For my friends who are trying to teach both Mandarin and Cantonese to their children, you no longer have to choose! (Not that you ever did.) Mandonese is an online forum (remember those?) that according to their site, is designed to be a place where parents who want to teach their kids Mandarin and Cantonese can discuss, share information and find useful information.

The site was created when Andrew Tsai, the site creator and owner, started re-learning his Mandarin and Cantonese after he had his daughter. Tsai couldn’t find many resources from the perspective of an English speaker to help him, so as all entrepreneurial folks are apt to do, he created his own.

Mandonese seems to be a relatively new site but has a decent amount of activity. It doesn’t have a ton of members yet, but hopefully that will change the more people know and hear about it. I’m always a fan of sharing useful sites and communities. In fact, I had originally wanted Mandarin Mama to have a forum similar to this site, but now that one exists, why reinvent the wheel? I far prefer to use something already made and ready-to-use versus create something myself! (This character trait is what seriously limits my entrepreneurial spirit. Truthfully, I just want other people to take my ideas and make something for me to throw my money at.)

From even my cursory explorations, I have found several new websites and blogs. Plus, many of the main contributors have sites of their own that I have started to check out. (I am quite the online stalker.) Topics range from children and adult learning materials, to cartoons and DVDs, to buying and selling books and educational materials. Currently, most members seem to be from the UK, but they don’t seem to discriminate since they let me join, too.

Now, I tend to be a joiner, but I have definitely found that with forums such as these, the measure you give is the measure you receive. I know many of us prefer to be online stalkers, but remember that if everyone were like that, we wouldn’t be able to find any information at all. So, please, for my own selfish interests, go to Mandonese. Join. Participate. Tell other people about it. For the children. Think of the children!!

Have a great weekend, friends!


Now, many of you know that I not only want my kids to be fluent in Mandarin, but I also want them to be literate. (An entirely different endeavor, to be sure!) As someone who is orally fluent, I am pathetic when it comes to literacy. I want my children to avoid that sense of inadequacy entirely. Ideally, they would be able to go from English speaking countries to Chinese speaking countries without any sense of insecurity. (After all, have you ever gone to a foreign country where you look like everyone and can even speak like everyone but can’t read? You feel like an idiot, constantly apologizing. You feel beneath everyone else’s contempt and pity.)

Anyhow, because of this, I am constantly looking for materials to teach my kids how to read (particularly Traditional characters since that’s what I grew up learning and prefer). Thus far, I’ve “cheated” by sending my kids to two Chinese preschools, but since Cookie Monster will be in Kindergarten starting in the fall, and I want to homeschool, I need numerous books to help him learn to read. (He already recognizes over 100-150 characters, so that pleases me. But I know all too well how easy it is to forget!)

As I mentioned in a previous post on Chinese bookstores, Sagebooks is a publisher of a proprietary set of Chinese books that help children learn to read. Instead of focusing on the “easiest” Chinese words to learn, Sagebooks focuses on the top 500 characters children need in order to read children’s books. The theory being that even if kids recognize a bunch of Chinese characters, unless they are used in the context of storybooks or readers, the characters are meaningless and the kids can’t really read a story from start to end. Thus, an incredibly frustrating experience for both parent and child.

In this way, they are like the BOB books that help children learn to read in English. The books build on each other so that in each lesson, you can read more and more stories and more and more books. Kids build up their confidence and competence – and most kids respond well to small successes so that they are encouraged to continue.

Just from his two Chinese preschools, Cookie Monster already knows 90% of the first set of 100 words. He really loves the fact that he can pick up the books and breeze through the stories. (I’m sure it helps when I gush and exclaim praises and make him show his Ah-Ma and his teachers. Nothing like stoking the fires of wanting to learn!) The books all have pinyin under the characters (Simplified and Traditional) so it helps me, too. I believe the books also come with CDs so if you personally can’t read or pronounce the words, you can listen to the CDs.

We bought the the full set which includes all five reader sets (500 characters, 25 books), Zodiac collection, Treasure Box, Idioms in Comic, Drama in Comic, and Bundle package. I haven’t broken them all out yet because I am lazy, but many of my friends are slowly going through the books (and GuavaRama just finished the whole set with her eldest child).

According to GuavaRama, the curriculum is the reader with accompanying treasure box (but the treasure box only goes up to 4th reader series right now) a comic book. You can get the idioms and zodiac as additional readers.

Some people like the idioms, others don’t. The idioms require that you explain the meaning to the kids in addition to reading them. GuavaRama‘s daughter liked them because she found them funny. But idioms need to be used and you won’t learn much just by reading them. 

GuavaRama didn’t like the Zodiac collection because she didn’t like the illustrations. Plus, they included characters they don’t teach you in the readers. That said, her daughter liked them well enough.

