How to Turn Your Car into a Mobile Chinese Learning Center

**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

If you are anything like me, you likely spend 87% of your time in the car shuttling your kids to and from school, activities, and errands. That adds up to a lot of time that could be used to passively (and also actively) cram Chinese into your children’s brains.

So, if you’re not currently using your “dead” time in the car, you are missing out on some great opportunities to support your children’s Chinese language learning.

Here then, are some ideas of how you can turn your car into a Mobile Chinese Learning Center.

1) Listen to Chinese audio resources.

There are so many possibilities here, it’s a veritable goldmine. Think of what you can listen to in a car and there is a Chinese version. For a great resource on where to find and what to find, check out Guavarama’s awesome post.

– children’s songs
– children’s stories (I bought several CD sets full of Chinese stories)
– audio books fiction or non-fiction (either on ximalaya, podcasts, CDs from Chinese books, etc.)

2) Watch Chinese shows/DVDs, etc.

If you have one of those fancy cars with DVD players, you can easily put in a movie or show and have kids watch in Chinese. Or you can preload tablets with Chinese shows.

I don’t have a fancy car nor do I allow screen time in the car (because quite frankly, they get enough screen time at home) so I don’t use this option. But plenty of my friends do!

3) Read.

Have stacks of Chinese books in the car available for your kids to read. This only works if they are literate enough to NOT need you next to them – or YOU have to be literate enough that when they describe the character, you can actually know what character they are talking about. (This ALSO requires your children to know how to describe the character – knowing what the strokes are called, what the radicals are called, and what the parts of the characters look like and how to describe them.)

Also, this requires your children not to get car sick while reading.

My kids are not at this level of expertise yet so I do not use this. Also, I am terrified of my kids losing a book in the great black hole of our vehicle so I am not likely to utilize this option. (Not to mention, my Chinese literacy is NOT at all up to par. My kids can describe a character – I am just not equipped to envision their accurate descriptions.)

Of course, if your children can read zhuyin, the problem of character recognition is remedied and not as big of a deal. (There might still be then occasional hiccup while they’re improving their zhuyin, but by and large, much easier than reading without it.)

4) Talk

This is a little silly and Captain Obviousy, but you could just have a conversation with your kids in Chinese. (Of course, if you can’t speak Chinese, this is a little more difficult.)

5) Word games

There are so many fun word games you can play in the car (or anywhere, really). Here are a few examples:

a) I Spy

Just like how you would play in English, players take turns choosing something they “Spy,” describing it, and everyone else guesses what they have “spied.”

b) 接龍 (jie long2/Build up a sequence – although literally, Connect the dragon)

You can play this in so many ways, but the basic idea is that you connect the last word in an entry to the first word in the next.

So, if I use numbers as an example, let’s say you start with “123.” The next person has to start a number with “3.” And so on, and so on.

Some possible variations:

Chinese Idioms/成語 – This game has an actual name called 成語接龍 (cheng2 yu3 jie long2) and is basically where the last word of an idiom is the first word of the next.

– Chinese sentences/phrases/compound words – Where again, the last word of the sentence/phrase/compound word is the first word of the next sentence/phrase/compound word

Really, if your or your kids knowledge of Chinese is vast, you could play with any topic. (eg: song titles, book titles, movies, shows, etc.)

c) How many can you name?

Choose any category (eg: fruits, vegetables, animals, occupations, colors, flowers, trees, insects, etc.) and take turns naming them. Whoever repeats an item first loses.

My kids usually start off with some variation of: 水果園有什麼? (shui3 guo3 yuan2 you3 shen2 me?/What does a fruit garden have?)

Incidentally, I learned this game from overhearing them play in the back of the van. They learned how to play from watching Taiwanese game shows on YouTube. (Who says YouTube is a barren wasteland?)

d) Guess that word.

Again, this game only works if the participants have the appropriate terminology to describe character components. (see above re: reading in the car).

In short, you describe a character until the other person guesses it based on your descriptions.

This sounds abominably hard to me but my kids have actually played this in the car. They have also gotten it right (although sometimes, just randomly guessing until they hit the right word).

Again, I don’t know where they learned this game. Likely YouTube – but maybe they were just bored one day and started playing. Or maybe their Chinese tutor taught it to them.

I don’t know. Do I look like I keep good tabs on what my kids do?

A variation of this game is when they start to write a character a stroke at a time on a magnetic drawing board (affiliate link) (or use their feet on the back of chairs or fingers in the air) and the other person tries to guess the word before they finish writing.

6) Sing songs or tell stories.

Similar to having a conversation or listening to Chinese audio, this is just your kids singing or telling stories or jokes in Chinese. Of course, this requires that they know at least one song/story/joke. And if you use this in conjunction with listening to Chinese CDs, your kids will eventually start singing the songs they know.

I am amazed at how many songs my children know and can sing or recite from what they’ve learned listening to Chinese CDs alone. (They also know a ton from their Chinese tutors.) This doesn’t even include all the stuff they consume from YouTube.

Anyhow, these ideas aren’t original or even that difficult to think of. I’m sure off the top of your head, you can think of stuff I didn’t mention. (If that is the case, please let me know in the comments! The more ideas the better!)

These are just some examples of how you can maximize your traveling time. And since your kids are stuck in the car anyway, you might as well unleash your inner Tiger Mom and get the kids working on their Chinese already.

Good luck! And let me know how your kids end up liking these games if you try them at home (or on the road, as the case may be).

How to Jumpstart Your Kid’s Chinese

**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

It’s been awhile since I posted about Chinese language acquisition. I try not to post about this subject unless I actually have something either new to say – or more likely, a new way to present classic truths.

And today is that day. Lucky you!

Since 2017 just started, I figure many of us are taking stock over our past year and planning for the new one. And perhaps, like many of us, your kid’s Chinese has started to backslide and you want to kick it back into gear.

Well, without further preamble, here is the absolute, top, most effective, number one thing you can do to help jumpstart your kid’s Chinese (waitforit):

Speak Chinese to your children. 

