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.

兩隻老虎歡樂歌謠 Book/CD Review

Title: 兩隻老虎歡樂歌謠 (liang3 zhi lao2 hu3 huan le4 ge yao2)/Two Little Tigers Songs

Producer: 風車圖書出版 (Windmill)

Level: Children’s songs, zhuyin

Summary: A collection of 40+ children’s songs. Some are translations of English children’s songs. Some are Chinese/Taiwanese children’s songs.

Sample Pictures:

Rating: 5/5 stars

5 Minute Review: My kids love this CD set. In fact, most people I know own this set because it was featured on AsianParent.com and is easily accessible.

The best part is that they include lyrics with zhuyin for every featured song. I find this super helpful because just because you hear the song doesn’t mean you actually have the right lyrics. I have trouble identifying lyrics correctly in English – let alone Chinese.

Anyhow, this is all just to say that it’s useful to have the lyrics in Chinese with zhuyin because I am semi-illiterate and this helps. They also have fun illustrations.

Highly recommend.

Here are three videos of Gamera singing some songs from the book.

 

火車快跑 Book Review


Title: 火車快跑 (huo3 che kuai4 pao3)/Freight Train

ISBN: 9573212404

Authors: Donald Crews (著/唐諾 克魯斯,譯:劉思源)

Publisher: 遠流出版事業股份有限公司

Level: Beginning Reader, Zhuyin, Picture Book, Fiction

Summary: This book is a Chinese translation of Freight Train by Donald Crews. First, we read about all the different types of railroad cars on the train. They are also listed by color. Then we follow the train as it makes its journey across the rails and goes faster and faster. 

Sample Pages: 





Rating: 5/5 stars

5 Minute Review: This book is super easy and fun to read. Gamera (5yo) read it very quickly and loved the pictures and story. It helped that both Gamera and Cookie Monster (7yo) heard this story often when they were attending Chinese preschool. 

Gamera recognized most of the words and the ones she didn’t (or forgot), she sounded out easily with zhuyin. In fact, I am pleased with how well she did – even though I know it is a simple and easy to read book. 

Plus, the illustrations are beautiful and dreamy and I find them to be my favorite part. 

Highly recommend. 

Below is a video of Gamera reading an excerpt from 火車快跑 (huo3 che kuai4 pao3)/Freight Train.

The Real Point of Learning Chinese


No matter how hard I try, every now and then, I have to remind myself that learning Chinese is not a competition.

This seems so obvious when it’s written out in black and white. (And also, I feel very foolish because it’s now one more piece of evidence that I am a petty, petty person. But I suppose that is no surprise to anyone who has ever read anything I have ever written. Or met me. I digress.)

One of the toughest things about parenting is resisting the urge to compare my children with other people’s children. And of course, when I add Chinese fluency/literacy to the mix, it is just one more thing in the parental jockeying portfolio to prove that I am a better parent than other parents (at least in Chinese acquisition).

After all, if my children understand/speak/read/write Chinese better than other people’s children, then that must validate whatever I’m doing to have my children be fluent/literate in Chinese. (Who cares that my kids are illiterate in English? That’s on purpose. And besides, English is easy.)

And if my kids are “better,” then I am validated as a parent and therefore, as a person. Which makes me better than other people. WHICH CLEARLY IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE.

Here’s the thing though: Other children’s Chinese fluency/literacy has absolutely no relevance to my children’s Chinese fluency/literacy.

It doesn’t matter if my kids know more or fewer characters than other kids. How much or little other kids can read has absolutely ZERO effect or influence on how much my kids can read.

It’s not as if Chinese is a pie wherein if your kid is more fluent, they have a bigger piece of pie and therefore my kid now has a smaller piece of pie.

There is no finite amount of Chinese in the world and if someone happens to be more literate, there are now fewer Chinese characters for you to learn to read.

That’s not how learning works.

That’s not how language works.

WE CAN ALL HAVE PIES.

(Yes, I suppose even your children.)

And here’s the other rub. The even pettier part of my dark, dark soul.

I don’t want other people to have pie.

Which is dumb because what does other people’s pie have to do with MY pie? (Or in this case, our children’s pies.)

Also, if other people’s kids don’t have “pie,” with whom will my children practice their Chinese?

Seems counterproductive.

Look. I get that many of us want to know how other people’s children are faring in Chinese because then we get a quick gauge on how well our kids are doing. After all, it can be useful to see if my kid is “at level” (whatever your metrics are) or not. That way, I can determine whether or not I need to do more work or just coast on my awesomeness.

