Category Archives: adults

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!

Kids Learn Chinese Pinyin dvd set

Excellent intro to Chinese phonics!

By Taotao’s Mom from Montreal, Quebec, Canada on 1/26/2011
5out of 5

Pros: Clear teaching style, Familiar characters, Entertaining, Repetition of pinyin song, Engaging, Live action scenarios

Cons: A few errors (cards,booklet)

Best Uses: 1-4 grade, Learn pinyin, Learn tones, Everyone, Preschoolers, Education

Describe Yourself: Single mom, Adoptive mom, Mom to preschooler, Elementary chineselearner

Kids Learn Chinese Pinyin dvd bundle

I was hesitant to buy this dvd set as I didn’t want to confuse my son in learning his letter sounds (he knows them pretty well in English, and as he goes to school in French here in Quebec, he is learning them again in French), but I did, since I think that 5 yrs old is a great age to learn the fundamentals of reading in any language.

I was very pleased with this set which has the same excellent quality as the Baby Learns Chinese (both 3-dvd sets). Fortunately in English they titled it “Kids Learn Chinese Pinyin” though in Chinese it still says “Baobao xue han yu” (Baby learns chinese), as by the time kids are ready to be learning to read letters they are usually old enough to be turned off by “baby” products.

The animated characters are a bit babyish for older kids, but my son is familiar with them so they were a good entry point for his interest. He also knows and loves the ABC song in english and french, so the fact that they use the same melody for the pinyin beginning sounds song, and then the pinyin endings song both attracted him and frustrated him (since he didn’t know the words).

The dvds are set up so that each dvd shows a section of the pinyin beginning sounds and ending sounds. All three dvds together cover all the sounds. Each section starts by introducing some sounds, which are said by the animated characters and then real life children, while we see the letters on the screen. One can put simplified characters or traditional characters and chose to put english subtitles or not.

After introducing the lesson’s sounds, they sing the pinyin song, like the abc song we know. This is great, in that we sing it over and over many times as we go through all 3 dvds (6 lessons). My only complaint is that they only show the letters AS they say them, instead of having a whole line of text, or the whole song, written on screen. So it is really hard to sing along. There is an included text booklet with each dvd, which we use as a guide, but it is hard to watch a screen AND read a booklet concurrently. My son finds it frustrating, so I printed up a large page with the pinyin letters in order so he can look at the lyrics as he sings. I find that is one drawback to their method.

After the song, we have a little role-playing scenario, ie getting up in the morning and leaving for school, meeting a family in the playground and asking names and ages, shopping for food with daddy, buying an ice cream cone… the children are played by preschoolers and the parents are played by children perhaps 7-9 yrs old. This is very engaging for my son, and it puts the words, and the sounds he is learning, into a very realistic context with normal sentences. This is excellent since many learning materials use words or sentences with no conversational context.

We get the little drama once, then we get it broken down word by word, sounding out the pinyin, then we get it again. This really aids in comprehension, and learning to pronounce the written pinyin makes much more sense than just a spelling test drill.

The scenarios chosen are good for children’s interest: going to school, buying ice cream, going to the playground. Even so, this is a dvd my son watches together with me (I am also learning Chinese) rather than choosing to watch on his own, as it really is more of a school-textbook like learning material than entertainment like the River Dragon King, Let’s Go Guang or Ping Ping and Walker dvds. But it really does teach a LOT more chinese, not just a smattering of words and phrases within a basically english story.

The only drawbacks I have found is a spelling mistake on the flashcards (which my son really likes btw) and sometimes the text booklet doesn’t match the dvd’s audio exactly.

I really recommend this series for parents whose children are beginning to understand ABCs and reading.

(legalese)

Writing in Chinese on your computer

I just upgraded my OS on my aging mac computer from 10.3.9 to 10.4.11… and wow, I don’t get all these “cannot read the script” “upgrade to a modern browser” “do not support your browser” alerts anymore when I am online! It is quite nice.

Anyways, I just discovered this tutorial about inputting Chinese in macs on about.com… here is the info on using Chinese fonts in OSX 10.4 but the other mac OS’s are there too including 10.5, OS9 and Older Macs.
Look on the left menu for info about character sets, applications and Windows.

It’s very interesting and informative and hopefully will help you out too!

Say it in French! Say it in English! Say it in Chinese! (and chinese bingo!)

Well, Big Boy used to say constantly: “No chinese mommy. Talk english. No talk French mommy, Talk English.” And I fought it any way I could… buying those dreaded popular character items: Dora storybooks in Chinese (really, they make great dvds but really horrid storybooks), Bob the Builder in French, Thomas Train in French, heck I might even have broken down and bought Caillou (long story, but we are not fans of Caillou) if they had it in Chinese. Offering smarties one at a time if he’d name the colors in French and not English, playing hide and seek in the park in Chinese… making him watch his favorite movies in French or Chinese if possible. Now he can sing Annie’s “Tomorrow!” theme song in French… I certainly can’t do that!

