How I Finally Got Those Mandarin Posters Out of the Laundry Room

Mandarin PostersI admit it. I got carried away by the hype and the threat of Traditional character posters being out of print and discontinued.

My friend, Sookie4, posted on the Raising Bilingual Kids in Chinese & English Facebook group that a set of posters covering up to 99% of the most common characters used in modern Chinese texts was converting to only Simplified/pinyin and phasing out the Traditional/zhuyin version. Galvanized into action, she contacted Mandarin Poster about the discontinued posters and they said they would be willing to reprint if there were orders of several dozen.

Of course, we all jumped in. There was a huge group buy just from Bay Area parents alone. When would we ever have this opportunity again? It was a market’s dream.

I was hesitant, though. I had been planning to buy the Chinese Radical Scroll because that seemed far more interesting and useful to me. After all, what was I going to do with the posters once my kids had finished circling all the characters they knew on each set of 1,000? I didn’t understand why anyone would buy the posters, let alone buy multiple sets. (And people did!)

But alas. I am a follower at heart. So, I purchased the 2,000 high frequency characters as well and just hoped for the best.

When the posters finally arrived, I was excited for my kids to start circling the characters they knew. That is, until I realized two things:

1) The Chinese Radical Scroll was not laminated. And even though it was printed on a nice, thick yet pliable cardstock, I knew my family was not allowed to have nice things because my children (and here, I’m thinking specifically of Glow Worm) ruin EVERYTHING.

2) The other two posters, even though they were glossy and laminated, were also not going to hold up to the collective destructive force of my three children.

Thus, I knew that I would either have to find a frame for the Chinese Radical Scroll (which is of an odd size so that was going to be fun), or accept the fact that this scroll was going to be destroyed – it was just a matter of when. Also, I knew I would have to get frames for the two posters.

Thankfully, since so many of my friends also purchased the posters, I just had my friend, Fleur, pick up a few frames for me from IKEA when she was out there to get her own frames. (Don’t worry. All resources I used will be included at the end.)

Kids using Mandarin Poster 1So, finally after Fleur handed me the frames and I shoved the posters in, I let my kids have at it.

They had a great time. Cookie Monster had a lot more stamina so he powered through the first thousand (but I want to say it took about 30-45 minutes). He also wanted to do the second thousand, so I let him at that, too. He got bored of it much faster.

Kids using Mandarin Poster 2

Gamera got tired easily and pretty soon, I was the one circling characters for her! How does she trick me so easily? She made it through a few hundred characters and then she was done.

She also tried to start over multiple times so she got REALLY bored. Gamera started on the posters first, but then Cookie Monster circled over her circles and I could no longer tell who knew what. I guess that’s why some folks bought multiple copies. That way, their children could each work on a set independently of the other. But who has the space?

Cookie Monster's circles

Cookie Monster’s first set of circles

At any rate, Gamera, to this day, still has not gone through all the characters. But that’s ok. She does much better reading in context versus guessing characters based on frequency. I will just have to tell myself that a lot until I truly believe it.

The problem is, after the kids were done with the circling, I had nowhere to put these posters. I didn’t want to put more holes in my wall only to decide later that I hated where I put them. And of course, I had no idea WHERE to put the posters.

Cookie Monster's second set

Cookie Monster’s second set of circles

Just thinking about where to put the posters gave me a headache. Clearly, I did NOT think this whole thing through.

So, I did what any sensible person with buyer’s remorse did. I put the Mandarin posters in the laundry room.

For months.

Every now and then, the kids would remember the posters and would want to drag them out of the laundry room (where it was blocking my dryer) and circle a few characters before getting bored and then finding something else to do instead.

I’d gotten cut (as did the kids) by the edges of the frames a few times. It was in the way of my dryer. I constantly worried that the corners would take the eye out of one of my kids (because yes, the ER doctors know my children and me by sight).

Gamera's circled second set

Gamera’s second set of circles

I was really annoyed at the headache I’d caused myself.

I had been duped.

I mean, where was I going to put these damn posters? Were they supposed to be art? Decoration? Background clutter like in elementary school classrooms? These posters were totally useless to me if the kids couldn’t see or easily reach them. After all, I wasn’t putting up these ugly pink and green frames for my aesthetic reasons.

What a waste of money.

But then, one day, I got it in my head to re-arrange the front room of my house again. It was already set up for homeschooling, but it never felt quite right. So, I moved things around and lo and behold! I had freed up some wall space!

I immediately got into action. After all. I knew myself. If I sat on this, it would never get done. So I started Googling ways to hang pictures without punching a bunch of holes in my drywall. I called FedEx Office to find out if they could laminate my Chinese Radical Scroll and at what cost. (All of this is below in the resources.)

