Category Archives: kids

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!

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!

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)

Tchoupi in Chinese!

Today, through following a comment (yay comment subscriptions) for asiamommy.com’s post on ereadbooks and touch reading pens, I discovered both a shopping site and a wonderful new blog I was unaware of by a mother named Lina Dickson who is raising her daughter in English and her native Chinese. Here’s her blog post on the Touch Reading Pen which I have blogged about.

Her blog Best4Future: Bringing up Baby Bilingual is a combo of mommy blog about her daughter, parenting tips, language tips, product reviews and even language lessons! She has little videos that will teach you how to say Snow Peas, spinach, sweet potatoes and strawberries and other fruits and vegetables in Chinese. It seems to be an ongoing thing. Much to explore. Her blog is added to my blogroll at the right.

In her shop, she offers the eReadbook pens and books, but also a multitude of other books, VCDs and DVDs. There I discovered Tchoupi and Doudou books in Chinese to my surprise. As we live in Quebec, a francophone majority province, Tchoupi (pronounced Chewpy, like Happy) and his little stuffed pal Doudou (Doodoo, like “do the dishes” do) are well-known television/animated dvd characters here. I like that their french is very simple and clear to understand, especially when my son was just starting to learn it, and the stories very simple, cute and child-friendly. I hadn’t heard of Tchoupi outside of French media, which was why I was so surprised to hear of them in Chinese.

But as Lina blogs, there are actually 48!! little Tchoupi books translated into Chinese characters. The stories seem to be as simple and charming in Chinese, and looking at the page details that are posted in the Best4Future shop, I can almost read them without a dictionary (almost!)… common high frequency characters. There is no pinyin that I can see, so they wouldn’t be so great for those f you who cannot read simple characters yet, or who cannot look up characters by radical and stroke order in a dictionary.

But for those who can, they would be lovely little stories about a preschool child’s life, preoccupations, adventures and tribulations. Not as formulaic as Dora, not too wild and crazy or action oriented, not so tied into merchandise as Disney and Strawberry Shortcake and other translated offerings. And not so moralistic (though with good values and life lessons) as many Chinese children’s tales. I haven’t read them all, but I’d definitely go on a limb and guess they are books I’d like in my home.

Very excited to find these, and also the Best4Future blog and learning materials.

The Tchoupi books are $4.99 each, and now is the time to get them!
There are two more days left to her Holiday Sale: Save an EXTRA 15% on EVERYTHING (all regular and on sale books & DVDs) between Jan 1 – Jan 15, 2011. Use the code: newyear15 when you check out.

Enjoy!