So… I Made a Thing

So, remember how I’ve been talking about finishing my ebook and how I have been afraid and all sorts of stuff?

Well… I finally finished.

And it’s on Amazon (affiliate link).

Here’s my new book, So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese. I collected and updated my popular series by the same name, added a few exclusive new chapters (23 chapters in total) and included an all new Action Plan cowritten with Guavarama

I crammed it full of practical advice, detailed applications, and heavy amounts of snark (although minus the swears) on how you can help supplement your child’s Chinese language acquisition.

Thanks to all my wonderful friends for already starting to share.  

Spread the word and if you do buy, please review on Amazon. That would help out tremendously! Thanks, everyone!

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.

 

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.

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.

Chinese Progress, Update 2

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Only ten days left in Taiwan! I can’t believe we have passed the halfway point in our trip here and are closing in on leaving. It makes me sad, but my kids are ecstatic. They keep begging to go back to America because Taiwan is “boring.” (What they don’t realize is that they are complaining to me in Chinese so I don’t care if they think it’s boring. They’re complaining to me IN CHINESE.)

Besides, Cookie Monster only thinks Taiwan is boring because he can’t play Halo or Minecraft all day. And to be fair, all they do most week days is wake up, watch a little iPad as I cram food in their faces, sunblock and bug spray them down, force them on the MRT and the death march to school, go to school, repeat death march home, eat while iPadding, bathe, and go to sleep by 8pm only to start the whole thing all over again the next day.

On weekends, we might do some fun things or visit family, but it is all too short and they are back to forcing their brains full of Chinese again.

I get it.

It is boring.

But I’m having a fantastic time (despite both Gamera and Glow Worm barfing a lot all over me, the Airbnb bed, the hotel bed, the floor, the sink, and themselves – at least they took turns getting sick) so that’s all that really matters.

Hapa Papa joined us for the last week of school (I totally thought he was coming a week later and was pleasantly surprised). That helped a lot (although it was hard to get used to another adult human being again)!

Anyhow, here are a few more of my unscientific observations on the Chinese status and progress of my kids now that school and camps have finished.

1) Cookie Monster really is starting to sound more 台 (tai2/Taiwanese). I made this observation two years ago when he added 啊 (a/ah) and 超級 (chao ji2/super) to everything.

He’s back at it – but instead of just 啊, it’s random phrases like 好險喔 (hao3 xian3 oh/That was close!) or just speaking in more of the lazy Taiwanese drawl. (That doesn’t please me as much, but hey. At least he’s speaking locally.)

2) All the kids are sprinkling more Chinese phrases into their daily speaking – phrases and terms I never realized that they knew. To be fair, they often don’t know what the terms mean. They just hear people using them in context and use it correctly – just without true understanding of the meaning. I suppose that is what kids do in the US with English, too.

Eg: 好帥 (hao3 shuai4/so good looking) or 聊天 (liao2 tian/have a conversation)

3) The kids are speaking more and more Chinese. It seems to be their default language of choice (especially for Gamera) but now that Hapa Papa has returned, I see that is slipping again. (Except for Gamera.)

4) They don’t complain about watching shows or movies in Chinese. It’s just normal. I put on The Force Awakens in Chinese yesterday night and Cookie Monster asked if it was going to be in English or Chinese and even when I said Chinese and he’d seen parts of it in English on the plane, he didn’t complain. Just sat and watched it.

In fact, I think they understood most of what was going on even with the dialog all in Chinese. Not that they would have understood it on a deep level in English, anyway. I just mean, they understood about as much as they would have in English.

Granted, this is an action movie and they just really care about light sabers and good guys and bad guys and fighting and space ships and BB-8 and R2D2. So, it’s not like there was a comprehension quiz at the end.

But you know when your kids understand something enough to continue to watch vs. when they watch the news and are like, FUCK THIS and leave.

Honestly, it is hard for me to watch movies in Chinese – especially when I put up Chinese subtitles. It takes way too much concentration to only half understand what the heck is going on. Thank goodness I had already seen the movie in English so I could explain or reassure the kids as to the finer plot points.

5) Turns out, Gamera hates watching Chinese cartoons but LOVES watching Taiwanese variety shows.

She will complain bitterly about the stupid cartoons (which you’d think she’d like) but be completely engrossed in the singing contests, stupid game shows, interviews, etc. with real people.