I know. Collective groans from both speakers and non-speakers alike.

I get it.

Unless you immigrated over relatively later in life, English is likely your dominant language (or at least, the dominant language you think in and communicate with your children).

The thought of communicating in Chinese with your children is likely exhausting (it certainly is for me), and requires constant upkeep and vigilance. The ease and speed at which I slip into English with my kids is something to behold – and really hard to correct course after awhile.

But it can be done.

And then, of course, if you don’t speak Chinese yourself, the possibility of communicating in Chinese with your children is improbable and implausible (though not impossible, I suppose). This article will have limited application for you, but all is not lost. You just have to be more creative and likely, have to pay for it.

Look, I am totally beating a dead horse and Captain Obviousing it here, but seriously: Speak Chinese to your children.

Your common sense likely confirms my brilliant advice.

How did your kids learn English? They heard you speak it. They heard everyone around them speak it. Everything they consumed speaks it.

Thus, the quickest and most efficient way for your kids to learn Chinese is to hear you speak it. The more Chinese they hear and eventually comprehend, the more likely they will speak it. (After all, how can you expect them to speak Chinese if they do not have the vocabulary to express themselves in it?)

I could spout all these language acquisition facts at you and they would most likely bore you to death.

Also? It probably won’t change your behavior because facts without a plan of action don’t really do anything.

So, how can you change your Chinese speaking (or lack thereof) habits?

Here then, are some of my tips:

1) Start small.

Perhaps start off by speaking to the kids for 15 minutes a day and then increasing by 15 minute increments each week. Any time increment will do.

Or maybe, speak only Chinese at meal times. (Although, if your kids are picky eaters and every meal is a battle, don’t add this additional stress to your life. It just isn’t worth it.)

Or maybe, read/tell Chinese stories before bedtime. (Again, if bedtime is normally a contentious time, don’t add more pain to the routine. Choose a different time.)

The point is to just start small, do that consistently, and when you start getting good at that, to increase your Chinese speaking time.

2) What if you can’t speak?

Hire a tutor to just TALK with your kids and play and read or discuss things or go out to eat. Hire someone to do “life”with your child except do life in Chinese.

Hire (or ask family members or friends or beg/borrow/steal) someone to do the activities I listed in the previous point with your children. This can be in person or via Skype or however you manage to do it.

Yes, this sucks that you will have to work harder that parents who speak Chinese don’t have to deal with. But hey, that’s life. We all have different advantages and disadvantages. But somehow, we make it work!

3) Speak Chinese.

I know. Captain Obviousing again.

But really, after you start small and scale up, there really is nothing more to it than the doing of it.

No amount of media, playdates, whatever, can replace you just speaking Chinese to your kid already.

You are the easiest and quickest source of Chinese for your children because you are in their lives and have to be with them.

Speak Chinese to your children.

Yes. I know. My tips suck today because really, other than the “Start Small” piece of advice, I don’t have anything else.

I have totally misled you.

Sorry. (Not really.)

But, Mandarin Mama, you say. My kid won’t speak back to me in Chinese! How will me speaking to them improve that?

Welp, its hard to speak a language and have a conversation if you don’t have the necessary vocabulary with which to speak. Many children aren’t willing to speak Chinglish and use Chinese for the words they know and subbing English for words they don’t.

In that case, just repeat what they said in English in Chinese. Offer them the vocabulary they need.

But what if my Chinese isn’t good enough?

Hey, I get that. And really, the only solution to that is to speak and get better. 

What? You have to expend effort?

I know.

This is how I feel about most parenting and adulting.

Sucks.

But the more you do it, the easier it will be.

But what if we talk about complicated stuff I simply don’t have the vocabulary for?

Hey, I get it. If I have to talk to my kids about the Birds and the Bees or even bullying, I likely will not be able to with any semblance of nuance or sophistication.

I can choose one of three options:

a) Conduct the conversation in English. 

This is the easiest option and totally legit. After all, this is likely not a full time experience and will not affect your children’s overall Chinese fluency.

b) Conduct the conversation in Chinglish. 

A little more difficult (and likely, what I end up doing) and subbing complicated vocabulary with English. At some point, it may become ridiculous. Then switch to English.

Again. Unless 80+% of your conversations are deep and complicated, I think you will be fine.

c) Conduct the conversation in Chinese. 

Of course, this requires a lot more preparation and work. I am not a fan of this option but I am a lazy sort.

If you are confident enough or want to take the time to do this, by all means! That’s great.

But again, choose what works for you.

Look. Speaking Chinese all the time (or as much as possible) is a lifestyle change.

It will be uncomfortable and awkward. And then it will become easier. And then it will be normal.

Before Cookie Monster (7) was born, I rarely spoke Chinese. I hadn’t really spoken Chinese on a daily and regular basis since I left for college at seventeen. That’s over a decade of not speaking or dealing with or thinking in Chinese.

So, when I had Cookie Monster, I figured I would just copy my parents and speak to him in Chinese and that’s how he would learn to speak and understand it.

I did not realize how difficult it would be.

First of all, I felt ridiculous speaking to my child at all since he was an infant.

Second, it was really hard to switch from over a decade of speaking and thinking predominantly in English to Chinese. It was really hard.

And who would blame me if I slipped up and stopped speaking in Chinese? It’s not like it was a cornerstone of good parenting. But it turns out that teaching Chinese to my kids is a super hardcore value of mine and eventually, it took over my whole life.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be like me and revolve your life around Chinese. But I am saying that it requires effort and intention and continual follow-through.

And now, seven years later, my Chinese vocabulary has expanded, my literacy has (mildly) improved, and speaking in Chinese to my children is like breathing.

To be honest, it is STILL hard. I am constantly looking up words and translations and yelling at my kids to speak in Chinese and to remind myself to speak Chinese during Chinese playdates with my mommy friends.

But overall, it is now a way of life. A conscious way of life, but completely doable and attainable.

It just takes time and consistency.