I got moving.

White Board and Mandarin Posters Set UpI found these awesome velcro-like Command Picture Frame & Hanging Stripes and put up a white board that had been causing me similar consternation, and the two 1000 character posters. Then I used painter’s tape and hung up my newly laminated Chinese Radical Scroll.

At last. I was done.

The kids loved it.

All of a sudden, their interest in the posters was renewed. They stood there, each with their respective dry erase markers, and got to circling. Even Glow Worm got in on the action.

They do drive-by readings and character circlings almost every day.

Cookie Monster staring at the Chinese Radical Scroll

Cookie Monster staring at the Chinese Radical Scroll

Sometimes, Cookie Monster will just pull up a chair and sit there, staring at all the characters. (What can I say? He can be weird.)

They will spontaneously circle characters.

Cookie Monster will quiz Gamera on characters he thinks she should know – and then also teach her new ones.

I realized that my children knew far more characters than I thought.

And because they can clearly see the 2,000 most frequently used characters in modern Chinese, they are also drawing connections between characters that I only just began to realize as an adult.

They have a much better feel for the breadth and scope and commonalities of the written Chinese language.

They easily search and find how many characters have the same radicals or sound components.

They recognize similar sound components, character components, and radicals and how those factors contributed to other characters’ sounds and pronunciations.

This is all happening in a very natural way. All from my kids walking up to the posters and staring at the characters for a few minutes a day and pointing out the things they notice. How much more will they integrate this information than if they had sat there while I lectured them on the same subject?

Plus, they love to show off how many characters they know to their friends who come over. They love (especially Cookie Monster) to point out the new characters they learned in class to me.


I take it all back.

I was wrong. So, so very wrong.

These posters are awesome.

Will they replace an actual learning curriculum or hard work? Can my children now just learn Chinese characters via diffusion?

Also, no. But the posters are very helpful supplements and provide a concrete and tangible way for my children to integrate the characters they have already learned, are learning, and will learn.

Alright. I hope you found this post useful. There almost wasn’t a post but GuavaRama basically came up with the title, brainstormed my talking points, and told me what to do. I was just following directions.

Anyhow, if you’ve stowed your Mandarin Posters in the laundry room or some equally ignominious place, get them out and start using them. They have proven to be much better than I initially thought.

Below, I’ve included some Tips as well as a Resource section for the items I used while making the Mandarin Posters more accessible to my children. Good luck! And here’s to clean laundry rooms.


1) Position the posters at eye level for your children. Make it easy for them to see the characters, circle characters they know, or examine the poster for characters they recognize.

2) Have dry eraser markers nearby and easily accessible.

3) Don’t force your kids to go through both posters in one sitting. (Or even one poster in one sitting.) That’s 2,000 characters!! Assuming even 1 second per character, that’s 33 minutes! And it will NOT take your child 1 second to recognize then circle the character while hunched over on the poster.

4) Let your kids interact with the posters however they want. Even if it means they’re just taking a marker to the posters and circling randomly. Or drawing on them. Let them play with it. Don’t try to force them to “work” on it. If they want to, great. If not, leave it alone.

5) If your kids can read pinyin or zhuyin, you may want to consider using tape or a black marker to draw lines and black out the pinyin and zhuyin. Otherwise, your child can easily “cheat.”

That’s a main reason why I couldn’t go through the poster and see if I actually knew the characters not. I couldn’t tell if it was a character I was unsure about – whether I knew the character because I saw the pinyin/zhuyin or because I could actually read the character.

Even though I was initially super annoyed about the pinyin and zhuyin presence for when the kids were circling characters, I got over it. The pinyin and zhuyin presence has been helpful in my children learning or figuring out how to read the characters that strike their fancy or look similar to other characters they know.

6) Make sure you use something sturdy to affix the posters to the wall. Your kids will be writing on the posters and erasing. That causes a lot more movement than you’d think!

7) If your children have gone through Sagebook 500, you might be surprised to notice that a lot of the characters your children learned in those sets are NOT in the high frequency 2,000 characters. Remember: Sagebooks teach your children the 500 most common characters used in children’s books – not in the Chinese language itself.

8) Also, just like flash cards, remember that if your child doesn’t recognize the characters on the poster, it doesn’t mean they can’t remember the characters at all. Indeed, they might be like Gamera and remember characters while reading in context, but not necessarily in isolation on flash cards or a poster.

9) The radical poster emphasizes the Simplified radicals. I didn’t realize this and initially panicked because I thought I purchased the wrong set. There is only one version of the radicals poster – and although Traditional radicals are listed under the Simplified ones as alternate options, but they are so small as to be useless to me.