I can barely understand what’s going on (again, the active listening to terms I don’t hear as often requires a lot more effort and concentration I am willing to give to something I think should be as passive as TV). I personally far prefer the cartoons because that is more my speed. *weepsquietlyinacorner*

6) I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently sending Glow Worm to learn more Chinese not only increased his speaking in both Chinese and English, I also inadvertently increased his ability to say, “No” in Chinese.

Not only does he say, 不要 (bu2 yao4/no want) and 沒有 (mei2 you3/no have), he has incorporated 不行 (bu4 xing2/no), 不是 (bu2 shi4/no), as well as a few other ways that I can’t recall off the top of my head.

Incidentally, when Glow Worm says 不是 (bu2 shi4/no), it sounds awfully close to, “Bullshit.” It cracks me up inside every time.

7) Another way that Glow Worm is trying to incorporate Chinese into his speaking that I find amusing, he has totally upped his Chinglish! Instead of saying, “幫我 (bang wo3/help me),” he says “幫 (bang/help) me).

It sounds like “banh mi” and for awhile, I kept thinking of the Vietnamese sandwich.

8) Also, Glow Worm says, “救命啊 (jiu4 ming4 ah4/save or rescue me)!” in place of “幫我 (bang wo3/help me).”

It makes sense why, but it’s wrong. Still hilarious.

9) Glow Worm has also started to speak Chinese more often (his English has exploded, too, so I think it is more of a developmental stage than just being in Taiwan) and this pleases me greatly. He can even count to twenty in Chinese (which is more than he can in English)!

10) During the last week of Cookie Monster’s camp, it was back at the place that originally had half the kids from the US. This week, Cookie Monster was the only US kid in the group and I guess he was blending in well with them because all the kids thought he was like them.

Then, when they saw Hapa Papa, they asked the teacher if Cookie Monster was a 外國人 (wai4 guo2 ren2/foreigner). The teacher responded in the affirmative but didn’t know from where.

Hapa Papa outed Cookie Monster! But that’s okay because it means Cookie Monster must have been speaking enough Chinese (and more importantly – good enough Chinese) for the kids not to notice.

Granted, I later found out one of the boys who befriended Cookie Monster was a US expat who kept speaking happily to him in English so I was a bit annoyed about that but pleased Cookie Monster had made a friend. (This sentence is tortured but I am too lazy to fix it.)

11) Cookie Monster and Gamera are playing together more in Chinese. Even though English is still the dominant language, they do switch back and forth between the languages, and if they are speaking Chinese, they stick to it for longer periods.

They even fight in Chinese. That’s progress for sure.

12) I don’t notice Gamera’s Chinese progress as much since she seemed to be the best out of all three kids. However, my cousins and aunties all claim she has improved a lot and that her Chinese is very good. So, hey. That’s something!

The main thing is that her vocabulary has expanded and that’s likely the only thing I noticed.

Alright. I’m sure now that school and camp have ended and Hapa Papa has arrived on the scene, their Chinese will likely start the long, slow backslide that I expect to happen when we return to the States. But for now, I’m pleased that their language skills have gotten a nice boost.

Will keep you posted on their progress after a few weeks home. Have a great day!

Chinese Progress, Update 1

We have now been in Taiwan about 11 days (give or take depending on time change and traveling into the future via plane) and surprisingly, I’ve already seen signs of improvement in the kids’ Chinese.

Here then, are several of my meandering thoughts and observations (backed by zero science or discrete measurements and is merely a collection of my inaccurate and optimistic musings).

1) Cookie Monster now speaks mostly Chinese – even to me. Yes, I realize that he’s supposed to be doing that anyway, but that hasn’t really happened in awhile. I always have to remind him. But now, I rarely have to remind him. He is so used to speaking Chinese that he doesn’t even think twice about speaking it to me.

Plus, his vocabulary and breadth is expanding. He will even explain what he was learning or doing at camp in mostly Chinese.

How I know Chinese immersion is working. Cookie Monster keeps saying, “我的媽啊!” (Wo3 de5 ma ah!/Oh my gosh!)

They also keep saying “太可怕啦!” (Tai4 ke3 pa4 la4!/That’s so scary!)

I find these random statements hilarious. The kids have incorporated these common phrases into their Chinese toolkit (even if they’re not sure exactly what it means, they know when to use it correctly).

2) Glow Worm is hard to gauge because he wasn’t really talking much in the first place but always understood everything I said in Chinese. However, he is starting to repeat more and more words in Chinese as well as use Chinese more often. Again, it is hard to say, but I think his Chinese is improving.