Speak to your kids in Chinese already. 

How to Choose a Taiwanese Preschool

The other day, a reader brought to my attention that perhaps my post on How to Plan a Trip to Taiwan was not as helpful in the choosing a Taiwanese preschool department. So, in the spirit of being helpful, I wrote another post about specifically, finding a preschool for the 6 years and under set.

Here’s the thing: it’s really obvious.

I mean, so obvious, I feel dumb writing an entire post on the topic. Thus, be forewarned, this is a super short post and may seem bare bones.

I’m not trying to be difficult. It really is as you likely would have approached the task on your own.

You are not missing out. You are totally doing it correctly.

So. With that caveat out of the way, here’s how you choose a preschool in Taiwan:

1) Decide what you would like in a Taiwanese preschool. 

If your kids are already in preschool (or you have gone through this with previous children), you already have an idea of what you want in a preschool.

Do you want it to be more play based? More structured? More formally “educational” (like with learning characters, alphabet, zhuyin, etc.)? A particular educational philosophy?

However, be aware that just like in your home country, the more specific you are (and inflexible), the less likely you will find a preschool fitting your criteria.

Sometimes, beggars can’t be choosers.

So, in my case, I wanted a play-based Montessori-like environment. I didn’t really care if my kids learned any characters, etc. because we do enough of that at home, during the school year. (We homeschool as well as attend Chinese preschools.)

Unfortunately, because Glow Worm has many food allergies (ranging from severe to mild), most Taiwanese preschools refused to accommodate him. They cited a Taiwanese law that states only authorized medical personnel (ie: a DOCTOR) could administer shots. Even if it kills my kid in the process.

So, with all the schools refusing to accept Glow Worm out of fear in applying the Epipen, (always in their super polite, vague, passive aggressive manner), I had to go with any school that would accept him.

Thus, I had to really refine what I wanted, and that was (and is): to have my kids be taught by adults whose Chinese obviously surpassed my “kitchen Chinese” and be surrounded by kids who spoke (mostly) Chinese.

Hence, I settled on an international school because they were used to dealing with all sorts of food allergies, were willing to administer the Epipen if needed, and allowed me to provide all Glow Worm’s food and snacks.

So, although I preferred something less academic, I was satisfied with the school we attended because being alive at an academic place is better than not being alive at a play-based place.

2) Settle on a location and then Google (or ask friends/family) for preschools around the area.

I know. Thanks, Captain Obvious!

But seriously. Google is a thing. Use it.

Also? Local preschools will likely have websites and Facebook pages in Chinese only. For obvious reasons.

If you are like me and when you see a wall of Chinese text, respond with an internal, “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”, this will be the most difficult part of the process.

Thus, I prevailed upon friends and family and Facebook groups for their recommendations and experiences.

Sorry, internet readers. I will not be that friend.

For many reasons, but chiefly: I am not qualified to make recommendations to you, a stranger.

I’m sure you’re a very nice person and not at all creepy. This is nothing personal. Please do not ask me for specific preschool recommendations

I will ignore you if I’m feeling generous.

I will screenshot and publicly shame you if I’m feeling ornery (which is the norm because I have four children and though I love them to distraction, they also eat up all my minute reservoirs of patience).

3) Email/call the preschool directors and ask if they a) have a summer program, and b) the details of this summer program.

If they are local preschools, you will most likely have to communicate in Chinese. To expect them to accommodate you in English isn’t realistic or fair. After all, you don’t expect a preschool in America to communicate in Chinese (or any language other than possibly Spanish). Why would it be different in Taiwan?

Also, you will either have to pay in cash on the first day or have someone wire tuition via a Taiwanese bank account. This is NOT handy. (I always feel like a drug dealer when I carry around a fat packet of cash in my purse or on my person. Particularly since Taiwanese money has 1000NT bills!)

4) Choose. 

After which, I have not tried to reinvent the wheel every summer and just stick to what I know.

You cannot know the depths of my consternation when I realized Glow Worm could not attend the school I sent Cookie Monster and Gamera to back in 2014. There was much teeth gnashing and fist shaking and creative cursing.

Do not succumb to FOMO. Unless you had a mediocre or horrible experience, make life easier for yourself. Stick with what works.

Of course, this will fall on deaf ears for people who truly have FOMO. But for those of us who are lazier than we are fearful, this is my official Mandarin Mama seal of approval/permission to just do what you did last time already.

You’re welcome!

Ok. That’s it.

I told you the information was obvious.

There is no need to overthink the situation. You were going to do this anyway. Here is now the official article giving you confirmation bias.

You’re welcome, again!

I am just a font of benefits today. Happy Hunting!

Why I Sometimes Advise People to Give Up Chinese

**This piece was originally part of a series of posts. You can find the updated version, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese

A few days ago, I heard through the grapevine that a friend of mine, AAMilano, was considering sending her children to zhuyin classes. And because I love her, I told her not to.

I know. I am a big proponent of Chinese and zhuyin for literacy – what was I doing? Had I gone temporarily insane? (And had I betrayed my other friend who was arranging the class and now needed to find more students in order to make it worth it for the teacher?)

No.

Here’s the thing. I know my friend. And I know her purported goals and desires regarding Chinese fluency. And I knew, without a doubt, pursuing zhuyin classes for her kids was going to be a waste of her time, energy, and resources.

In fact, AAMilano is the primary reason I started my So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese Series. (You all really should thank her. Or blame her. One or the other.)

Anyhow, here’s why I told her to forget about the class.

AAMilano and her husband both work full time. She has three smart, capable little girls who, for the first few years of their lives, were completely fluent in Chinese. But like most children, once they started preschool and grade school, Chinese lost ground.

Her oldest daughter still retains some of her Chinese through going to Chinese school a few years ago and some efforts on my friend’s part to stem the loss, but her youngest two daughters have pretty much lost all of their Chinese.

