Category Archives: education

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!

“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)

Maintaining bilingualism in adopted kids

Hi!
Long time no write. Just super very busy. Very super busy.

But I was pointed to this article Raising a Bilingual Child in Adoptive Families online magazine. Most of it is just reminders for me. But also reminders that my child has jumped from one group to another since August.

Big Boy is no longer at home all day with mommy except for a couple days of daycare. We used to do a lot of Chinese play together, hide and seek, Kingka game, watch Dora in Chinese etc. And now we just have a few hours in the evenings and weekends. So his Chinese exposure has really tapered off.

Also at now five years old, he has gone out of the toddler age where I can really just plop him in front of any dvd and he is thrilled. He actively uses the dvd player himself now and doesn’t have to rely on me to change the language to whichever he wishes to hear. He does bargain a bit: “… but will you let me watch another dvd if it is Chinese?”… “Yes!”… but I have to watch he doesn’t switch it to English when I’m not watching. Many of our materials have alternative English or Mandarin soundtracks (vs language learning dvds like Mei Mei, The River Dragon King, Walker and Ping Ping where the dvd is in English and the Chinese is words and phrases integrated into the English). I am happy to report that he does voluntarily chose Chinese language learning dvds out of our dvd library. And I keep adding new dvds to keep his interest fresh.

But I can no longer “force” him to listen to me read Chinese books out loud badly. And we have lost our weekly Chinese native speaker friend, whose current work schedule doesn’t allow for so much extra engagement.

Baby Learns Chinese Phonics bundle

On the other hand, he is coming of an age to be able to formally teach a language or go into language learning classes. I have bought the Baby Learns Chinese (sort of a misnomer for phonics program!) Phonics dvds for him for Christmas: I think he is ready now that he knows his ABC in English and French and has a good basic understanding of letter sounds from ReadingEggs.com Though I do have some concerns that the different sounds for letters in pinyin phonetics and English phonetics might confuse him (see previous post).

I am thinking that now he may be of an age to start Saturday Chinese Class… which is a Chinese community offering here. I believe the classes may be French/Chinese so would be more appropriate now that his French has improved exponentially with five day a week French preschool. He seems to be doing very well academically (vs behaviourally!) in the total francophone learning environment. So taking him to a Saturday Chinese Class for french speaking students might work now. Though I am not sure I want to add more school days to the life of a boy who has just just turned five. (or to lose my weekend relax time!) I’ll look into it.

But I do have to recognize that his interests and needs are evolving as he gets older and enters “school age” vs “preschool” (hah! I guess that is a funny thing to say about a kid who is officially a “preschool student”… an oxymoron when you think about it!)

So, for us, I read this article with a “trilingual” eye, as our bilingual needs are already taken care of. We are anglophone, living in a mostly English dominant continent, with anglophone extended family and friends. Living in a francophone environment, with preschool, daycare, friends and neighbors dominantly french.

How are you doing with a second or third language? How are you dealing with changing language needs as your child changes from baby to toddler, from toddler to preschooler, from preschooler to school age?

Some Montreal resources:

Montreal Chinese School: seems to be traditional characters, Sunday mornings or afternoons. Also seems to be geared towards kids whose first language is Mandarin.

JiaHua School of Montreal: They do have classes for children whose first language is not Mandarin, with the goal of integrating them into the regular Chinese classes with Mandarin speaking students, on Saturdays, starting at age 5.

McGill Playgroup for adopted Chinese Children I have friends who go to this who like it, though I think it is just a bit of a fun brush against their culture rather than real language learning.

Multilingual phonetics?

Well, Big Boy has been using http://readingeggs.com to learn his phonics and learn to read since January… ten months now. He is still enjoying it and often surprises me what he can sound out if he takes the time. Often he jumps the gun and thinks he knows a word once he has sounded out the first consonant or two (ie he clicked “Blue” when he was supposed to click on “Black” in a recent online test) but he is still pretty consistent about hearing a word, or looking at a word, and sounding out what letter of the alphabet it starts with.

Just to say where he is at… he will be five in about three weeks.

Now, I wanted to get him started on phonics in English before he entered school (he entered pre-kindergarten this September in French, but they are only doing reading readiness: they start phonics and writing letters in Kindergarten I believe, and actually sounding out the multiple dipthongs in French, and learning to read in Grade One). It is his first language, his strongest language, which he uses at home. And I wanted him to have a solid foundation of the idea that letters make sounds, and sounds together make words in his first language, before being thrown into second language reading.