I really wish Mandarin Posters would make a truly Traditional version of the radicals poster. But until then, you will have to make do with this version. Also, since I’m talking about wish lists, I really wish they would make a laminated version of the radicals poster. My children ruin everything so despite the heavy cardstock they use, I would have preferred a sturdier laminate version.



Laminated Chinese Radical Scroll

Laminated Chinese Radical Scroll

1) Mandarin Posters – Even though I linked up to them in the beginning of the post, I thought it would help if I included them in the resources as well. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

2) IKEA FISKBO Frames – For some reason, I can’t find the right size online, but I bought two frames for $4.99 each. The 1000 character posters are 50cm x 70cm (approx. 19.6 x 27.5″) so choose the appropriate size.

3) FedEx Kinko’s – (I know they’re FedEx Office now, but to me, it will always be Kinko’s.) For the radicals poster, the final cost (including CA tax) was $16.28. They charge $3/sqft and I chose the high gloss laminate vs. the matte laminate. Look in the store to see what you prefer. The matte seemed to make the words too dull.

Keep in mind, the giant laminator takes at least one hour to warm up – so unless you want to kill time there, drop it off and pick up later.

Also, I heard that Lakeshore Learning locations can also laminate for super cheap (especially if you have a teacher’s discount). I would call ahead and confirm since I did not personally do this for my poster.

4) Command Picture and Frame Hanging Strips, Large (24 pairs) (Amazon affiliate link) – These are velcro-like (but more spindly and weird) and they work awesome. Follow their directions.

Make sure you clean the wall and your frame with rubbing alcohol first. Then, make sure you let the ones you put on the wall “rest” for the recommended hour before hanging the frames. You may want to mark the wall with a pencil to give you a general idea of where to clean the wall as well as help you see if the posters are level.

I used 4 pairs (so a total of 8 strips) per frame.

5) Painter’s Tape (Amazon affiliate link) – I used these on the radical poster back instead of the strips because the painter’s tape is cheaper and easier to do.

The Case for Zhuyin (Bopomofo)

**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

Before I go any further, I want to point out what this post is NOT. This is not a post pitting pinyin against zhuyin.

I am not interested in some dogmatic discussion about how zhuyin or pinyin is superior to the other. That is boring and stupid because it assumes that there can only be one thing that helps kids and adults learn Chinese. Life isn’t The Voice or American Idol. It is quite possible to have multiple good things simultaneously existing without resorting to which is “best.” Best for what, anyway?

What I actually want to do with this post is to make the case for why, if you want your kids to learn Chinese, in addition to having them learn pinyin, to also learn zhuyin. 

Also, this post pre-supposes you want your child to be literate in Chinese (be it Traditional or Simplified). And by literate, I mean actual literacy – not just recognize a few words here and there like 大小上下. For our purposes, by literate I mean that your child should be able to read a newspaper with ease and recognize about 2,000-4,000 characters (at approximately Chinese 3rd or 4th grade level and Taiwanese 6th grade level). That is what both Mainland China as well as Taiwan consider “literate” and able to function in their societies. (I, personally, do not qualify as literate in this case. I am, on my best best best day, at about 800-1,000 characters.)

Incidentally, I could write a post focusing on a lower standard of literacy, but really, what would be the point? How would that even be remotely useful? (Sorry, this is totally a pet peeve of mine when people complain about my posts having standards that are too high. I digress.)

Anyhow, I actually think it is impractical not to know pinyin since it uses the romantic alphabet with which most English speakers are familiar. Also, it is especially useful for typing in Chinese since we are already used to typing using the American keyboard. I am much faster typing Chinese via my pinyin keyboard versus my zhuyin or handwriting keyboard.

For adults and children who already know how to read English, they don’t have to learn a new “alphabet” and can almost immediately begin to try “reading” Chinese (albeit without comprehension) as long as there is pinyin next to Chinese characters. There is definitely a huge benefit to that!

Of course, this does prove problematic when it comes to proper pronunciation because if you already know how to read English (or any other language that uses the romantic alphabet), you are already used to another way of pronouncing those phonics. It is hard to get rid of that initial learning. Personally, I think the only reason I can pronounce things correctly with pinyin is because I already knew zhuyin.

But first, before I continue, for those who have zero knowledge: What the heck are pinyin and zhuyin anyway? Lucky for you, I link to stuff on Wikipedia with abandon!

Pinyin – A standardized form of phonetics for transcribing Mandarin pronunciation of Chinese characters into the romantic alphabet. Used in Mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore. Introduced in the 1950s. Replaced the old Wade-Giles Romanization.