She has, over the years, worried and stressed about finding Chinese tutors to help her daughters with reading and writing Chinese as well as trying to find ways to stem the loss of their Chinese, but all of the stop gaps she attempted were trying to plug a hole she didn’t even particularly want to fill.

How do I know this? Because I have talked to AAMilano numerous times over the years about what she actually wants.

And here’s what she actually wants for her kids: She wants them to eat well, get enough sleep, and to play outside after school. Incidentally, she already feels as if they aren’t doing that well. And after those basic needs are met, she would like them to learn to swim and to have one physical activity and then, perhaps one more activity.

Nowhere is Chinese fluency, let alone reading and writing, on that list.

Nowhere.

So, if AAMilano doesn’t care if her kids can read or write in Chinese, nor do her kids have the comprehension to make use of the zhuyin, what’s the point?

She would be detracting from the things she actually wants while focusing on things she doesn’t.

And why? Out of some misplaced guilt about what she should be doing? (To be fair, she is surrounded by many of us crazy, gung-ho Mandarin immersion moms.)

So I told AAMilano to not sign up for the zhuyin class. And in fact, to consider dropping the whole Chinese fluency thing in general. And then, to STOP FEELING GUILTY.

It’s not a bad example to her kids or a failure as a Chinese/Taiwanese mother. In fact, it’s a good example for her kids because if they ever ask, she can say that she had them quit Chinese because she realized that she has limited time, energy, and resources (like we all do in life) and that to be consistent with what she truly wants for her family, it was better for her to focus on the things that did matter to her.

Being authentic and learning to discern what we truly want and desire out of a sea of good options and opportunities and learning how to get rid of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an integral life lesson. Better to learn it sooner rather than later.

And that if she really still felt bad about the Chinese speaking and understanding part, then to use her money to either find a tutor or a mother’s helper who would come twice a week for about two hours and play, tell stories, and do life with her kids in Chinese. And then maybe, she can find a Chinese swimming/art/activity teacher to round out the rest.

That way, they are doing what she values (playing, swimming, and physical activities) while she has freed up time for herself to either cook (meets the eating healthy part of her goals) or run errands or heck – NAP (sleeping well achievement unlocked!).

Of course, increasing her own Chinese speaking to the kids as well as increasing their Chinese media consumption would help her, but again, if she really doesn’t want to do that and expend the effort, to just let Chinese fluency go.

There are more important things in life (especially in her personal belief system), so why go through so much effort for something she doesn’t really want?

For regular readers of Mandarin Mama, this might come as a surprise to you that I would ever tell people to stop or give up Chinese (or even aspects of their Chinese journey like reading/writing).

After all, aren’t I the crazy one who homeschools her children in Chinese and makes sure 90% of their schools and extracurriculars are done in Chinese?

Aren’t I kinda being a hypocrite or worse – a saboteur?

Here’s the thing: telling people to give up Chinese (or parts of it) is my version of mercy and kindness. And not for the reason you might be thinking.

It has nothing to do with whether or not I think their children are talented or gifted or intellectual or smart enough. In fact, Chinese fluency has very little to do with talents/gifts/intellect/smarts.

The only qualities that matter in terms of successfully having your children learn Chinese are intention and follow through

I mean, I know it’s tempting to attribute success to some unique and special quality of our children or circumstances, but it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the individual qualities and temperments of your kids definitely help or detract, but by and large, it really doesn’t matter.

Like all goals you want to achieve, whether weight loss, running a marathon, writing a book, getting out of debt, saving for college, getting a promotion – WHATEVER – it really just comes down to doing the work.

Of course, innate talent, ability, intelligence (in whatever chosen field), luck, and external circumstances can make the work easier or harder, but ultimately, you do the work.

You identify your goal, identify the steps to achieve your goal, and then, DO THE STEPS.

Nothing is simpler (or harder).

The REAL reason I sometimes tell friends to give up either all or just aspects of Chinese for their kids, is because I’m in favor of living a life you actually want instead of the life you think you should want.

Let me repeat that.

Live the life you actually want instead of the life you think you should want.

I wasted over three decades (that’s like 80% of my LIFE, people) doing things I thought I should such as having a certain type of major, a type of career, a type of parenting – and I was MISERABLE.

I am not going to waste any more years of my life.

And I certainly don’t want my friends to waste even a single second on things that they truly don’t care about but feel guilted into doing because that’s what you should do as a Chinese/Taiwanese parent.

Because guess what?

Just because you or your kids are entirely or partially ethnically Chinese/Taiwanese doesn’t mean they have to speak Chinese. And anyone who insists otherwise and says your kids are then no longer authentically Chinese/Taiwanese or challenges your or your children’s identities can go suck on an exhaust pipe.

Anyone who expects your children to be fluent in Chinese because of their racial makeup is racist as fuck.

Especially folks who are not ethnically Chinese bragging about how their children are so much better at the language than heritage children and isn’t that such a shame and how awesome they are for being so open-minded and determined or whatever.

Congratulations, your kid can speak Chinese. Good job. Here’s a cookie.

Now go be smug somewhere else.

Anyway…

My entire point is that, whether you are Chinese/Taiwanese or not, that unless you REALLY REALLY REALLY want your kids to be fluent/literate and are willing to put in the work (and OMG, it’s a LOT of work), why?

Why are you doing this to yourself and your children? Why are you arguing and fighting over Chinese school/homework/characters/speaking? Why are you spending all this time and energy and money on tutoring or classes or activities? What’s the point?

So, take the time to think about what you REALLY want for your children given your limited time, money, desire, and ability.

And then be ruthless in cutting out the things you don’t want – even if it includes Chinese fluency and/or literacy.

Yeah, I said it.

Including Chinese fluency and/or literacy.

Life is too short, friends.

Life is too short and full of so many awesome and amazing options that Chinese fluency/literacy is a tiny drop in a vast ocean of opportunities that will help your child have a good, beautiful life.

You are not a failure if after taking stock of your life and the life you want, you find that Chinese fluency/literacy/writing do NOT fit. Or if you take a look at what it takes to be truly fluent and literate, you decide, no. You do NOT want to expend the time, energy, and money on this endeavor.

