My Review of My First Chinese Writing Exercise, Simplified Chinese

Originally submitted at Childbook.com

My First Chinese Writing Exercise, Simplified Chinese Includes: Illustrations of character origin Stroke order Plenty of pages for character-writing practices

Good beginner hanzi writing book

By Taotao’s Mom from Saskatoon, SK on 1/30/2013

 

4out of 5

Pros: Evolution Of Characters, Large Grids, Holes Punched, Stroke Order

Cons: No pinyin, No English

Best Uses: Children, Learning To Write Hanzi, Education

Describe Yourself: Single mom, Elementary chineselearner, Adoptive mom

Was this a gift?: No

I actually photocopy pages out of this for my 7 yr old son to practice his chinese characters on, but the book is made so you can easily tear out the pages and put them in a 3-ring binder as they have pre-made holes.

Each page has a space for the child to write his name and date at the top, and then several drawings of the historical evolution of the character. Then the character writ large with numbers and arrows to show stroke direction, and below, the character written one stroke at a time. Following that are shadow examples the child can trace over, then grids divided into four, and finally squares with no grids, as the child gains confidence. The “squares divided into 4” then “empty squares” is repeated on the back of each page for further practice.

The squares to write in are quite large, compared to many practice books, with the learner drawing the character almost an inch tall.

This has all the most basic characters, and are good simple ones for young students and beginners to start with.

I would have prefered if it had the word in English and pinyin as well, as there is only an image, and the character. I personally know that the image shows “water” but someone who didn’t know may think it is the character for “river” based on the drawing. Perhaps it is only meant to be used in the classroom with a teacher and using the other First Chinese Words materials.

There is pinyin in the table of contents at the start, beside the page number and character, but again, no english equivalent.

I do find that this is a great stand-alone workbook for those learning at home from various materials, and would recommend it.

(legalese)

Advertisement

My Review of Children’s Illustrated Chinese Dictionary, Simplified, Hippocrene, Softcover, 94 pages

Originally submitted at Childbook.com

Children’s Illustrated Chinese Dictionary,  , Hippocrene, Colorful pictures Labelled with English and Simplified Chinese wordsSimplified Softcover, 94 pages

OK illustrated dictionary

By Taotao’s Mom from Saskatoon, SK on 1/30/2013

 

3out of 5

Pros: Simple Vocab, Color Images, Limited Vocab

Cons: Limited Vocab, Few Verbs, Uneven Illo Quality, Few Adj And Adverbs

Best Uses: Beginning Readers, Very Beginner Dictionary, Education

Describe Yourself: Elementary chineselearner, Single mom, Adoptive mom

Was this a gift?: No

This is a nice bright large format book with 5-7 words per page. The English words are in bold, and they have pinyin and simplified Chinese. Each word has a color image to explain it. There is no other text (ie part of speech, description, example of use etc). It is a good, clear, simple introduction to basic words for a new learner. It is not overwhelming, but would not be a good reference book to look up words in either Chinese or English, as the vocabulary is so very limited.

The quality of the drawings varies enormously. Some are very rudimentary, some are classic “Dick and Jane” type illustrations, some seem more realistic, some from chinese art?

There are mostly nouns, which can be pictured easily with no explanation: cactus, lamp, village. Some words are outdated like “Eskimo”. There are a very few verbs “to cook, to cry, to whisper, to weigh” and also a very few adjectives and adverbs: “empty, uphill”.

The images are arranged by alphabetical order of english word, and at the back of the book is a list of all the words in pinyin by alphabetical order, with english equivalent (but no simplified or page #)

It is best used for a child or learner to browse through to learn new vocabulary at an easy pace without being overwhelmed.

