My Review of My First Chinese Writing Exercise, Simplified Chinese

Originally submitted at

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.



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

Originally submitted at

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.


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

Originally submitted at

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.


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!!!