It’s okay to say, “Not now.” Or even an outright “No.”

There is no medal for having your kids suffer and reluctantly become fluent.

There is no long-suffering award for sticking through with something that makes you and your children miserable and harms your relationship with them.

There is no penalty for NOT caring or wanting or having Chinese fluency/literacy.

No one is going to take away your Chinese/Taiwanese American card or your hipster card or your awesome card. (And if someone even attempts to, you can tell them Mandarin Mama told them to go gargle acid.)

All I want is for you to live the life as close to your deepest desires as possible.

If that includes Chinese fluency and literacy, wonderful! I wish you the best of luck, support, and fulfillment on this journey. And if it doesn’t? I am happy for you, too.

May you live the life you want in the manner you so choose – Chinese fluency or no.

Taiwanese Camp Update, Week 4

I sincerely meant to post this update sooner than I have – however, I wanted to get back to a regular schedule and that meant that I really only post Chinese related stuff on Fridays. And I had two posts lined up for Fridays already so I figured, hey! We can wait for the Taiwan camp and Chinese update posts.

Now that we’ve been home for a month, it’s been interesting to hear my kids’ responses when people ask them how they liked their Taiwan school/camp experience.

Of course, it will be no surprise to any of you following along from home.

Cookie Monster had a lot of fun and liked his activities. Gamera hated it all (despite still remembering some songs and dances and chants). Glow Worm couldn’t tell you because he still doesn’t really talk that much (albeit, more than before) and can’t really express that complex a thought (although he may think it!).

So, without further delay, here then is the update on the last week of camp and school for my kids.

Author’s Note: As I have mentioned before, please do not ask me (whether in comments or private message) where my kids are attending school and camps. I am a big believer in internet safety and having been stalked before (an unpleasant and stressful experience to be sure), I am not keen on sharing where my kids go to school. If that is a problem for you, I don’t really care. If you ask, I will ignore you and if you repeatedly ask, I will block you.

Incidentally, I have already had to block at least one person because despite them reading all these notes and posts, they still presumed that they could ask me since “Camp is over.”

Dear readers. I have three (going on four) children. Please stop and consider that if I actually like a camp, that quite possibly, I would sign up for it again. With one or more of my current children. So, NO. I WILL NOT TELL YOU WHERE MY KIDS GO TO CAMP.

I'll admit. I was really annoyed that Cookie Monster came home with two small shrimp as pets. I mean, great - if I lived in Taiwan. Booooo because I hate taking care of animals and I had to break it to Cookie Monster that these shrimp were NOT coming home with us.

I’ll admit. I was really annoyed that Cookie Monster came home with two small shrimp as pets. I mean, great – if I lived in Taiwan. Booooo because I hate taking care of animals and I had to break it to Cookie Monster that these shrimp were NOT coming home with us.

Local Camp Experience, Week 4

This week, Cookie Monster (6.5) went back to the outdoor day camp where they take a shuttle to a bunch of different cities and places for quick day trips. I was much happier this week since this time, instead of half the camp being US kids, there was only Cookie Monster as the lone overseas kid.

In fact, looks like Cookie Monster passed as a local kid until Hapa Papa showed up and outed him. One of the kids asked a teacher if Cookie Monster was a foreigner and the teacher responded, “Yes” but had no idea from what country. Whooo!

Anyhow, just like the previous camp, they visited several counties/cities (Yi Lan, Tao Yuan, New Taipei City, and Miao Li), to again, check out a bunch of museums, factories, and farms.

The crafts and souvenirs Cookie Monster collected and made this week.

The crafts and souvenirs Cookie Monster collected and made this week.

This time, they went to a shrimp/clam farm and they tried to catch shrimp and clams and were in rafts; a sunflower farm where they painted ceramic sunflowers and picked sunflowers; saw waterfalls and panoramic views; visited aboriginal homes and sites; and went to a fruit farm to pick fruit and cook.

From the pictures on their site, (which again, I would include but they all have watermarks and I really don’t want to reveal where my kid went to camp – nor do I want to strip the camp of their watermarks) it looks like Cookie Monster had a fantastic time.

Sticky rice in bamboo. I can't believe Cookie Monster cooked and made this!

Sticky rice in bamboo. I can’t believe Cookie Monster cooked and made this!

I swear. I chose these camps for myself.

Again, they played games on the bus and Cookie Monster made some friends (especially a boy who used to live in the US and thus spoke to Cookie Monster nonstop in English – SIGH) and he seemed to like what they made and did.

International School, Week 4

You’ll think this is a result of me being a terrible parent, but truly, until the very last day of school, I had no real idea what my kids had been doing at their school.

Display tables with everything Gamera and Glow Worm made during their four weeks of school.

Display tables with everything Gamera and Glow Worm made during their four weeks of school.

I mean, I knew what the teachers posted in the kids’ communication books. But let’s be real. It’s in Chinese (and though I could read it), it was pretty repetitive. I never saw any pics or evidence of what they did at school since they didn’t bring anything home.

Well, it turns out they saved everything for the last day of school to hand out in one HUGE display table and they give you a bag to put everything in.

It’s quite impressive.

So, for this week’s summary, I will just mostly explain what happened on the last day of school and show off pics of what they sent us home with.

After showing up for the school end performance, the first thing we see are the rows and rows of their creations. I didn’t know they did so many fun things! And then, we went to sit down for the performance.

The kids lined up on the side of the room (which was handy because that’s where Hapa Papa and I were sitting so we got to hug and kiss Gamera and Glow Worm when they were lining up).

They performed. It is about what you’d expect from preschoolers. Gamera was surprisingly into it. Glow Worm was not. He just stood there. He was the smallest in his class! Ah, my baby boy. So sweet.