(legalese)

My Review of Dragon Dance by Joan Holub. A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book Softcover

Originally submitted at Childbook.com

What do you do on Chinese New Year? It's Chinese New Year and there are so many fun things to do–shop at the outdoor market for fresh flowers, eat New Year's dinner with the whole family, receive red envelopes from Grandma and Grandpa, and best of all…watch the spectacular New Year's…

Entertaining Interactive Book

By Taotao’s Mom from Saskatoon, SK on 1/30/2013

 

4out of 5

Pros: Engaging, Colorful Illustrations, Entertaining, Moving Parts

Best Uses: Education, Entertainment, Celebrating Chinese Newyr

Describe Yourself: Adoptive mom, Elementary chineselearner, Single mom

Was this a gift?: No

I bought this for my son, adopted from China, when he was about 3 years old. He is now seven and still loves this book. We take it out every year around Chinese New Years and go through it. It shows the different traditions of cleaning (sweeping) the house, new clothes, as well as red envelopes and the dragon dance. Each page has a moving part, which seem a bit fragile but have stood up to my boy’s handling over the years. There is a turning wheel at the back that shows what animal is your zodiac for your year of birth. Unfortunately the Chinese new year’s greeting in the book is Cantonese, and not Mandarin which we are learning.

Beautiful full-color illustrations are very lively, descriptive and engaging. Good for preschoolers and young school age children.

(legalese)

Affective Filter and Language Learning

There is a really interesting new post up at Multilingual Mania about the Affective Filter. The blogger writes about how just one small instance of another student in her Spanish class giggling at her totally devastated her confidence in speaking Spanish. For years this emotional block kept her from expressing herself in spoken Spanish though her written Spanish was excellent.

Indeed, how you feel emotionally about speaking a second or third language makes all the difference in your fluency. I hate making mistakes out loud. Indeed it is one thing that blocks my musical learning: one can silently work on Chinese grammar, but it is impossible to learn piano or guitar without everyone within hearing distance listening to your progress or lack of it.

When I was learning French, I took classes in which we had to write a lot, and I read a lot. But especially when I moved here to Quebec, I kept my mouth shut. I had all these grammar rules in my head. Vocab, masculine/feminine, verb tenses. It was all just too much to get right before the conversation topic changed. People saw me carrying around La Peste and couldn’t believe someone who could hardly put two words together could ever be reading and understanding such meaty literature. But no. It wasn’t my comprehension that was lacking: it was the emotional daring-do to throw myself into the verbal fray.

Fortunately by working at Burger King with francophones who had often not even finished highschool, and being taught to swear like a sailor (or a hot fry-oil burnt B.K. employee!) in Quebec joual, I got over my fear of making errors in French. Heck, native francophones butcher the language so much, I couldn’t do much worse I finally realized. Of course they butcher it in native-speaker ways and I butchered it in newbie 2nd language-learner ways, but still. It got me over that affective filter.

I wonder how much of my son’s refusal to speak Chinese is affective filter. Indeed he understood French very well for at least two years before speaking it voluntarily. He’d reply in English the correct answers to questions in French. Only when he was surrounded by unilingual francophone children in preschool daily did he overcome his reluctance and start to come out with impromptu French.

I am hoping the Saturday afternoon Chinese classes will help with his emotions re Chinese. He will voluntarily throw himself into hearty renditions of Liang Zhi Lao Hu (Two Tigers) song, but hardly utter a word when asked how old he is for instance… and I think it is because of his confidence in the words and phrasing of the song. Perhaps the Chinese class will help. Or perhaps it will hinder, taking just one giggling student to devastate him for years. (lots of native Chinese-speaking at home children in his class) But it is worth a shot.

Myself? For some reason I seem to have gotten over most of my stage fright re speaking foreign languages out loud. The French is used daily, so now it is more when I need to write well that I feel this affective filter in French. In Chinese, perhaps it is because I am learning it at home, and most people are amazed I know any Chinese at all. Native speakers are often incredibly nice towards me no matter how bad my attempt at their language. Perhaps it will come still: when I speak well enough to realize just how BAD my chinese is! We’ll see.

Do you have stories of losing confidence, or gaining it, in a second or third language?

Learn Latin, not Mandarin??

Here is an article in the Spectator, from the UK entitled: “Forget Mandarin. Latin is the key to success.”. Hmmm. The key to success.

Now I have never thought Mandarin was the key to success either, and frankly we are doing it for issues of keeping Big Boy’s cultural heritage and ability to interact with other Chinese people as he grows up, not so he can rise to the top of the class.