Zhuyin (Bopomofo) – A standardized form of phonetic notation/symbols for transcribing Mandarin pronunciation of Chinese characters. Introduced in the 1910s in China and Taiwan although pinyin replaced zhuyin in China whereas Taiwan still considers Zhuyin its official form of phonetic notation.

The history of zhuyin is fascinating (and all the symbols are derived from “regularized” forms of ancient Chinese characters) and I highly recommend you read the Wikipedia article.

Okay, you might be thinking. That’s great that there is another phonetic notation out there to help kids read Chinese, but why would they need to learn an entirely different phonetic system if they already know pinyin? Isn’t that just redundant and adding an extra layer of unnecessary difficulty for your kids?

That’s a totally legitimate question and before I get to it, I want to point out a few things first.

One of the best ways to learn how to read and comprehend what you’re reading is to actually read. And to read a lot. (I know. It seems so obvious and unnecessary to point out, but nevertheless, I did.) So, for most children, their English reading (as well as Chinese reading) improves and gets better the more often and varied materials they read. It is especially helpful when kids find subjects and stories they love because then reading is fun, engaging, and interesting.

For English readers, this is not really a problem because once children learn phonics, they can pretty much read anything as long as they can blend the sounds. The limiting factor for children reading in English (whether native speaker or not) is then a matter of comprehension.

However, Chinese is NOT a phonetic language. Written Chinese is logosyllabic (ie: each syllable is represented by a character) and there are upwards of 20,000-40,000 unique characters – of which you require about 2,000-4,000 to be considered functionally literate. A word can be either a single character (eg: 大 /big) or a combination of characters (eg: 眼睛/eye).

Here’s the sad truth: If your child understands more Chinese than they can read, the limiting factor for them reading Chinese books is character recognition. 

Furthermore, if your child is not a native speaker and doesn’t have much additional language support, they will be severely limited by both comprehension as well as character recognition.

Chinese literacy will be difficult. I cannot overstate that fact.

Consider also, the fact that millions of American Born Chinese (as well as Brought Over By Airplane) people can speak and understand Chinese and yet, even for them, they can perhaps barely read a menu. (And only because food is an incredible motivating factor.)

Here are some more sobering facts for you:

Chinese Character/Word Recognition by Grade Level, Taiwan

Grade LevelReading (characters / words)Writing (characters / words)
1400 / 600300 / 400
2800 / 1200600 / 800
31200 / 1800900 / 1200
41600 / 24001200 / 1600
52000 / 30001500 / 2400
62400 / 36001800 / 3000
Chart excerpted from GuavaRama's excellent post on Chinese Characters by Grade Level.


Chinese Character/Word Recognition by Grade Level, China

Grade LevelReading (characters / words)Writing (characters / words)
Chart uses data from Stackexchange's forum that references the original source at Baidu.


Chinese Character/Word Recognition by Grade Level, Mandarin Immersion in US

Grade LevelReading (characters / words)Writing (characters / words)
Chart uses data pulled from the few Mandarin Immersion schools that posted Character guides for each grade level. Also included some other data from anecdotal sources. Jinshan Mandarin Education Council, Woodstock School, MIP


Unfortunately, if your child already knows how to read English, it is highly improbable that their Chinese recognition is advanced enough for them to read at the same level (in subject matter, depth, and difficulty) as they can already read in English. (Incidentally, because they already understand and have applied the concepts of phonics and blending, they should pick up zhuyin really easily.)

From 我要吃小孩 (I Want to Eat a Child) by Sylviane Donnio, children's book

Zhuyin Sample 1: From 我要吃小孩 (I Want to Eat a Child) by Sylviane Donnio, children’s book

Consider Zhuyin Sample 1, an excerpt from a children’s book (click to embiggen). My almost six year old son, Cookie Monster, can read about 400-500 characters but still can’t read ALL of these characters on this page. He can read most of them – but definitely not ALL. So, even though he knows about 15% of the High Frequency Words, he still cannot read a children’s book.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that Cookie Monster is at about the 3rd-5th grade level in US Mandarin Immersion schools. If you think a 3rd-5th grader will find this book interesting beyond possibly five minutes (if even that), I would daresay you should reconsider.

Now, Cookie Monster is turning six in a few weeks and cannot read English (something I have chosen to do purposefully). But if he could read English, likely he would be able to read a comparable children’s story in English with great ease. And if he were used to that level of reading and comprehension, the fact that he could not read all the words in this “baby” book would be incredibly frustrating.

I have many friends whose kids, at six and a half, are already reading chapter books in English. There is NO WAY they could read chapter books in Chinese (and these are kids in 90/10 Mandarin Immersion schools).

As a result, the Chinese books they can read are too “babyish” for them and they lose interest either due to dull subject matter or because the stuff they would actually be interested in reading is too hard so they give up.

