Category Archives: dvds

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!

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.


Multilingual phonetics?

Well, Big Boy has been using 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!

Little Mammoth Big Adventure Series

We often end up bringing into our home materials that we never would have thought to buy in English, simply because they are Chinese. Dora the Explorer is one of these: I would have decided she is too commercial and unofficially banned her like Caillou or Spongebob Squarepants. But in Chinese, she was welcomed into the door, and we have been happy, very happy, with her.

Another product I ordered because it was in English AND Chinese is the Little Mammoth Big Adventure Series dvds. I had had them on a wishlist for a year, but only ordered when the store I frequented on ebay decided to close and have a clearout sale.

Little Mammoth Inventions 5dvds

Big Science and Inventions Series

What a DISCOVERY! These dvds are produced in the states, and have enticing titles like “The Big Aircraft Carrier”, “The Big Submarine”, “The Big Christmas Tree”, “The Big Train Trip”. They are geared towards 5-10 yr olds or so, but my 4 year old just loves them. You can read some reviews on Amazon here.

Little Mammoth puts them out in English first, one title per dvd, for $19.95 US . But you get a REAL DEAL by ordering the Chinese/English ones: 5 dvds for only $24.99!

The first set we got (by error, from the ebay clearout, since we ordered the navigation set) is The Big Science and Invention Series. The titles included are The Big Christmas Tree, The Big Auto Plant, The Big Train Trip, The Big Boom, and The Big Newspaper. I thought these may not have such huge draw to a 4 yr old, but boy was I wrong. My son sits glued to the tv, forgetting to put his fork in his mouth (we sometimes share supper over new educational dvds), and other times overflowing with questions and “WOW! AMAZING!” comments.

The Big Christmas Tree follows the New York Rockefeller Christmas tree from the search (the man in charge scours the US in a helicopter all year for the right tree), discovery, cutting it down, delivering it (it lays on a huge semi-trailer that goes INSIDE a GIGANTIC freight plane), setting it up at Rockefeller Center, being decorated, and its public unveiling. There are asides about Christmas tree farms, a man who collects Christmas tree ornaments, and the origin of Christmas tree traditions. Fascinating for kids AND adults.

The Big Auto Plant takes us inside Mercedes Benz in Germany, from car design, prototype and testing, through the complete production line. The child narrators manage to impart so much technical information without it being overwhelming, and we are glued to the screen the whole while.

The Big Train Trip takes us from Toronto to Vancouver on Via Rail. We learn about how they get food on the train, how they take an engine apart to overhaul it, what one can do on a train, and many details behind the scene. I loved, being Canadian, that it was so close to home, and understandable for my son.

The Big Boom is a bit more esoteric for small kids, as it talks about explosions. Volcanic eruptions, the demolition of a large building, and sonic booms from planes. But my son has asked to watch it on his own repeatedly.

We haven’t seen the Newspaper one yet, but I assume it will be just as good.

Little Mammoth Navigation 5dvds

Little Mammoth Big Navigation Series

The set we initially ordered, The Big Navigation Series just arrived two days ago, and so far we have watched The Big Plane Trip (SwissAir from US to Europe) and The Big Aircraft Carrier (the US navy’s largest carrier). They are uniformly wellmade, and take us straight to the top (and bottom): the pilots, the engineers, the designers. We learned everything from how the fighter pilots train (dumped into a pool to simulate being trapped inside a helicopter downed in the ocean) to how the planes stop (in 3 seconds from full throttle to full stop, hooked onto huge elastic cables!). We have yet to watch The Big Submarine, The Big Airshow and The Big Space Shuttle.

We did attempt to watch these dvds in Chinese, but the level of Chinese is way beyond us. It is spoken fairly quickly by child narrators, and I only caught a word here and there: da fei ji, sheng dan shu. Hopefully one day we will be able to understand them end to end in Mandarin. But in the meantime, they are super educational and a steal in the 5-dvd chinese/english boxed sets. The only thing I dislike is the incredibly long intro trailer at the start of each dvd, though my son is happy to watch it… remarking on things he recognizes from the dvds he’s already watched, and exclaiming at those yet to come.

Little Mammoth Amusement Series

Little Mammoth Big Amusement Park Series

I am happy to see that there is a third chinese/english set, The Big Amusement Park Series, with the titles: The Big Aquarium, The Big Hotel, The Big Zoo, The Big Park and The Big Renovation. We’ll have to look into those in the future.

The Peabody award-winning director of this series of educational dvds, which have won all sorts of accolades, is William VanDerKloot. He started working on this series after realizing, with his own children, what a dearth there is of good educational dvds to answer children’s questions. Too often the material is not enough in depth or turned into a cutesy animation or anthropomorphized. There is a very recent interview with him here, at Turns out the current Little Mammoth dvd in production is The Big Breakfast, where they examine how all the makings of a blueberry pancake breakfast get onto your table.

To purchase these dvds, click on the above title links (they are the store) for English/Chinese, or go to Little Mammoth’s website for the English ones. If you are daring, you can probably save a lot of postage if you are not in the US by ordering the English/Chinese ones from CNEMAY Chinese Cultural Products. I haven’t ordered from them, but they have the same price, $24.99 US for 5dvd sets, $9.99 US for individual dvds, with Free International Shipping from Beijing. If you do order from them, please let me know how your experience was.

And if you are really lucky, your local school or library will have Little Mammoth Big Adventure Series dvds on hand to get your fix for free! Definitely worth your while.

New “astore”

Well, we are in bed with the devil! I have made an “astore” of books, dvds and cds that we like and use, which is over there in the right hand menu under “All Our Fave Books”. Of course it is not ALL our fave books, but rather the ones available at But I had to find some way for the “link category” to start with something alphabetical proceeding “Blogroll”, as this thingie doesn’t allow for manual ordering of “categories” over there.

And I DID try to imbed the astore into a page, like the “About” page, up there on the top menu, but for whatever unknown reason, anytime I pasted the iframe html into the “html” new page editing window, and saved it, WordPress just “disappeared” it all, and said “0 words”. So incredibly frustrating.

Anyways, do go and check out what we recommend in the way of adult and children’s chinese learning materials. It will be like coming home with us and browsing through our bookshelves!

I’ll try to get around to updating it soon.

And if you dislike Amazon, you can check out They are good people, and my fave chinese learning materials store.