But I understand that many are jumping on the Mandarin bandwagon in hopes of upping their child’s chances in the business world (at least they might be able to be foremen if China invades and takes over the US and Canada!) I think that is silly, since most Chinese learn better English than our children will ever learn Mandarin. But I do think that Mandarin, or more correctly Chinese (since the writing system of characters is not Mandarin, but rather common to all the Chinese languages from Taiwan to Beijing to Jiaozuo and has hardly changed except for “simplification” in thousands of years), does help develop thinking abilities. And especially the written language: which is highly visual and very different from our own romanized languages.

I also think that it is probably true that Latin, with its conjugasions and verb forms (sorry, I don’t know enough about latin to properly praise it) would help with paying attention to language, understanding grammar, verb tenses etc. I am sure that its rigours would help the mind in the same way that math or music help the mind, by giving instruction in something with discipline and structure. Much the same way I expect (and see results of) my son’s karate class to influence his physical and mental self-control. Also we cannot forget that many words in most European languages stem from latin, as well as more technical scientific terms in all these languages.

I do wonder why the writer needs to take a jab at Chinese (which is also great) and Esperanto (which can be very practical and fun)… why “forget” one language or discipline for another? Do we need to say “forget the flute, learn piano”? or “forget biology, learn physics”? I am sure that the more languages you study, the more your mind is going to be exercised, the more people you can communicate with, the better your language skills will become.

So, here’s for latin AND chinese, and farsi and arabic and swedish and yiddish, and engish and finnish, and on and on… Study what GRABS and IMPASSIONS you!

BTW, the comments on that article are as good or better than the article itself! Dig in!

Bilingual Marriage: Hearing and Deaf!

Baby Signing Time dvds

When Big Boy was coming home from China, at 22 months old, I realized that he would be functionally without language in my household for a little while, as I speak English and French and he understood Mandarin. And I was also intrigued by the use of Sign Language (esp ASL) with babies and toddlers. So I bought the first volumes of Baby Signing Time dvds, and it was great. I had no idea at that time that he would be slow to actually articulate in English or French (or Chinese) and we’d both be frustrated with the communication walls created by his limited vocabulary of wawa, mama, ayi, mah, meh, nah. But the Signing Time helped both give him English vocabulary (all signs are accompanied by drawings and photos of the actual object or action of the word presented, AND by both repeated clearly spoken and written on screen English equivalents) and a way to clarify his utterances. I would get “nah” and instead of doing a guessing game: “Nuts?” “No, nah!” “Dog?” “No, NAH!” “tired?” “NOOO! NAAAAH!”, I would know right off what he meant: “nah” (accompanied by sign for “bus”): “Oh, BUS, Big Boy, BUS! See the Big BUS”) and we were both happy.

Signing Time dvd

We ended up accumulating the complete set of Series One of Signing Time as well as the first set and eventually second set of Baby Signing Time, and a few of the Volume Two Signing Time dvds (I like them less as they teach way fewer words per dvd. and have only ONE new song per dvd vs 4-6 songs per dvd for the first “volume” of dvds). And we both loved them. The Baby Signing Time and Signing Time theme songs were a part of our daily lives, and I used sign language to communicate with him often, both when trying to understand him, and when we were unable to hear each other (ie across the room, in a loud setting, someplace where speaking to a child would disrupt the adult conversation). And I also used the signs to introduce French vocabulary: ie signing “shoes” while saying “souliers” instead of using verbal English to introduce the French equivalents.

I had hoped that we would really keep this up, as of course the primary reason for the Signing Time dvds is the hope that hearing people would have at least the rudiments of ASL to be able to interact with deaf ASL children and adults and open up friendships. Unfortunately what with daily life, concentrating on English speech therapy, French in school, and Chinese acquisition, the ASL has fallen a bit by the wayside though it remains an interest.

And then today I read the blog of a family who is adopting two little deaf boys from Henan, the province my Jiaozuo-born son hails from. They have three children already, but they seem the ideal family for these little deaf kids as… the mother is hearing, but the father is deaf. So the family is functionally bilingual: English-ASL. I think this is fantastic. I am very excited for their new family additions (yay for more little boys coming “home” from China to their new family lives!!) and also for the idea of a bilingual deaf/hearing family.