3) Gamera’s Chinese was always the most fluid and fluent so I don’t see much difference except in her consistency. She now speaks to me more often in Chinese and explains long complicated scenarios to me all in Chinese. I can only assume she is also increasing her vocabulary and breadth.

4) Of course, their language of play amongst themselves is still in English, but I hear more and more Chinese non sequiturs and exclamations than before.

They have been playing with my cousin’s son on the weekends, too, so that is definitely mostly all in Chinese.

5) Further evidence that nonstop Chinese TV in the background is still better than nothing. (Even when the kids are barely paying attention and are on their iPads – they still will stop iPadding if they see or hear something interesting on the TV. My kids clearly are going to have focus problems in the future. But their Chinese will be awesome!)

On the kid channels (we’re permanently stuck on either YoYo TV or Momo TV), they will play random songs or have dance numbers with major cartoon characters in them. My kids will now dance along to the ones they’ve seen before (in fact, Gamera tells me one of the dance numbers they learned at school) or sing along or all of a sudden when they’re playing.

Current fave: 捏泥巴,捏泥巴,捏捏捏捏 捏泥巴。(nie ni2 ba, nie ni2 ba. Nie nie nie nie, nie ni2 ba/Squish the mud, Squish the mud. Squish squish squish squish, Squish the mud.)

Here’s a video of Gamera and Glow Worm dancing along to the songs. If you look at the reflection in the glass, you can see what they’re trying to copy.

The other side effect that I did not expect is that apparently, the kids understand more than I give them credit for. There is a toothpaste commercial that comes on a lot that details pores/holes in our teeth and how that is bad and the toothpaste heals the tiny holes or whatever. (See, even I am not quite clear on what they are actually saying.)

Anyhow, when the commercial came on, Cookie Monster proceeded to tell me all about the tiny holes in the teeth and Gamera continued telling me how the toothpaste heals all the holes. They told me this all in Chinese.

Propaganda and commercials clearly work. Whoooo! I don’t even mind the indoctrination!

So really, I should see if I can subscribe to Chinese programming on cable or just have Chinese stories on in the background of their daily lives. The noise might kill me.

According to Nurtureshock by Po Bronson, that would only work because the kids already understand Chinese. If they didn’t, the kids would just tune the sound out because their brains process Chinese as gibberish. So if your kids aren’t already fluent, this option is unlikely to do them much good.

6) I am starting to ask Cookie Monster to read more and more signs and instructions geared to kids that include zhuyin. He is more and more willing to do so out of a desire to do things.

For example, we were at a kids’ science museum and they had computer games with Chinese and zhuyin instructions that he really wanted to play so he read.

He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it.

7) Turns out both Cookie Monster and Gamera can read and recognize more Chinese characters than my cousin’s son who is turning six in a few months. That’s not surprising because my goal is to front load their reading comprehension as much as possible before they succumb to the ease and ubiquity of English.

I obviously don’t expect this “being ahead” to last. Besides, my nephew is in English immersion school so he is learning English and is on somewhat the reverse trajectory.

Sidenote: No one has mentioned or commented or been surprised my kids can speak and/or understand Chinese. I think they think my kids are likely from America, but no one is thinking they are mixed. And before you say they’re too polite to comment, you clearly don’t know how blunt Taiwanese people are – or how overtly racist/colorist.

Anyhow, the main bonus of this is that no one is practicing their shitty English on my kids and ruining the whole point of coming back to Taiwan in the first place.

Trust me, this happens ALL the time to folks who bring their kids back from the US. The very people (aka: family) who give you shit about your kids not being fluent enough in Chinese will be speaking to your kids in super crappy broken English when it’s been made very clear that a) you brought your kids back to improve their Chinese and b) your kids UNDERSTAND and SPEAK Chinese. </rant>

Alright, I think that is it for now. I hope you found this interesting even though it has no real bearing on your own children’s progress. But perhaps it can give you an idea of what to expect or hope for should you bring your kids back to Taiwan for camp and Mandarin immersion.

Did you take (or have you taken) your kids back to Taiwan or China? Is this similar to your experience? (Obviously, a lot depends on starting fluency, but surely some things are transferable.) Let me know in the comments.

Have a great weekend!

Chinese Reading Challenge

Chinese Reading ChallengeIt’s a universally accepted fact that the best way to increase literacy is to have your kids read, read often, and read widely. So, if you want your kids to learn Chinese and also have them literate, that holds equally true for Chinese literacy. It is especially true if the books are non-translated, “indigenous” books.