Then after they performed, we took lots of pictures and the kids went back to class and had a party in the afternoon. We were forced to stick around and listen to the teachers and fellow parents talk about their experiences with the school. Glow Worm’s teacher asked me to talk so I spoke really briefly. I didn’t want to, but she was SO GOOD to Glow Worm all summer that I felt rude refusing.

After that, we went to Gamera’s classroom where they had a mini-awards ceremony. Every kid got an award and Gamera’s was something along the lines of being helpful or something. I wasn’t really paying attention because I’m an awful parent. Oh, and it was ALL IN CHINESE so some of the vocabulary went over my head.

Hey. I took pics, ok? That should be enough.

Also, it looks like the kids did a decent amount of character learning and recognition as the workbooks suggest. Gamera already knew everything they taught her, but I think she still enjoyed being smart, so I guess there’s that.

I was surprised at how much Glow Worm seemed to accomplish – but I guess it’s because I still consider him a baby. He’s three now, so I guess he’s a big boy. sob

Anyhow, below is a slideshow of their pics for this last week and a few videos. The videos basically go through each of the kids’ portfolios so you can get an idea of what they taught over the summer.

I hope that helps! I will definitely sign up Cookie Monster for his camps again, and as for Gamera? I’ll be putting her in Cookie Monster’s camps. (I asked and they all said it should be fine as long as she’s in first grade.) And too bad, Glow Worm, you’re going back next year, too.

Alright, this concludes our updates for camps and schools until next summer. Whew!

 

 

Guest Post: A Road Map to Early Chinese Literacy During Early Childhood


Today, we have another guest post by Alex Pang! He is a valued contributor to the Raising Bilingual Kids in Chinese & English Facebook group and has made several helpful posts in the past on MandarinMama on Sagebooks and Greenfield.

This time, he wanted to address some questions he sees oft repeated on the Facebook group and thought it would be helpful to others for him to detail HIS road map and what worked for him.

Despite Alex’s modesty in stating that he doubts people will be interested, I completely disagree. As much as I feel as if I’m brilliant and a genius (I mean, come on, you know it’s true), I concede that I am not for everyone and that my way is not the only way.

And like all fields, we benefit as a community to read diverse methods and strategies and tactics. Plus, you never know what awesome ideas you will pick up from other people.

Keep in mind, both Alex and his wife are full time doctors so they definitely present a different POV than mine as a SAHM. Our philosophies might overlap a bit, but the application and the time carving is a totally different beast.

So, without further ado, I present to you Alex’s post. I hope you enjoy it and find it as helpful as I do.


Author’s Note: Much of what I say below echoes and summarizes what has already been stated by many others.

This little guide serves the busy working parent who is floundering with limited amounts of time and energy to teach Chinese, and therefore desires an efficient framework to lay a reading foundation. I have written down what I consider the minimum amount of work necessary for developing an adequate reading ability in Chinese at the early elementary (primary 1 and 2) level.

The prerequisites for this endeavor include:

1) at least one highly motivated parent who is also a fluent speaker and reader at 3rd grade level and above (if this already proves a roadblock, at least substitute with as much hired tutoring as possible); and

2) access to age-appropriate books.

I will presume your child has speaking and listening fluency at a near-native level (which basically means that your commitment to speaking Chinese started at birth).

Here is the fine print—first and foremost, prepare to persist and commit for the really long haul, as it is the parent who is the primary determinant of reading success in these early childhood years.

Second, the child must reside within as much of a Chinese language environment as possible. For example, we employ a Chinese-speaking nanny, play Chinese-subbed cartoons, and listen to Chinese pop in the car…all in the name of the cause (FYI my kids attend English-language preschool/preK/K). Expensive trips abroad to Taiwan and China will definitely help but are not critical at this juncture.

Third, I do not claim that our method is necessarily the simplest, fastest, or the best, and there are clearly many other children who have achieved early Chinese literacy without going through the same process my child did. This road map merely reflects our ongoing experience.

The following presents some of the books and tips we found most helpful in establishing the reading base over the last two years, assisting our child in making the large jump from Sagebooks 500 and Greenfield readers to “real” books (more like crossing a chasm, actually!). The ages listed are approximate ranges for the respective book levels.

So what is the secret ingredient that encourages early childhood literacy? The answer is…there is no better ingredient than daily reading.

We read for at least 20-30 minutes, EVERY day without fail, even while on vacation.

Despite being relentless about my endeavor, it was incredibly difficult to fit time in to read every day for the past two years (I once read with my kid while she was on the can!) But I knew that each day that passes by without reading in Chinese is a day lost to English.

The reading exercise cannot simply comprise of reading characters or words for the sake of reading characters and words. Similar to learning any language, reading this early in Chinese relies on continuous interaction between parent and child, whereby the fluent parent will explain and expound on words/vocabulary, phrases, and context.

Ages 4-5: This is a pre-reading stage. At this age, establish a solid five hundred character base with the entire Sagebooks 500 (including the treasure box sets), learning at least one new character a day with quick review of previously learned characters. Making character flash cards yourself or buying them from Guavarama as these will help with review.

Establish reading fluency by repeating a sentence until reading speed is adequate for the child to actually understand what she is reading. If there are lengthy pauses between characters, then the child is just reading random words/characters aloud without the ability to interpret and process what she is reading.

I suggest additional supplementation with leveled readers like Greenfield’s I Can Read (我自己會讀) and Magic Box (魔術盒), or Sesame Publishing’s Ding Ding Dong Dong readers (丁丁當當) for practicing and building confidence at this stage.

Ages 5-6: Teach zhuyin, no matter how long it takes! Use short readers to assist with this.

Why learn zhuyin? My child could read most children’s literature after tearing through 500 characters from Sagebooks, right?

Sadly, anything worth reading requires knowledge of at least another 1000 or so characters. Zhuyin, then, allows for incremental development of reading skills and enables the child to read interesting books while still learning to recognize new characters. Some very good practice for zhuyin include those ubiquitous 3-minute bedtime storybooks (三分鐘故事).