Zhuyin Sample 2: The explanation of a Tang classical poem, 靜夜思(A Quiet Night Thought) by 李白 (Li Bai)

Zhuyin offers your child a way to read the materials they want at the level they want without character recognition being a hurdle.

Because zhuyin is phonetic, it is a fantastic tool for “leveling” the reading field, as it were. As you can see from the pictures (click to embiggen), zhuyin is usually placed to the right of Chinese characters so children can read the characters they know and if they happen upon a character they don’t know, they can just look at the zhuyin to read the phonetic notation and they will be able to continue through the story with no problem. The only limit, again, being their understanding/comprehension (as it would be in English).

Zhuyin Sample 2 is an excerpt from a Chinese Tang poetry book I owned when I was a child. This particular page is explaining the meaning of the classical poem, 靜夜思(A Quiet Night Thought) by 李白 (Li Bai). Now, even though I can read perhaps at best, 800-1,000 characters, I can read every single word in this sample because of the zhuyin. Now, whether I comprehend these words is a different story, but I am not hindered from reading and learning from the text by my limited vocabulary.

Thus, a child, if they were interested in Chinese Tang poetry, could read and potentially understand this subject matter. (Truthfully, I think that if it were the same type of text explaining a Shakespearean sonnet in English, the comprehension level would likely be about the same).

Now, I don’t know too many kids interested in classical Chinese poetry – but surely, you can extrapolate and come up with some books a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader might be interested in reading – and THOSE could be in zhuyin.

My point is that now, the primary obstacle (character recognition) to your child reading in Chinese has now been removed. English and Chinese reading are both now on a more “level” playing field. Of course, if your child is not a native speaker of Chinese, (and even if they are), most likely, because we live in an English speaking country, your child’s English comprehension will still surpass their Chinese comprehension.

But as I mentioned earlier, the more your child reads (in both quantity and variety), the more your child will understand.

Well, I can hear you thinking. Why not just get books in both pinyin and Chinese? And what about kids in China? Don’t they use pinyin and their pronunciation is just fine?

Great questions.

To the first, in China, my understanding is that only textbooks use pinyin with Chinese characters – and even then, only for young children. There is a reason children in Mainland China learn Chinese characters at a higher rate than kids in Taiwan. They need to amp up their character recognition in order to read the books at their intersecting comprehension and interest levels.

In Taiwan, zhuyin is only phased out at the 3rd-4th grade level so children can afford to learn Chinese characters at a slower rate than their Mainland Chinese counterparts. As a result, the majority of children’s literature will also have zhuyin so kids can enjoy many types of books without being limited by their lesser character recognition.

For kids in English speaking countries, there is a reason Immersion schools delay the teaching of pinyin until their students have already mastered reading in English. Otherwise, it is too easy for kids to confuse the “different” sounds each letter symbolizes in English and pinyin. When they finally do learn pinyin, their pronunciation of Chinese often suffers because it is much easier to “slip” into the English instead of the Chinese letter pronunciation.

As for why kids in China aren’t affected by pinyin pronunciations, I should think it’s obvious: they’re Chinese. They live in China. Where the official language is Mandarin Chinese. They already speak and understand Chinese (just like an American kid already speaks and understands English). I think it would be a little ridiculous to expect the Chinese people to have trouble pronouncing their own language.

When kids in China use pinyin, they are literally using it in the same manner kids in Taiwan are using zhuyin. But since they learn so many more characters at a lower grade level, there is less of a need to have books with pinyin in them. (Plus, there is a little problematic matter of formatting. Fitting Chinese characters to pinyin makes for very awkward formatting issues in books. Can you imagine how bulky a chapter book would be?)

However, since Taiwanese kids are still using zhuyin up to about 3rd or 4th grade, there are lots and lots of books (both chapter and non, fiction or non-fiction) with zhuyin. (I recall that in 5th grade, I read Little Women in Chinese first – and all due to the presence of zhuyin. So to this day, I still think of the four women’s character names in Chinese first.)

As a side benefit, because the books have more complicated characters with zhuyin, it also helps children with literacy and recognizing harder characters. They have already encountered them in their books and subject matter so when they finally learn the actual character without zhuyin, the kids have already been exposed enough so that it is relatively easier to remember.

Plus, now it doesn’t matter as much whether the characters are in Traditional or Simplified because regardless, as long as there is zhuyin, the kids can read the characters. In full disclosure, this is a bit of a false benefit since zhuyin is pretty much only used with Traditional characters since it is used primarily in Taiwan. So, it doesn’t really help kids who only know Traditional characters with Simplified.