It must have worked as I am thrilled to say that these days he REQUESTS me to say things in all three languages. ALL three. I understand that it is often prolonging the fun: “mommy, sing Frere Jacques in French. Sing it in English, Sing it in Chinese: liang zhi lao hu” or bedtime: “Look for me hiding in French mommy. OK, try to find me again in Chinese. Now I will hid and you find me in English” but it makes me very happy! Yay!!!!

It is a bit long sometimes (he had to count the crackers in three languages before eating his soup, we had to read our new Cheryl Christian counting book three times, in English, Chinese and French before finishing supper) but I am all for it. And we certainly cannot say he is confused!

Chinese Character Bingo

In other news, Baining of Mandarinkids has said I’m bad for her budget! Ahah! Passing on my Chinese learning finds to other addicts is the reason I started blogging again! I must have justification for some of this online Chinese materials research and spending! So, just for Baining, I present you my find of the night: Chinese Bingo! It is actually bingo for learning Chinese characters, 100 at a time. There is Basic Character bingo, which uses just single radical characters, so you have a base for learning characters made up of more than one basic character. There are six different levels of Common Character bingo (which you can combine)… each with 100 characters, starting with the most common, next most common etc. Apparently if you konw 600 characters you can read 82% of Chinese text. Personally, I think it is more than a matter of knowing characters, one also needs to know expressions or you will really be misunderstanding a lot. But 600 characters is a good place to start, and these people have them in coordinated sets of flashcards and bingo games, as well as wall posters that show stroke order, stroke types and names, pinyin, tones etc. A fun find. Check it all out at Chicool.com.

Kingka Set 1

Ps, we play a form of bingo with our Kingka game (we have the first set and it really is teaching Big Boy to recognize characters). I’m planning a review post on the Kingka game in the near future. Til then, we recommend it. Very solid and well made, very versatile, and enjoyable for even the youngest learners (no reading required… though they will learn to recognize, ie read, chinese characters).

ps. I just learned that Chinasprout has the Bingo games. They are probably less limited in payment options than Chicool.com.

EReadbook: last couple days of free shipping AND Happy Sharing program!

Well, today we got our Ereadbook Touch pen and books… so very exciting. They arrived super quick from Ontario (ordered Monday afternoon and arrived Wed by 12:30 noon!), in perfect condition. All files for the books I ordered already loaded on the pen, so we were good to go upon opening the box.

And it was a much bigger box than I expected. Just the Starter Set has enough in it to keep you busy for weeks. I thought it might be very little material without getting the extra books in the Packages, but the six books that come with the pen have all sorts of things, from games to stories. And the other books that we got with it (Classic Fairy Tales, 600 Words, English Chinese dictionary… which is hardcover btw) are all wonderful. The pen can “speak” for about 6 hours before needing recharging. Recharging is done via the USB cable, that plugs into a regular AC adapter that goes into a wall socket. A neck lanyard keeps the pen around your kid’s neck. It shuts off by itself after giving several verbal cues that you are leaving it unattended!

Right now Bigreach.ca is offering free shipping within Canada until Feb 28, for the Chinese Spring Festival (includes Chinese New Years). I think it is definitely taking advantage of, as the starter box is quite bulky and heavy. They sent it by expedited, and I needed to sign for it.

If you do order the pen, either this week or later, you can say that you were refered by me, Leanne, and that my pen ID # is E2003-132067. Email your order to “order@bigreach.ca”

They have a “Happy Sharing Program” (Word .doc) to encourage people to refer their friends (and complete strangers!)… give the pen ID of the person who referred you and when you buy a pen and register it for warranty, you will get $10 credit off your next regular priced books, and the person referring you will also get $10 credit off THEIR next regular priced books. Win-Win. Here is the price list and package descriptions

Anyways, my son likes it and wants to actually listen to Chinese in books for once, and I like it in that it really helps my listening skills in Chinese. The book’s various segments (illustrations, pinyin, chinese characters) speak with a variety of male, female and children’s voices, and say things from short and cute to complicated. One can listen to a single phrase many times over to help with listening comprehension and reading help. I think that one of the major uses for me will be to increase my reading-out-loud skills, that I can transfer to our other non-talking Chinese picture books.

And already, just reading “Xiao Hong Mao” (Little Red Ridinghood), I have picked up vocabulary, syntax and phrases I can use to play with my son!

I will try to get a proper photo-post done to show the whole pen set and books in the near future. For now, I recommend it.

Practice your reading with Chinese Readers!

I have lucked upon these wonderful books, P3 Chinese Readers (what a memorable name! LOL!), edited by Yin Dalu, put out by PPP Company, Hong Kong (the Professional Publishing People).