After learning zhuyin, power up to Level 0 with easy zhuyin books in the following order:

1) Little Bear set (小熊看世界);

2) Frog and Toad set (青蛙與蟾蜍);

3) Little Fox set (小狐狸系列) from the Storybook Ferris Wheel collection (故事摩天輪);

4) any other Level 0 books on Guavarama’s list, and then move on to Level 1. See the photo of my bookshelf for suggestions.

At this point, additional supplementation with ANY book that interests the child is good. The goal is to develop reading speed/fluency.

It is paramount that the book is appropriate to comprehension level. Starting Magic Treehouse at this age may not help very much other than verify that the child knows zhuyin. For other good book sets at Level 0 and Level 1, please refer to Guavarama’s post on building a Chinese library.

Ages 6-9: Now you are well along on your journey together. You will perceive the improvements in vocabulary and idiom knowledge gained simply through extensive reading.

It probably happens like this—the child uses a word or idiom you know you never taught. Then you ask your spouse, or the tutor, or the grandparents, but each denies it. Then you ask your child if she learned the word from a book. And she will simply shrug her shoulders and look at you with a blank expression. But you know it had to be the books!

At this point allow yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, but do not rest on the laurels. Continue reading daily!

Other book sets appropriate for this age range include the remainder of the Storybook Ferris Wheel collection (故事摩天輪); the Reading 123 set (閱讀123); and the Magic Treehouse set (神奇樹屋).

The photo represents ~30% of my Chinese book collection and nearly all of the books I have used so far after the pre-reading stage. Top shelf: Sagebooks 500, Greenfield I Can Read, and Greenfield Magic Box. Middle shelf: Level 0 and some Level 1 books. Bottom shelf: picture books.

The photo represents ~30% of my Chinese book collection and nearly all of the books I have used so far after the pre-reading stage. Top shelf: Sagebooks 500, Greenfield I Can Read, and Greenfield Magic Box. Middle shelf: Level 0 and some Level 1 books. Bottom shelf: picture books.


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Alex Pang asked me to include the updated version of his bookshelf which added some books and rearranged books in reading level.

Final Money Tally for Taiwan Trip 2016


Ok. I am super reluctant to write this post because it reveals something about me that though I joke about with my closest friends, I don’t mention too often because I personally think it makes me look bad. After all, no one likes a braggart or someone who is seemingly thoughtless with money.

And honestly, I can be pretty thoughtless with money.

Not in the sense that I don’t think about money – but in the sense that I know our general threshold and that as long as an expenditure is below that threshold, I don’t even blink.

We are very comfortable and live a very privileged life. I know it.

You see, I have a thing that Hapa Papa likes to call Rich Girl Syndrome (RGS) in the sense that I think all things can be solved if you throw enough money at it. (Irish Twins’s husband, MBE calls it the Wallet Save.)

As a result, I don’t really think about budgets or how much something costs unless it is exorbitant or something I personally find outrageous. Also, my mother gave me a very generous sum of money for the summer so that I wouldn’t have to worry about taking taxis and books and food. She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be stingy – and that I would make sure not to get over-tired and take things easy.

So.

Obviously, my budget will likely not be yours in the sense that I thought very little about the costs except in terms of how it cut into the amount I was willing to spend. But in general, I did not count pennies or dollars or NT. I just did what I wanted when I wanted.

I suppose it helps that I’m not exactly a luxury shopper and all I really spent my money on was food and books. But still, the money went fast and Hapa Papa is mad I didn’t save more money from the trip. (Although I did save a bunch of money two years ago from the generous sum my mother gave me then. But I suppose that doesn’t count for this year.)

So.

Now you know.

My budget likely will not be your budget.

However, at least you will know a bit more about pricing.

I realize that I am a very privileged person in terms of finances and that me blithely saying, “Just go to Taiwan for six weeks! Easy! Just say goodbye to $12-13,000!” is somewhat implausible for many of you.

Also, keep in mind that we choose not to spend money on many other things during the year that likely other people choose to spend their money on (eg: trips, sports, etc.) because I know we’re going to be spending a lot of money on a trip to Taiwan.

So. Please consider my breakdown not in terms of what you HAVE to do, but more in terms of what I spent as best as I can remember it. (Which, honestly, has huge gaping holes in it because um, RGS.)

Obviously, YMMV in terms of costs depending on how often you eat out, how often you take taxis vs buses vs MRTs, how much you shop, where you buy groceries, what extracurricular things you do, what programs you choose for your children, and where you choose to live (and if you choose to rent or live with family).

Author’s Note: Any comments insulting me or the people who spend similar amounts on this type of trip will be deleted. 

I’m sure if any of us were to examine how you spend your money, we could come up with plenty of ways you are a wasteful asshole.

So since you do not know anything about our family income, monthly expenses, or financial situation other than what I choose to share on this blog for the purposes of you having an idea of how much a trip such as this can cost, any judgmental bullshit about how I am such a horrible snob or how it sucks to be poor (which, we can all readily agree that given the choice between having more money or less money, most of us would prefer the more financially secure position), or how it must be nice to be rich can just go suck on an exhaust pipe. 

So, without further ado, here are the costs for my Taiwan Trip 2016. All costs are in USD unless otherwise noted.

Travel: $4,400

– Round trip airfare for 1 adult and 3 children: (We used airline points for Hapa Papa’s tickets) $4400

Accommodations: $3,975

– Airbnb newly renovated 1br 1 bt apartment in a trendy/popular/convenient neighborhood for 40 nights: $3800 (includes about $200 in Airbnb fees)

– Hotel in Kaohsiung 1 night including breakfast: (bought as part of a business package deal including 1 night hotel and breakfast and with a Taiwanese discount so prices are approximate) $175

Education: $2,609

– International School Tuition, 4 weeks: $1,121/child (Total: $2,240)

– Local Camp A, 2 weeks: $306

– Local Camp B, 2 weeks: $339

Transportation: $990

– Taxi from TPE to apt: $40/$1300NT (7 passenger car with 2 rented car seats at $9 per car seat)

– Taxi from apt to TPE: $30/$1000NT (7 passenger car, 0 car seats, private car)

– Taxis in general: $600 (estimate)

– MRT for 1 adult, 1 child, and 1 adult for 2 weeks: $150 (estimate)

– Bus: N/A

– High Speed Rail ticket for 1 adult, 2 kids reserved seating: (bought as part of a business package deal including 1 night hotel and breakfast and with a Taiwanese discount so prices are approximate) $150

Airport Parking: $20 (Keep in mind, we saved a bunch here because we asked friends to drop off our minivan at the long term parking lot the night before we arrived home. Otherwise, if we parked in long term parking for the entire time Hapa Papa was in Taiwan like we did in 2014, the cost for airport parking would be closer to $250-300.)