However, it does open up a huge section of books to kids who only know Simplified (and honestly, Traditional, too) because as I mentioned, as long as they can read the zhuyin, character recognition is no longer the problem. (I wouldn’t be surprised then if kids also picked up Traditional characters, too. Another win!)

Another ancillary benefit of learning zhuyin is that since zhuyin was created from ancient forms of Chinese characters, lots of them show up as components in the actual Chinese characters (as well as look like the sound they make). This helps children recognize and remember the parts and components of more complicated characters. (My post last week discusses a little more in depth how characters are formed, as well as Traditional and Simplified characters.)

I know that Cookie Monster and Gamera, as well as Guava Rama’s son, Astroboy, all point out the different zhuyin, smaller characters, and radicals they see as components in a word. These visual cues definitely help the children remember what a character looks like, sounds like, and means. (My guess is that this may prove more useful with Traditional characters since many Simplified characters might have elided these components.)

For example (for clarity, I’m only including the components that look like zhuyin):

– An ㄠ and ㄏ in 麼
– 3 ㄑin 輕
– An ㄦ in 兒
– A ㄙ in 台

Now, obviously, kids can find other visual cues without knowing zhuyin – so by no means is it conferring a benefit the kids wouldn’t otherwise have. However, it is just an extra tool (actually, an extra 37 tools) the kids can use to help with recognizing Chinese characters – and as we have already established, Chinese is a difficult language to read and our kids need all the help they can get.

So, in summary, here are the main reasons why I think you should consider teaching your kids zhuyin in addition to pinyin:

1) Removes the considerable barrier of character recognition from reading age/interest appropriate materials. This leaves only the problem of Chinese comprehension which can easily be ameliorated by more reading practice (as well as listening and conversation which usually are well ahead of reading comprehension in English as well).

2) Opens up a vast selection of age/interest appropriate materials from Taiwan because character recognition is no longer an issue. This way, even if your child has only learned Simplified characters thus far, if they know zhuyin, they can also read (and perhaps learn) Traditional.

3) Improves pronunciation and tones because the symbols more accurately reflect those sounds. (Again, I realize that though the symbols may convert to roman letters, we as native English speakers, have a harder time “switching” pronunciation and can either slip or get lazy. Whatever the reason, the temptation to “read” the pinyin with English pronunciations is high.)

4) Increases character recognition of more complex characters due to exposure.

5) Adds an additional visual cue for children to help remember more complex and compounded characters.

6) If your child can already read English and understands the concept of blending and phonics, they will learn zhuyin quickly and easily. If they cannot already read English, this will introduce these concepts and make learning to read English easier.

7) Adds more tools in your children’s Chinese Toolkit in the sense that zhuyin is an alternate way to type on keyboards, look up words in dictionaries (sometimes, I just cannot figure out the pinyin of a word for the life of me and I just end up resorting to zhuyin and I find it in second), and substitute for unknown characters when writing (although I suppose technically, they can do that with pinyin, too).

8) Adds a “sound” cue for children. (h/t Guava Rama)

– ㄦ(er) in 兒 (er):  sounds like the zhuyin
– ㄅ(be) in 包 (bao): starts with the ㄅ zhuyin sound

Alright folks. As always, I am incapable of writing anything in brief. Thanks for sticking it through.

I sincerely hope you consider adding zhuyin to your children’s Chinese Toolkit. Most Mandarin Immersion elementary schools expect their kids to graduate at 5th grade with about 600-800 characters. That is only 20-27% of the High Frequency Words your children will need in order to be actually literate.

If that is fine with you, wonderful!

I am at approximately that level and except for when I’m in Taiwan or China, that has rarely ever prevented me from living a full and wonderful life in the US. (And even when I have been in Taiwan or China, the pain was relatively minor. Mostly my ego and being illiterate in a country where I look like the people there and the shame I feel – well, that’s a temporary and small thing.)

However, if you would like to increase your child’s Chinese literacy to be functional in Chinese/Taiwanese society, zhuyin will help you reach that goal with greater facility.

Thanks so much for reading! Have a great weekend.

Other resources:

1) Zhuyin Table – a complete listing of all Zhuyin/Bopomofo syllables used in Standard Chinese

2) A great Zhuyin/Pinyin conversion chart from Little Dynasty. (I don’t know how printable it is, but it’s the prettiest table I found.)

3) Miss Panda also has a great printable Zhuyin/Pinyin Conversion Table.

The Costs of Learning 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

Previously in this series, I wrote about clarifying your goals and setting realistic expectations. Well, now that you’ve done that, you then need to count the costs. (Seriously, I really am sounding like a B Grade business plan – but like all worthy endeavors, it is best to go in with eyes wide open on both the costs and benefits.)