If you want to learn to read, she recommends you get just the basic stuff. If you are looking for additional material to read after you’ve learned your characters, there is a dearth of books, so you get the additional materials because you want your kids to practice reading. GuavaRama and her daughter were able to read regular beginning books with the help of zhuyin after 500 characters.

You can also check out some of their readers and products on their YouTube channel. (Thanks, KF!)

Some folks in the Chinese Facebook Groups combined orders and got discounts – but they really only ship to one address, so keep that in mind. My friend, Fleur, and I combined our order and had them ship from Hong Kong to the Bay Area. Since we were a large group order, we got a discount, but the shipping was close to $75 EACH and took over a month or so. You can pay more for air shipping (~$125 EACH order – depending on weight). If you ever visit HK or Taiwan, you can either pick up from their physical location or ship to Taiwan, which will obviously be cheaper (it takes about two weeks).

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards

Incidentally, GuavaRama has an AWESOME blog, GuavaRama, where she writes about all her Chinese homeschooling adventures with her adorable children. She has just finished all the Sagebooks with her daughter and has reviewed their progress through the Sagebooks on her site.

I swear, after reading each of her posts, I feel simultaneous envy, inspiration, and despair. How can I ever compare to her awesomeness? Her meticulousness? Her incredible preparation?

Well, I’ll tell you how. I cheat. I buy the amazing materials she creates. TOTALLY WORTH EVERY SINGLE PENNY. In GuavaRama‘s infinite creativity and patience, she has created flash cards for every single word used in the Sagebooks 500 series. On top of that, she has them color-coded to each book set, has the radical of each word highlighted in red, and will even cut and laminate them for you if you prefer she does it for you.

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards laminating

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards laminating

In my case, since I do so enjoy cutting and laminating because I’ve got problems, GuavaRama just printed out the cards for me on card stock and hand delivered them to me through mutual friends. (It was quite the elaborate mule train.) I’m sure if you pay for shipping, she can harness the power of USPS and get them to you that way.

You can check out her other products on her etsy site, Mindful Mandarin. (She has a really cool game that mimics Chutes & Ladders that kids love to play.) I will be doing a more lengthy review of Mindful Mandarin in the future but until then, I highly recommend her blog since it is SO useful and helpful in my journey to teach my kids Mandarin.

ETA: Some readers have asked about where to buy in Canada or US. You can find them at online bookstores such as China Sprout or Little Monkey and Mouse. (You can usually search for “Sagebooks” or  “Basic Chinese 500.”) However, there is a markup since they would like to make money. If you want to only buy a book or two, then these sites are the way to go.

If you want to buy the entire set (all the books and sets and extras like I did), then it will be cheaper to contact Sagebooks directly. Likely, you can get a discount, and if you get others to order with you, you will get a bigger discount. That usually offsets the shipping – which in the end, is STILL cheaper than buying from the US sites.

SageBooks (思展) – Provides proprietary literacy materials for young readers. Explores the philosophy, history, art, geographic nature and many other interesting facets of China.
Site Language: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
Physical Locations: Hong Kong
Products: Proprietary learning materials, children’s books (learning Chinese and stories), multimedia, ebooks, free learning resources
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English, pinyin

Mindful Mandarin – Provides Traditional Chinese characters learning materials. Many supplement the Sagebooks curriculum and are also Montessori based. (Disclosures: The owner is a friend and I have purchased her products in the past. I was not compensated for this post.)
Site Language: English
Physical Locations: No. Bay Area, CA based.
Products: Proprietary supplemental language learning materials
Product Languages: Traditional, pinyin

More Chinese Language Facebook Groups

Last week’s post seemed to be very popular so I thought I would follow up with a few more Chinese language Facebook groups.

This time, I wanted to make sure that folks realized that the groups aren’t Mandarin only. They are Chinese specific and dialect agnostic. Of course, there are more resources for Mandarin, but that doesn’t mean Cantonese is out of the picture entirely! At least Hong Kong has many publishers and will have a lot of materials in Traditional (which is super useful for us die-hard Traditionalists).

Anyhow, here are two. (I did get some suggestions in the comments when I posted last week, but I’ll feature them in later posts. I have to get in a few of the groups first!)

1) 美國中英文雙語在家自學家庭 Chinese-English Bilingual Homeschoolers in America – Who knew there would be so many people like me out in the world? (Terrifying, isn’t it?) But it’s so great to have a group that is composed of people who are currently homeschooling or are thinking about homeschooling their children in a bilingual Chinese/English environment.

I have gotten so many good book recommendations on where to start with homeschooling, Chinese language curriculum/textbooks in multiple subjects, and useful articles. The members don’t post prolifically, but when they do, it’s insightful and generates lots of useful discussion.

