking school surrounded by English speakers all day.

Thus, the main thing to remember is that the majority of your work is done with your kids if you just speak Chinese to them already.

Alright, without further ado, here are some of my observations that have definitely been blurred by the effects of time and life.

1) Glow Worm’s (3.5) Chinese has exploded. I mean, so has his English. (He FINALLY speaks!) But in general, his Chinese has 開竅了 (kai qiao4 le5)/for a child to begin to know things.

This is also not because of anything special about Taiwan, but more because he goes to a Chinese preschool twice a week as well as a Mandarin Mommy and Me once a week. Just the addition of two days with a Chinese tutor has upped his vocabulary a lot.

I can’t wait for how it will improve after our Taiwan Trip 2017 as well as when he adds 2-3 additional days of Chinese preschool.

2) Gamera (5), easily the child with the best Chinese, has started to resist speaking Chinese all the time. Even when I try to couch it in terms of helping Glow Worm and Sasquatch (5.5 mos) learn Chinese, she doesn’t really care.

Her default and stronger language is definitely English – and she wants to keep speaking it when playing.

However, her Chinese is still really good. I’m constantly amazed how when admonished to speak Chinese, she can switch from English to Chinese mid-sentence and finish the thought. She is truly bilingual in the sense that she doesn’t have to think about what to say in English first, then translate into Chinese. She just speaks her thoughts in Chinese.

I have noticed that the loss of three days of Chinese preschool and being home with me more has affected her Chinese ability (and not for the better). But because she still watches a lot of Chinese YouTube (especially Chinese game shows and variety shows and Chinese YouTube acts), her Chinese can often be better than mine.

3) Cookie Monster (7) definitely prefers English, but still dutifully switches to Chinese when told. He just needs more vocabulary to express his thoughts – and he would have that vocabulary if I were not so lazy about him reading consistently to me in Chinese.

Just one day of Chinese class is not enough. It’s ok in terms of preventing more attrition, but not enough in terms of gaining in Chinese. Even his teacher has mentioned to me several times that he is regressing and forgetting characters.

This is definitely my fault.

Plus, he doesn’t find the Chinese programming as interesting as Gamera does (although he is also obsessed with TF Boys like his siblings).

It definitely shows.

4) At least Cookie Monster and Gamera are good about speaking Chinese to their peers who only speak Chinese. They know that they can only speak to Guavarama and Fleur’s kids (as well as some of our other Chinese homeschool kids) in Chinese.

This, of course, only works because all the children have similar levels of Chinese fluency (albeit, better than my kids) and can express and play adequately in Chinese. If my kids’ Chinese were not up to snuff (or vice versa), the play language would default to English in a red hot second.

Thus, I am ashamed I did not capitalize more on our trip to Taiwan last year. We’ve had a good run, but we definitely will need the boost when we head to Taiwan again this summer. Unfortunately, this time we will only be back for four weeks. I’m sure the missing two weeks will equate to an even earlier Chinese language cliff.

This is especially important to note because I am not going back to Taiwan in 2018. (Yes, I plan this far ahead. No, YOU take an 18 month old with three other children to Taiwan.)

I need to remember in Summer 2018 to not go overboard with English camps/programming and to find ways they can be “immersed” in Chinese.

Anyhow, I hope this update was helpful in terms of giving you an idea of how long the Chinese boosting effects of an extended trip to Taiwan might last. Of course, YMMV.

Did you find this true for your children? Let me know in the comments.