Especially since French has so many different phonetic combinations than English. Thibault. Tetreault. Eau. And so many ways of writing the same sounds: parlez, parlé, parler, parlait, parlais… Even the francophones have a challenge, and I see a lot of spelling mistakes that end up being grammar mistakes (Parlez! is an order to speak. Parlé is past tense. Parler is infinitive. Parlais is ongoing past tense…) My favorite is Fermez magasin… which means “Close the store!” when the mean “Magasin fermé” “The store is closed”.

So, I think we are doing great. Big Boy’s spontaneous spoken French has grown in leaps and bounds with 5 day a week full time school and daycare (he has preschool in the mornings, and then lunch and afternoons in the day care service at school), and along with it his French comprehension. His English speaking has improved with speech therapy (more about that later), and I do believe his knowledge of correct phonetics from ReadingEggs has helped as well. And his comprehension of the link between the spoken and written sound is quite solid, even if he cannot sound out every word.

So… the reason for this post? The dvd series Baby Learns Chinese, which we really enjoy for its clear images, on screen Doman-based use of written characters, and its engaging scenarios, has put out a new Chinese phonetics series. This is designed to help children who up to now have just seen characters, learning them mostly by shape association, learn pinyin. Pinyin is basically the method of using Roman letters to write Chinese sounds and syllables, especially paired with simplified Chinese characters on the mainland. When we see Chinese written as ” Wo yao chi dongxi.”, it is pinyin vs characters. Pinyin is used in Chinese schools along with characters as it helps a child be able to pronounce words that they know the sound of (we are assuming a child who can understand and speak spoken Chinese), as the characters themselves, until they are memorized, give very few clues. Also, Chinese English dictionaries have all the Chinese words listed in alphabetical order by pinyin spelling.

It is possible to look up Chinese characters by radical and stroke order, but it is a long and drawn out process! A necessary process to find unknown characters’ meanings, but if you have the pinyin of an unknown character, you can zip straight to the meaning!

The new 3-dvd series looks great, and would tie in with Big Boy’s ongoing phonics work in English. HOWEVER, not ALL the letters of the alphabet have the same sound in Chinese as in English. The short “e” sound is different for instance. The “r” sound is pronounced with the tongue tip on the upper center palate, rather than with round lips like in English. The sound for zh is new: pronounced much like J in Jack. U works much like W: huang is pronounced hwang.

 

So, this set is what a Chinese child of his age would be learning pinyin phonics from… the children shown are 4-6 yrs old, the play and concepts are very preschooler to grade 1 friendly. It is too old for a 3 yr old, and too young for a grade 2 I would think… though even an adult would learn a lot if they are studying Chinese, I suspect they’d rather have something less cutesie and centered around playing house and dress-up! And certainly not something called BABY learns Chinese!

Kids Learn Chinese Phonics at Childbook

So, do I get it now when he loves the Baby Learns Chinese series? Or do I risk mixing up his phonics learning, when he is learning in English, AND learning vocab, grammar, comprehension and pronunciation aurally in French? Do I start it in a year, when it might be mixing up his French phonics learning in school? Or do I just think, well, he hasn’t mixed up the spoken languages, why would he mix up the written/phonetic ones?

Any ideas? Experiences with your own children? Advice?

Thanks so much!

Learning to Learn Languages

Here is an interesting page of books that might help you learn to learn languages better: Language Books at Learn in Freedom.org.

Bilingual Children BookI found this link through a book suggestion from Soultravelers3, who suggested the book by George Saunders:

Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens
George Saunders (Clevedon, Avon and Philadelphia, PA: Bilingual Matters, 1988) (ISBN 1-85359-009-6). xiii and 274 pages; glossary, bibliography (which has a GREAT list of titles of similar interest), indexes. Saunders is from English-speaking monolingual ancestors, going back at least six generations on all sides of his family. He studied German in college, got to study abroad for a while, and then decided to bring up his children bilingually. The book describes his remarkable successful experiment in bringing up three children as German speakers in Australia. KMBseen_SPP

. click to see book description at Amazon. Someone else recently recommended this book to me. Unfortunately it seems to be hard to find and expensive ($47 used, $76 new). Soultravelers3 are two parents who are mostly anglophone, (father speaks some Spanish), raising their daughter to be trilingual as they travel the world. Do check out their blog.

Anyways, this Saunders book seems to be a precursor to the trilingual parenting book I like: Growing Up with Three Languages. Has anyone else read the Saunders book and recommends it enough for me to spend $50 on it?
thanks!