A lot of members are also in the Bay Area, so I’ve gone to a meetup and hope to go again. Of course, there is lots of cross-pollination among the groups in general so you’ll find that the main participants are often big participants in other groups and there is some cross-posting. But it is a small universe.

2) Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children – This group is not Chinese language specific but there are a decent number of parents on there who do bilingual/multilingual with Chinese as one of the languages. I gather that the majority of parents are European and I am super impressed with how many languages these parents are introducing. Some as many as four or more!

I find this group most helpful in terms of general information on bilingualism/multilingualism. They post a lot of articles, studies, and mostly cover parents asking and receiving advice in regards to raising their children multilingual. A lot of the questions involve teachers or family members not supporting multilingual lifestyles and how to either soldier on or deal with the ignorance and sometimes, outright racism.

What I also appreciate is that for the most part, the group actively refrains from topics that do not specifically address or pertain to raising bi/multilingual children. This is a great platform to exchange experiences, ask questions, and meet like-minded people. This is NOT a place to advertise. Posts that promote products, services etc. are removed and the person who does so is banned from the group.

Trust me when I say that it cuts down on a lot of spam.

Alright! That’s it for today. As always, I would love to hear about your personal experiences in these groups (please comment below!) since I acknowledge that my opinion isn’t the last word on any such group. If I missed a group or you have been so inspired as to start a group, please let me know, too!

Mandarin Immersion Facebook Groups

Like all things in my life, I pretty much get 80% of my information about Mandarin Immersion and Chinese language acquisition from Facebook. The cool thing is, since so many of my friends are also into Mandarin Immersion for our children, we’ve slowly infiltrated all these groups. I’ve also managed to meet new friends this way as well.

Anyhow, here then are a few Facebook Groups that I have found very helpful in this crazy journey and labor of teaching my kids to be fluent in Mandarin and English.

1) Raising Bilingual Children in Chinese and English – Started by the incomparable Oliver Tu, I must fully disclose that I am an admin for this group and this is my main “home” for Mandarin Immersion info. I find that this group is helpful, welcoming, and a great place for parents to discuss the concerns we have for raising our children bilingual (especially as it pertains to heritage families – but we are trying to include more non-heritage families as well).

We are somewhat more restrictive in this group because we share a lot of personal information about our children and our specific situations, so we ask that in general, members have children and are actively trying to raise them bilingual. There are no other qualifications other than that.

This would not be a good fit for adults who are learning Chinese or Chinese culture. Nor is it focused on Chinese (as in, from China or Taiwan or other Asian countries) parents who are wanting their children to learn English as a second language. Most of us are in an English-speaking majority language country and are trying to cram as much Chinese into our kids as possible (Mandarin and Cantonese). Our posts and resources obviously reflect that bias.

The group has “Files” (makeshift “Threads” for lack of better forum-mimicry) that range from topics of Chinese bookstores, apps and online web resources, children’s programming, to grammar questions, pop-culture, theory and philosophy, and just a ton of info that Oliver has compiled and curated for us. In fact, 90% of the resources I post on this site I culled from or directly copied from this group.

2) Cantonese Parents, Babies, and Toddlers – I’m not personally part of this group because I don’t speak Cantonese. However, I hear it is also a great resource for parents with Cantonese-specific concerns. Obviously, there may be some overlap due to the fact that the written language is the same. (Although, Cantonese folks generally read Traditional characters like the Taiwanese.)

There is also a Google Drive where they share files and screenshots of textbooks people can sample and try on their kids before they commit to buying the whole sets.

Special thanks to FL for bringing my attention to this group.

3) Mums Learn Mandarin Chinese – I just joined this group about a week ago and boy, I haven’t had to work my Chinese language muscles that hard in awhile! This is a very small and very closed group. In fact, I learned about it from JS and it is super hard core. (All photos relating to this group are hers.) There are strict participation requirements and every month, the roster is culled. The main bulk of members are moms from Singapore learning Chinese. (Which I initially found super weird until I looked up the languages of Singapore on Wikipedia. Who knew Singapore was so diverse?)

In fact, this is where I got some more Singapore and Malaysian specific Chinese bookstores.

Chinese Made Super Easy 2 Cover

Chinese Made Super Easy 2 Cover

Currently, the group is going through a book someone found in a Singapore bookstore called Chinese Made Super Easy 2.

The admin posts a new word a day and members are asked to write a sentence using that word/phrase. We are asked to post the sentence in characters, pinyin, and English translation (to save everyone time since most are beginners).

Chinese Made Super Easy 2 Table of Contents

Chinese Made Super Easy 2 Table of Contents

Some of the more advanced members may correct or suggest alternate phrasings and the whole spirit is very collaborative and helpful. (I have fallen on my ass publicly several times because I thought my Chinese was better than it is and although the embarrassment stings a bit, ultimately, I am unharmed.)