Reading (in any language, but we are focusing on Chinese here) helps your children internalize Chinese grammar without resorting to dull worksheets or drills, gives them cultural references, and helps them see how idioms apply in every day conversation. If the books are non-translated books (ie: not originally English books translated into Chinese), it has the added benefit of being written specifically for the Chinese/Taiwanese child. Definitely a bonus in terms of language fluidity, rhyming, and playful words being used.

This is even more helpful when your child reads aloud since it also captures the rhythm and musicality of Chinese. Reading aloud helps your kids get used to the flow of speaking Chinese and increase the likelihood of them speaking Chinese with fluidity in every day conversation. Reading the same texts repeatedly will also build confidence and decrease stumbling.

All of these aspects will help your child as they learn Chinese – even if it’s just the speaking part you want to emphasize. (The literacy would just be a bonus.)

Anyhow, even knowing all this stuff about reading and literacy, I still find it hard to read to my children. Mostly because I find it so boring. (I know, I know. I’m a terrible parent. Especially since poor, neglected Glow Worm clearly never gets read to because when someone finally does pay attention to him long enough to read to him, he goes apeshit about books. Like, beyond excited.)

But now that Cookie Monster knows 800-1000 characters and Gamera is probably around 500-600 characters and they are getting better at zhuyin, it’s now easier for me to make them read to me. (I’m totally ballparking their character knowledge here because I am so lazy that the thought of actually quizzing them and having them go through that many character flashcards makes me stabby and want to die.)

However, since I tend to be a little lax lately about their Chinese reading recently, I was so pleased to hear that Cookie Monster finally wants something BIG. He wants to get Minecraft on the PC (thus far, he’s been playing on the xbox) and I guess the PC version has more mods that he sees and covets on YouTube. So, he’s been begging us to get him a computer and the game.

Cookie Monster is six. I know this is just a preview of what is to come. sigh

When I told Cookie Monster I heard he wanted to get a computer to play Minecraft, he was so excited. SO EXCITED. I could tell because he was jumping up and down (and for some reason, shirtless), barely containing his glee, saying, “YEAH YEAH YEAH!”

“Wait a minute, Cookie Monster.” I said. “I haven’t said I would get it for you yet. I need you to do something first before I get it for you.”

“Ok! Ok! I’ll do it! Tell me what it is!”

“Before I buy Minecraft for you, and before you can play it, you will need to earn it,” I explained, totally proud of myself in this awesome, teachable parenting moment.

“What does that mean? What does ‘earn it’ mean? I want to earn it! I don’t understand what you’re saying! Help me!”

There went my proud feelings.

Clearly, we are doing a bang up job as parents.

Also, it was so sad and hilarious I really wish I had the foresight to video the whole thing.

Since I’m never one to waste a chance to weaponize my children’s loves and desires, I am taking advantage of Cookie Monster finally expressing a real BIG desire for something and using it to ramp up him reading Chinese books. He has to read a certain number of Chinese books before I will buy the game for him and then, he will have to read a certain number of chapters/books in order to actually play the game.

And, because I’m loathe to do anything in life without turning it into a blog post for my own benefit, I’m making it a communal thing.

Today’s post officially kicks off the Read 100 Chinese Books Challenge (閱讀100本書).

For the tl;dr crowd, the Read 100 Chinese Books Challenge is a non-competitive way for us parents to support each other and our children on their way to Chinese literacy. Basically, we “pledge” to have our kids read 100 Chinese books of any length or level. We can post updates, check in and encourage each other, recommend books, have bribes prizes, etc.

Oh, and I’m serious about the non-competitive part.

There are no forms, no worksheets, no book reports you have to fill out. (I provide them for you because some folks really like them, but I personally think nothing ruins the joy of reading like pointless busywork.)

There is no verification service.

No grand prize for reading more than 100 books.

In fact, the prize for reading 100 books is, to quote my snarky friend, Not Another DB MBA, “Another 100 books!”

If this is of interest to you, join us on our 閱讀100本書/Read 100 Chinese Books Facebook Group. We’d love to have you. You MUST PM the admin your reason for joining the group. No PM? No admission.

In case a hundred books seems like a lot (and I won’t lie, it is) and you’re not sure you can find one hundred English books, let alone one hundred Chinese books, GuavaRama has a fantastic series of posts all on Chinese books including what kinds of books to buy (categorized at different levels), where to buy them, how to choose books, and where to find them in libraries. Seriously, it’s some quality information. Use it.

Alright, friends and fellow Chinese enthusiasts! For more info, I recommend you head over to our Facebook Group. (FYI: again, please PM the admin your reasons for joining.)

Hope to see you there.