The Brown Seven

Anyways, you can read about their bilingual marriage here: Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part One, here: Part Two, here: Part Three, and here: Part Four. It is fascinating to read, and they face a lot of issues of parents who don’t speak a common language, and more so (since even in a language I cannot understand, I can often hear the inflection of voice, ie when kids are backlipping or someone is angry, even if I am hearing and not seeing, unlike a deaf person who if they don’t SEE the interaction, will not necessarily know that extra information if someone just translates after the fact, or repeats in front of them.

Take a look and tell me what you think! Both about hearing people using ASL, deaf and hearing relations, and families where the parents don’t speak each other’s language (or one speaks the language of the second but not vice versa).

And I wish The Brown Seven a short wait and a quick and safe trip to China to meet their little boys!

Chinese Gov’t Joins with Half the Sky!!

Great news from Half the Sky, an international charity that goes into orphanages in China and puts in child care and educational programs, finds sponsors for childen, and does other great things, like providing shelter and help for children who were affected by the earthquakes in China a couple years ago.

Children helped by Half the Sky

They have been working together with the Chinese Government which now wants to implement Half-The-Sky inspired programs in all the orphanages (SWI) in China. AND will be paying for the training and programs! Wow! Fantastic news for all the children in SWI in China!

If you want to help out, you can sponsor a child partially or in whole… they have links to donate from many countries.

Sponsor a child with Half the Sky

My son and I pay about $29 Cdn per month to help sponsor a little boy who was born in Feb 2007, and we get regular updates on his education and development. It is very rewarding. Here is an example of the sponsorship pdf report we receive regularly.

Child in Half the Sky classes

But even if you can’t help out, I hope you’ll join me in rejoicing at the new initiatives together with the Chinese government and the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption (formerly CCAA). With new programs in 60 SWI per year, they hope to have all the orphanages in China covered within 5 yrs, with the children getting proper care, nutrition, stimulation, education etc. Fantastic!!!

“Who Am I?” Chinese Zodiac Origami Book

I just discovered a wonderful book at betterchinese.com, makers of the well-known and much-used-in-schools “My First Chinese Words” books and cd. It is a Chinese zodiac book entirely illustrated in origami by its 10 yr old author, Justin Tsin. Justin is already an accomplished book creator. His first book “What Would You Imagine?” won the 2009 Mom’s Choice Award Outstanding Young Author/Illustrator and Children’s Picture Book – Bilingual.

Origami Rooster by Justin Tsin

He hails from San José, California and is currently doing a book tour mostly in libraries in the San José, San Francisco, Bay area. Google him to see if he’s presenting near you. Here is a preview of what you might be in for: A video of Justin presenting his first book in a San José library when he was 8.

Justin Tsin, book writer/illustrator

This new book is a good topic for today, the day before Chinese New Year, on Feb 3, which brings in the Year of the Rabbit. It gives a personality description as well as easy hints about the animal (“I have a curly tail and a big snout” “I am a good friend to humans and wag my tale when happy”) and asks you to guess what the animal is. When you turn the page, it shows the origami animal made by Justin, against a paper collage background. I think this guessing game is more engaging and allows the child to better remember the zodiac characters than a simple straight forward exposé about the animals, which most Chinese zodiac nonfiction books are.

The book is exceptional not only in that it is written and illustrated by a 10 yr old, but also in that it is bilingual English and Chinese. The mandarin seems to be written in simplified characters, with no pinyin, so it would be a challenge for non-chinese-speaking parents however. The text is fairly basic, with simple sentences, so personally I find it just enough of a challenge: I do know most of the animal characters and can read simple sentences. But for those just starting out in Chinese, it wouldn’t be usable to help their child learn more Chinese words or characters (unless there is an appendix, which isn’t evident from the pdf preview:”Chinese Zodiac: Who Am I”. His previous book, “What Would You Imagine” does however (according to the Amazon.com listing above) have pinyin. It too is illustrate with origami animals.