I have had to think very carefully on the Chinese language and its grammar structure as well as try to figure out how much our differences are due to stylistic and regional differences, Traditional or Simplified character usage (the group uses Simplified because that is the version Singapore uses), as well as my general poor Chinese skills due to my being an ABC and having Chinglishy grammar. (Try and deconstruct that sentence!)

Chinese Made Super Easy 2 Sample Sentences

Chinese Made Super Easy 2 Sample Sentences

There are other threads as well that run the gamut like all the other Facebook groups. These have also been helpful – especially for me to realize that there are indeed so many ways to learn Chinese, so many applications, as well as so many cultural differences, too.

All in all, this group is high-intensity and high-involvement. However, with just the week I’ve been part of it, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the group dynamics, the camaraderie, and learning.

Plus, it’s been excellent at humbling my slightly biased view of my own Chinese abilities. Let’s just say I’ve had to eat crow a few times as well as ask my mom a ton of Chinese grammar questions. Likely, she’s wondering why I keep randomly texting her about Chinese grammar. I’m curious as to how long it will be (if ever) until she asks me about it. Is that wrong?

There are more groups that I’m a part of but I’ll hold off for now. If only because I’m tired and quite frankly, if I list too many, what will I post about next? Also, how many of your eyes have already glazed over, hmmm?

Until next time, my friends.

Online Chinese Dictionaries

Here are some online Chinese dictionaries (and their phone apps if applicable):

LINE Dictionary – Online Chinese dictionary provided by LINE, a phone messaging app. They feature a “Daily Expression” as well as some basic conversations you can listen to and read. (Originally: which redirects to the LINE Dictionary.)
Site Language: English
Type: iOS, Android, web
Products: Dictionary, phone messaging app
Product Languages: Simplified, English, pinyin

ChaZiDian – Literally, “Look up in dictionary,” a very comprehensive Chinese dictionary and portal that has Chinese to English, essay examples, and lots and lots of resources for students (all ages). I don’t think I would be able to use this site to its fullest capabilities since it is geared towards Chinese students who can already read and write. The site is incredibly intimidating to me.
Site Language: Simplified
Type: web-based
Products: Dictionary, portal to other educational resources (essays, articles, etc.)
Product Languages: Simplified

Yahoo! Taiwanese DictionaryAgain, an online dictionary for Taiwanese people. A portal to Yahoo! related content and information.
Site Language: Traditional
Type: web-based
Products: Dictionary, portal to other educational resources (essays, articles, etc.)
Product Languages: Traditional


Although I first found out about YellowBridge due to their online Chinese dictionary, they seem to be much more than that. From my cursory explorations, YellowBridge aims to be a cultural bridge to English speakers and has boatloads of resources that at first glance, I did not expect. (Mostly because I do judge a site by its cover and the site itself looks a bit outdated and elementary. However, if I left it just at that, I would’ve missed out.)

What I am appreciating most is their Literature section. Not only does YellowBridge provide links to famous Chinese works, they also have articles about reading Chinese literature, reviews, and book recommendations. They also include some Chinese primers, tongue twisters, palindromes, pager codes (The 90’s called!!), and many more cultural resources.

Their dictionary also employs “fuzzy pinyin” for when you’re not really sure how it’s “spelled” in pinyin (a problem I’ve definitely had since I learned zhuyin first). YellowBridge also uses their proprietary Chinese Text Annotator, YellowTip (unfortunately named, but what can you do?) for all their Chinese text on site.

YellowBridge (黃橋)
Site Language: English
Type: web-based
Products: Online Chinese Dictionary, flash cards, memory game, book recommendations, humor, famous Chinese people, mysticism, travel
Product Languages: English, Traditional, Simplified




How To Change Chinese Characters To Zhuyin

H/T Oliver Tu for this Chinese hack. 

In case you use zhuyin (bopomofo) to teach your children Chinese, you should install Chinese font with zhuyin. Until your kids (or really, you) can read on their own, this will allow you to add phonetic assistance to anything you want to print out for them to read.

You can find such fonts at sites like this: Tu recommends the fonts 明體注音 and 明體破音.

Here is an example Tu included:

1) Copy a story in Chinese from a webpage and paste it to MS Word.

2) Select the 明體注音 and 明體破音 fonts.

3) Print out and use as children’s Chinese lesson for them to read.

4) Additionally, you can use websites to print out practice pages for them to practice their writing. (I will post more about these sites later when I have a chance.)

This way, the materials available for your children to read will be limited only by your imagination and not by limited published text and/or the funds to purchase such available texts!

Happy phonetically assisted reading!