P3 Chinese Readers

P3 Chinese Readers

I find it hard to find simple, engaging material to practice reading Chinese characters that is not overwhelming (ie the average picturebook in chinese, even with pinyin, can mean a week of looking up vocab) and that is not part of some very involved, structured textbook. Ie painfully educational.

Chinese Reader: inside book

Chinese Reader Green open book

You know, there is a reason why in Grade One and Two, they have those Leveled Readers that your kids bring home: very short simple storybooks that reinforce learning and give a sense of accomplishment. Well, now you can get just such a thing in Chinese. These Readers are glossy little books: about 8 inches square, 13 pages including the inside back cover. They all have bright flat colors with clear classy photographs, and often the addition of drawn characters that interact with the photo settings and objects.

Chinese Reader Orange

Sample Chinese Reader Orange

Each “story” is only written in large clear simplified characters, and end on page 10. Page 11 is a page by page listing of the text in characters, pinyin and English. Handy to keep your thumb here. Unlike having English and pinyin on the page with the characters, you can’t get lazy and just not read the actual wenzi, BUT you can quickly and easily consult a forgotten word or pronunciation. Page 12 is either a quick quiz on vocab or a grammar note, like “yi, er, san” are used for counting, but “yi ge, liang ge, san ge” are used when enumerating something. Page 13 (inside back cover) has key vocab in character, pinyin and English.

Reader Orange spread

Pang/shou: Reader Orange

Text by page #

Bu Tong! Text by page #

Very clear, simple, and handy to practice your character pronunciation and understanding.

Inside Back Cover: Orange

Inside back cover: Orange Reader

There are six levels of difficulty: Orange Readers mostly have one or two words per page, and perhaps a phrase or short sentence at start or end. Extremely basic adjectives, nouns, verbs, numerals, colors and animals are introduced.

Chinese Readers Blue

Blue Chinese Readers

Blue Readers build on Orange level one, with a phrase or multi-character word per page, and some semblance of a tale. Family members, farm animals, clothing, body parts within proper basic sentences.

Chinese Reader Blue spread

Blue Reader inside spread

Green Readers are level three, and introduce longer sentences and a wider vocabulary. Weather, hobbies, telling time…

Level Four is Purple Readers. They have sentences with more complexity: describing people, making comparisons, using adverbs, talking about living in, going to, taking transportation.

Blue Reader text by page #

Blue Reader text by page #

Brown Readers have longer sentences still, introducing concepts like “not only y… but x as well”, giving directions, explaining “why” you like something etc. Seasons of China, travelling, getting around Beijing, wanting to buy something, what do you want to be when you grow up…

Finally the Red Readers are mostly simplified versions of Chinese tales: Hua Mulan, Zhong Kui Kills the Ghost, Pangu Separates Sky and Earth.

Blue Reader inside back cover

Blue Reader inside back cover

Personally I can mostly read Orange and Blue with no trouble, Green has a few words I don’t know, Purple has sentence structures I am aware of (“this is x-er than that”) but not proficient at using, Brown is challenging, and Red we haven’t bought any of yet.

Chinese Reader Green inside spread

Chinese Reader Green inside spread

These stapled glossy softcovers are sold individually, but I prefer to get them in sets of six. Each level has two sets of six, giving you a whopping 72 individual books to practice with . They are very reasonably priced, about $12 per set of six.

Green Reader text page by page

Green Reader text page by page

You could get them at Amazon.ca until I ordered two sets and several individual copies (to make up my $39 for free shipping, of course!)… they never did send me the individual books. They sent me the two sets and immediately set all these books to “not available” on their site. Sigh. It was too good to be true.

Green Reader inside back cover

Green Reader inside back cover

They ARE available on Amazon.com, but lately I have discovered that Barnes& Noble has more competitive shipping prices to Canada, and they were delivered quite quickly. (hint, look at the P3 link in the first paragraph for a proper list of the books in each set)

So, if you are looking for a kid or adult friendly way to practice your basic character reading skills, I recommend these. My son, who says “no read Chinese mommy”, actually

Chinese Reader Purple

Chinese Reader Purple

REQUESTS these books. Of course the fact that they are simple so I don’t stumble and hesitate, and quick to read, with colorful funny illustrations and stories, starring my son’s fave “Xiao Long” dragon does help a lot.

Purple Reader inside spread

Purple Reader inside spread

Purple Reader text by page #

Purple Reader text by page #

Purple Reader inside back cover

Purple Reader inside back cover

Brown Reader sample cover

Brown Reader sample cover

Brown Reader inside spread

Brown Reader inside spread

Brown Reader text by page #

Brown Reader text by page #

Brown Reader inside back cover

Brown Reader inside back cover