What is valuable however, is the cultural information about the Chinese zodiac. So for those who speak only English it is still a recommended book. Justin speaks about learning origami and his inspirations for his background paper collages as well, in the back of the book. And there are teaching tips about using the book as an educational tool as well.

Truly a beautiful book from an artistic point of view, inspiring for young book creators or artists, and culturally educational.

Last 5 days 20% off Chinese and Spanish learning materials!!!

I blogged recently about the French preschooler popular animated character T’Choupi being available in book form at Best4Future bilingual bookstore.

20% off at Better4Future bookstore!

Well, they are now having a 20% off sale until Feb 5 for the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit, so you might want to pop on over there and take advantage of the savings!
I ordered several T’Choupi books, but there is a whole selection of children’s Chinese learning materials from books to dvds, books with cds to songs as well as Learn Spanish materials.

They are also featuring the E-Readbook Pen and books that I blogged about as well, so if you are in the States, this may be a good time to get them! They are already on sale and the Chinese New Years’ 20% off is on top of that.

Happy shopping! And if you get some materials there, please do write a short review in the comments! I’d love to know what you recommend!

Trunki Sale til 8am PST Monday 31 at Haute Look

Well, I’ve been oogling the Trunki for several years now. One should realize as a parent that if something has a limited number of years of use, which most things do for children, other than bowls and cups (I still have my bunnikins bowl from childhood, and still eat out of it at 47!), one should buy it sooner rather than later, for the longest life per purchase.
(click image to go to trunki uk website)

But no, I bookmarked Trunki when my son was like 3, and looked at it in a store in town when he was four, and never bought it. Now at 5 1/4 he is nearly beyond the recommended years of use, but I decided to go for it, as there is now a super deal at Haute Look on it. This is a discount site for “haute couture” but also has deals on home decor, toys etc.

I’ve been dying to get a Trunki since my son has pretty much outgrown his stroller (I can still force him into them if he is sick and grumpy and I have to get someplace or walk for a long time) and we travel to visit my parents all the way across the country. It just seems like a great way for HIM to be responsible for his carry on and not me. Strollers are THE best for airline travel as you can take them gate to gate, loaded with all your coats, carry-on, purchases etc, and just dump them as you board the plane. And the airline has them ready for you to pile everything into as you deplane. But last year when he was 4.5 yrs old, it was really pushing it… my son didn’t sit in it one wee bit, I just pushed all our stuff. I understand bag ladies and their shopping carts. So loathe to give it up and carry everything for myself and my son.

Trunki movie!

But the Trunki has sit-on ride-em allure, as well as being easy for the child to pull. AND gives a place to sit and rest when tired, and can even be pulled by the parent with the child on it. They suggest 2-6 yrs old but I looked up reviews online and discovered that parents of 7 and even 9 yr olds were happy to have them. Perhaps the child’s legs are too long for riding but they loved to have their own pull-along suitcase, and a place to rest their butts in lines. So I went for it.

My friend got me to sign up to Haute Look and I discovered Trunki on sale for $27.99 instead of the $49.99 in shops here in town. We each got one and sent them both to the same address so we could share the $10.95 flat-rate shipping to Canada. So even with shipping, taxes and import, we are paying $38.50 apiece instead of $56.95 tax included we’d pay in town. And delivered to our door instead of slogging through snow and paying nearly $3 bus each direction. yay! So, since I think this is a GREAT deal and a GREAT product, I’m passing it on.

I guess I’m not the only one who thinks it is great, as when I discovered it online several years ago, the company was independent and now it is “Trunki by Melissa & Doug”… funny how these big companies keep getting bigger by snapping up the independents. I guess the owners played monopoly a lot as children!

The sale at Haute Look ends Monday 31 at 8am PST (so 11am here in Montreal), so you have to act quickly to get the Trunki there, but there will be new sales daily coming up if you are interested in signing up. My friend who invites me buys clothes for both her kids, as well as herself, on sale there. Great deals (though I am more a practical than fashion gal). Full disclosure: I get $10 credit if you sign up clicking my link and you buy something eventually (anything, at a later date)… though don’t shop for my sake!et