The main types of costs I will refer to today are:

  1. Monetary
  2. Opportunity
  3. Relational/Social
  4. Cultural

I’m sure there are many more costs to be delineated, but these are the ones that stuck out in my own mind. Feel free to add any I missed in the comments!

Alright, here we go!

1) Monetary Costs

One of the most obvious costs, of course, relates to money. Actual dollars and cents. And believe you me, learning Chinese is not cheap. Here are some of the things you might spend money on (but by no means is this all inclusive):

– Books, CDs, DVDs, flashcards, apps, additional educational materials
– Tutors, Mandarin Mommy and Me, Chinese School, Chinese Immersion schools, US based Chinese camps, Overseas Immersion camps/schools
– Chinese speaking Au pair/nanny/daycare
– Travel/Extended stays overseas
– Cultural programs (eg: Chinese dance, martial arts, museums, cooking classes)

Now admittedly, I might be a bit on the extreme side because my stated goals for my children are for them to be near native fluent in both speaking and understanding, and functionally fluent in reading and writing. However, here is a rough estimate of my cost breakdown for 2014:

– Books/CDs/DVDs/materials: $2,000
– Chinese Preschools:
$9,000 (half day programs for 5 days/wk, 1 child from Jan – Jun, 2 children from Sep – Dec)
– Chinese Mommy and Me:
$1,350 (2 children in class – one ending in summer 2014)
– Overseas Preschool:
$2,000 (2 children in 4 week class)
– Travel/Room/Board:
$7,500 (includes 4 international tickets, splitting an Airbnb apartment with a friend for four weeks, and food)

That’s a total of approximately $21,850.

**A/N2: Keep in mind that I only recently added martial arts – and that yearly cost was close to $1200/child. I included martial arts because the class is taught in half Chinese and half English. One could argue that many of these items only need to be purchased once – but remember that kids grow and their interests will grow and change as well. Also, the schooling reflects the combined tuition of my older two, as well as some activities for my youngest.

Whew. After seeing the money laid out in such a stark way, I have to hope that Hapa Papa doesn’t read my blogs very often.

Don’t get me wrong. Learning Chinese for very little money can be done, but that also requires a lot more effort. So, what you might offset in terms of monetary price will show up in terms of effort and work.

For instance, if you come from a 1st Generation Heritage Family (both are heritage parents and native level speakers who immigrated to an English speaking country at a later age), you might not need to hire tutors or speaking partners for your children since you and your partners are both native level speakers. However, you will then need to be vigilant about speaking to your children in Chinese (at least 90-95% of the time) as well as asking that your children reply to you in Chinese (another source of pain altogether).

As I repeatedly state in the last post, Chinese fluency requires intention.

In future posts, I will talk about how you can offset some of your costs both monetarily and otherwise.

2) Opportunity Costs

Opportunity cost refers to the loss of potential gain from other alternatives and activities when you choose instead to focus on Chinese language learning. In other words: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

You and your child only have limited hours during the day from which to parcel out your time. The time you spend on supporting Chinese will have to come from other things which your child may also enjoy.

This is basic time management and a bane to overscheduled parents and children everywhere, so I don’t really feel like I need to belabor this issue. However, I will say this: most parents don’t realize just how much time supporting Chinese really takes.

For example, let’s say you’re the typical parent and send your kid to a weekly Chinese school (usually Friday night or Saturday morning). Depending on the age of your kids, Friday nights can be a big social event such as school dances, dates, Church youth groups, movies, hanging out with friends, sleepovers, etc. Saturday mornings are for cartoons (I am still bitter about this as an adult!!), sleeping in, sports meets and tournaments, recitals, family time, etc.

Are you prepared to have your kids give those things up? (I can guarantee you that your kid won’t enjoy that!) And if you are not and more than willing to let your kids skip a few classes here and there, I guarantee you it’s a slippery slope and before you know, you’ve lost out on most of the school year and because Chinese is cumulative and your exposure is limited, your child will be very behind.

This, of course, doesn’t even touch upon homework!

In fact, this is one of the MAIN reasons I have for homeschooling my children. I haven’t even officially started my homeschool school year for my Kindergartener (Cookie Monster) and I already have a feeling he is overscheduled. There are so many fun classes I want him to take (we signed up for a Lego building class that deals with the physics of marbles) and if I didn’t also homeschool him in Chinese, I would never see him. Furthermore, his Chinese exposure would be cut in at least half due to attending regular school.

If you consider that I have two other children and include their activities (both present and future), I might as well live in my minivan.

