Category Archives: products

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!

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“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

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!

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!