Food: $1,594

– Groceries/Toiletries/Misc: $382 (estimate)

Eating Out: $1212 (estimate)

Incidentally, I likely would have spent far less if I didn’t have to provide my boys with food for lunch. I only did so because I worry about their food allergies. Otherwise, I would not have to worry about those “extra” meals as they were included in our school tuition.

However, I suppose since I got treated out a lot by family and family friends (and at way more expensive places than I would have personally chosen), it more than evens out in my favor. So, um, nevermind.

Miscellaneous: $1,525

– Kid Playspaces and Activities: $274 (Incidentally, I was an idiot and forgot a pair of tickets I had already bought so I ended up having to buy an extra two tickets. So, I guess I have two tickets for next year. Sob.)

– Kid Crafts: $90

– Cel Phone: $60

– Books/DVDs/CDs: $720

– Family Gifts/Reimbursements: $400

– Misc: $50

TOTAL: $15,093

Good Lord. Now I really feel like an asshole.

However.

One of my other friends is ALSO in Taiwan and in the same city and they were NOT as thoughtless as I am and STILL, they spent a similar amount. Why? Because some fixed costs you just can’t get rid of like round trip tickets and lodging.

Here are some of her basic numbers:

– Travel: (roundtrip tickets for 2 adults and 2 children) $5,400

– Housing: (4 br, 2 bt, washer/dryer in a less popular neighborhood for 7 weeks) $4,900

– Local camps, 5 weeks: $800

– Adult Language camp, 7 weeks: $500

– Books/DVDs/CDs: $625

– Food/MRT/HSR/Misc: (didn’t really take taxis due to safety concerns) $1642

Total: $13,867

Keep in mind, her housing costs are so high because she had other family members crashing at her place during various points. But she really didn’t eat out at fancy places (mostly the food stands and corner restaurants) and they definitely paid attention to their bottom line.

So, if you are a typical family of four and have no means to get free plane tickets and do not have access to free housing in Taiwan, the bulk of your costs are fixed at approximately $8-9,000. That’s BEFORE you do ANYTHING else.

So, are you just screwed with the costs?

Not necessarily.

While the fixed costs likely will not move much, you can do some small things that might change the hugeness of the number to slightly less huge. (I do concede housing is a place you can fiddle with – but it really depends on what amount of discomfort you are willing to endure for 4-6 weeks.)

So, here is a way to redeem myself.

Therefore, another list: Where you can save money on your trip to Taiwan.

1) Keep all your receipts and get a tax refund.

If you bring your foreign passport to the malls or save all your receipts, you can receive a tax refund on your purchases at the mall or at the airport. But that would require you to keep ALL your receipts.

2) Eat street food and shop at local groceries.

If you didn’t eat out at the more expensive restaurants and ate mostly food court food or street food, you will save a lot of money. I ate a LOT of shaved ice. Some were cheap. Some were not.

I also ate at places that were close to $40USD/1500NT for lunch or dinner. That’s a lot of money in a place where you can get a decent and filling meal for $6USD/200NT or less.

3) Enroll in local schools and camps.

The reason camps were so expensive for Gamera and Glow Worm were because they were in an international school. I got many comments from locals that the school they attended is one of the most expensive schools in the city.

I would have preferred to send them to a local school, but they wouldn’t take Glow Worm due to his food allergies. According to family friends of friends, a month of a local 幼兒 (you4 er2/preschool 3-6yo) or 大班 (da4 ban/kindergarten 6yo+) for $300USD a month.

4) Live in less popular neighborhoods.

I chose to live in a very expensive neighborhood because I wanted to be close to the MRT, to a lot of convenient restaurants I like to frequent, have a renovated space, and I like clean streets that don’t smell. I also don’t like being too far away from my children’s schools and activities.

You do NOT have to choose this for yourself. There are plenty of decent places to live that are larger and cheaper than what I got for my money. If you do not mind living further out on less popular MRT lines, or doing more research in terms of local schools vs. the big popular names, or even choosing less popular cities, you will save a lot of money.

I don’t think your experience will suffer for it.

5) Take the bus or MRT instead of cabs.

Trust me. There were many times I would have preferred to take the MRT or bus – but as things shook out (and with the number of children and them being uncooperative or the weather being sopping wet), I took cabs more often than I technically needed to.

In general, though, I took the MRT as much as possible. I didn’t go for buses at all this time, but I loved buses my last trip to Taiwan. I think it depends on your location and your destinations and what ends up being most convenient.

That said, my average taxi ride was about $5-6/150-200NT. However, an MRT ride is $0.50/16NT regardless of distance and the bus is approximately $0.31/10NT. (Keep in mind that kids are free unless they are 6 or above a certain height. Their fares are even lower.)

I’m certain there are plenty more ways to save money. (Such as not buy so many books or CDs or DVDs – but since you would spend more to have the items shipped since shipping to the US is approximately $75-100/22kg box and takes at least 2-3 months, personally, I think it costs more money not to.) But being as I am likely the last person on Earth to be useful in this arena, I am all tapped out for suggestions.

If you have any to share, please do so in the comments! (But keep in mind: not every one has access to mileage points or relatives in Taiwan. That, in itself, is a privilege of sorts.)

Alright, I’m done for today. Have a great day!