ETA: Someone brought up on Facebook the opportunity costs related to all the time spent on researching – whether it be for Chinese-speaking nannies, books, CDs, schools, forums, etc. I know I have personally spent countless hours researching this stuff – and I even “cheat” by having trusted people who are ahead of me on the Chinese Learning Train and blatantly stealing all their recommendations. I trust these folks so much that if they like something, I rarely dig much deeper and just starting handing over my money. 

Again, opportunity cost is something all parents are already aware of, so I don’t need to go on more than necessary. Just keep in mind what your goals for your kids are regarding Chinese language learning. The more fluent you want them to be, the more opportunity costs you will have to be willing to make.

3) Relational/Social Costs

As I may have mentioned before in previous posts, there may also be relational costs in your relationships with your own parents, your in-laws, your children, your spouse, and even your friends. This will be especially true if these folks are not down with the Chinese Language Train for many reasons such as worrying about English fluency, wanting the kids to learn another family language, and sometimes even perceived judgment on their parenting choices.

Furthermore, your own children might be the main ones against this Chinese thing. No matter how much you try to shove Chinese down your kids throats, sometimes they just don’t care and don’t want to have anything to do with Chinese. Is it worth damaging your relationship with them just so they can be fluent and curse you in Chinese? (Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it at all.)

You know your kid better than anyone else. Do what you think is best.

There will be social costs, too. You may not have a lot of Chinese speaking families in your area (or if you do, they might not be your natural affinity group). You may have to choose to drive farther, or hang out with people you normally don’t hang out with, in order for your kids to be around other Chinese speaking kids.

Alternately, if your kids are stronger in Chinese than English, they might have a hard time with their peers who are only English speakers. It may be very hard for you as a parent to see your child struggle socially, so you may be tempted to beef up their English. Trust me when I say you have no need to worry about their English at all. Your kids are sponges and you’ll blink and BAM! Now, they’re fluent.

Since I send my children to Chinese preschools and pretty much only attend Mandarin playdates, my social circle is pretty much limited to Chinese people (and often, their white spouses). This is not diverse by any stretch of the imagination. But since I am most concerned about Chinese language fluency at the moment, I am making this sacrifice.

As a result, my children think everyone should speak either Chinese or English. Only recently have they come to understand that their are other people in the world who speak other languages. (I suppose this is not exclusive to my kids but just something children need to learn in general.)

In the future, since I do care about diversity, I will have to seek out opportunities for the kids to play with folks who are different than my typical Chinese/white mixed families.

4) Cultural Costs

We all know that life as a kid is more than just academics and extra-curriculars. It is also cultural fluency, which is often turned into a social currency. If you happen to focus on Chinese language, there may be things in American (or whatever English speaking country in which you reside) culture that your kids will miss entirely.

I will address more of this in next week’s post, but some of this “cost” can be ameliorated by how much American culture you expose your kids to. My kids watch a lot of English shows in Chinese, as well as watch a LOT of YouTube so they know a ton of stuff about American culture and toys and etc. without me even trying. (I took Gamera to Target the other day and because of her obsession with the YouTube Channel, DCTC, she knew every single toy and brand that we ran into in the toy department. She only asked for half of them.)

Of course, this also depends on what generation you are (I’m 2nd generation so I do have cultural fluency), whether or not you are a heritage parent, and all sorts of other factors. But do keep in mind that even if you were as “American” as they come, there will still be choices that you make that limit your kids’ exposure. (For instance, you could be very religious and choose to opt out of popular music altogether!)

Don’t worry too much about this. I didn’t listen to the radio until 1989 and I somehow still know all the music prior to that time. It was a little isolating in junior high and high school, but I more than made up for it by consuming more than my fair share of pop culture in my latter years.

Just like with my last post on setting realistic expectations, ultimately, it depends on how vital and important learning Chinese is to you (and your kids). Chinese is only one of the millions of awesome things out there for your kids to learn and acquire.

It will not be the end of the world if you take a look at the costs and decide that it is not for you. There is no bell you have to ring to announce your “quitting” like they do at the Navy Seals. There is no one docking points from how “authentic” or how “Chinese” your kids are. (Which is totally ridiculous and arbitrary anyway.)

Plus, remember that your stories are not yet at an end. If your kids don’t like Chinese now, that doesn’t mean they will hate Chinese forever. I have friends who didn’t learn Chinese until college and are fluent and their kids are fluent. I have friends who are white and spent three years learning Chinese and darn it all if their Chinese isn’t amazing. I have friends who have “terrible” accents and yet their kids still have fantastic Chinese. I have friends who don’t speak a lick of Chinese and yet, have created material for their children (and for others) to learn and practice Chinese.

There are many roads to Chinese fluency – as well as many timelines.

Ok. That’s it for this week because quite frankly, the post is nearing gargantuan proportions again. Next week: how to lower some of these costs.