(Coasting on good looks alone is difficult when it comes to fluency. Our kids’ stunning faces can only blind people’s eyes, not stop their ears.)

However, most of us fall victim to the trap of comparing our children and then making it a value judgment of our parenting or Chinese language brainwashing. That somehow, if our kids are “better” than other kids in Chinese, then they are better kids in general. And that if our kids are “worse” than other kids in Chinese, then they are worse kids in general.

Here’s the thing though: even when your kids are “better” than other kids in Chinese, that is completely meaningless.

Why?

Because just because your kids are “better” doesn’t mean that they are actually fluent (or literate).

After all, my children are BETTER than Hapa Papa in Chinese, but that is meaningless because Hapa Papa cannot speak ANY Chinese.

And sure, my children are BETTER than some of my friends’ children at reading Chinese, but they STILL ARE NOT LITERATE. They are just slightly LESS illiterate.

Better is a relative term. Useful for making ourselves feel superior to other people, but meaningless in terms of actual fluency or literacy.

So, before we get too uppity or bummed out about our children and their Chinese fluency and literacy, let’s remember what the REAL point of learning Chinese is.

The REAL point of learning Chinese is to be able to:

1) Understand when someone is speaking Chinese to you

2) Speak and be understood by others when speaking Chinese

3) Read and comprehend Chinese characters

4) Write Chinese in comprehensible Chinese sentences

In other words: to communicate.

I realize this might be a super Captain Obvious type of post, but I think it’s something that we as parents occasionally lose sight of.

All this effort we pour into our kids learning Chinese (and really, anything at all), is not to be better than other people at it, but to be able to use it in a way that is useful. And in the case of Chinese, it is so that our children can communicate effectively with people who speak Chinese.

Alright, perhaps this post was more for myself than for any of you, dear readers. Have a great weekend!

好聽啟蒙故事 CD Review


Title: 好聽啟蒙故事 (hao3 ting qi3 meng2 gu4 shi4)/The Best of Enlightenment Stories

Producer: 台欣 (Tai Shin)

Level: Non-Fiction, Fiction, Fairy Tales,

Summary: 10 CD collection of bedtime stories; CDs 1-5 are fairytales, fables, and stories; CD 6 is biographies of famous composers; CD 7 is samples of the famous composers; CD 8 is stories of famous and great people (eg: Archimedes, Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Washington); CDs 9-10 are about constellations and random music (so I guess Greek/Roman myths).

Sample Pictures:


Rating: 4/5 stars

5 Minute Review: All my children love this CD set. The production value is great and fun to listen to. My only complaint is that for the first 5 CDs, the sound is off because they play songs within the stories but the songs are much louder than the narration so it’s really hard to hear in the car. However, this is a small problem.

The CDs on composers is nice because the background music is from the composer and it’s fun for me to try and figure out the composer based on the music alone and their translation of their name.

CD 7 just has a few words explaining the piece background and then plays classical music for each composer in CD 6.

CDs 9-10 could have been condensed into one CD. There is no reason why there needs to be bad instrumental music between each constellation story. 

Incidentally, the CDs on composers, famous people, and constellations were a bit over my head. I got the gist, but the vocabulary and topics were definitely not on the same level as the story books. (My kids also didn’t find them very interesting.)

My main beef with this series is not with the CDs/productions themselves – but rather the actual fairy tales themselves. So I often have to stop the CD and tell the kids that it’s stupid for a princess to give her kingdom to a random dude who kisses her and frees her from some stupid spell.

Or that it’s dumb to plant a tree that grows silver leaves and golden apples but to leave all that to marry the first knight to show up instead of selling the silver leaves and golden apples to live by herself.

My children’s favorite story, though, is 胡扯國的故事 (hu2 che3 guo2 de5 gu4 shi4)/The Ridiculous Country’s Stories. It’s two minutes long and all it is are examples of ridiculous statements (eg: three mice chased down a cat and scared it). For some reason, Gamera (5) and Glow Worm (3) find it hilarious and demand to hear it on repeat.

I don’t understand.

Either way, I am very satisfied with the CD set. We listen to them in the car and I will have us listen to each CD a few times so they get used to the story and recognize them and hear the vocabulary before I swap them out for other CDs.

Even my Chinese has improved!

Highly recommend.