Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chinese music for kids: Little Dragon Tales

We just wanted to write a brief post to recommend an outstanding album of children's music. It's called Little Dragon Tales: Chinese Children's Songs by the Shanghai Restoration Project. The album is very well produced and is high quality. It features children singing classic Chinese children songs, but in surprisingly tasteful modern renditions.

There's lots of synthesizer, piano, and good drum beats that enhance the melodies and add an element of complexity that allows adults as well as children to enjoy them music. I am very picky with my music, and I even enjoy this.

Our kids request to listen to this album all the time, and they are starting to sing along to some of the songs.

If you want to give your kids a bit of Chinese culture and some good music, give this a try! Good children's music in general is hard to find, and we think this album is a keeper.

If you happen to have amazon prime... then it's free! Otherwise the MP3 will cost $8.99. We think it's worth it.




What do you think of this album? Any other music you recommend?


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Our strategy to teach our kids Chinese

We’ve never really written before about our comprehensive strategy to teach our kids Chinese. My wife originally started this blog to share the Chinese worksheets she was creating. Since then, we’ve started to put together a respectable amount of resources for parents that live outside of China who want to teach their kids Chinese. What we haven’t done yet, though, is talk in detail about how we go about the entire process of teaching our kids Chinese. Below is a somewhat comprehensive view of the overall, long term strategy that we are taking. It's a long process, we are trying our best, and it happens one day at a time!


Learning to Speak Chinese

Speak Chinese to your kids

The first and most important thing we have ever done is commit to speak Chinese in the home. This has been difficult, especially because I am American. My Chinese is not perfect, and my wife’s English will always be better than my Chinese. Sometimes there is a communication gap. Sometimes it's easier for everyone if we speak English. I consider myself to be a relatively disciplined person, and it has taken a lot of effort for us to maintain the rule where we speak Chinese at home. It’s even difficult for my wife, since she’s been in America for years now and sometimes comes to English words easier than Chinese words. Lots of our books and other media are in English as well, and sometimes it’s hard to switch back to Chinese afterwards. So, I can understand how kids with Chinese parents grow up in America speaking English at home. It's a shame, but I can see how it happens. If the parent’s speak good English, it’s simply the easiest thing to do. Speaking Chinese when you are not in China takes effort, even for adults. However, as we’ve been consistent with this rule, our kids comply. They know they are supposed to speak Chinese. We constantly reminded them and even went through a phase where they would get sent to time out if they spoke English. Now, for the most part, it’s not an issue. I’m guessing it will be get harder as the kids start school and get even more immersed in English, but for now our 4 year old and 2 year old speak Chinese at home.

Because we’ve been so strict about this rule, our kids speak Chinese. I have a friend who took a year of Chinese in college, and my 2 year old speaks way better Chinese than he does. My four year old doesn’t speak like a four year old native, but he speaks pretty darn good. He can communicate basically anything he wants to, as good as a four year old can reasonably be expected to communicate.  

We started speaking to them when they were babies, and they often picked up Chinese words before they picked up English words. Of course, we didn’t want them to not learn English. That would make their social development awkward when they went to church or played with friends. So whenever they learned a new word, we would teach them both the English and the Chinese. In a way, this made teaching new words easier. To explain what the new word meant, we could use both English and Chinese to explain it. I think that a lot of times it made it easier for them to grasp the meaning, having the extra explanation if it wasn’t clear in one language.

In social situations, it’s OK for them to speak English. We say that if friends are over or we’re outside and talking to someone else, than speak English. However, if we’re outside running errands and just talking with our family, our rule is that we still speak Chinese. Otherwise, as soon as we leave the house the kids would speak English and never learn much Chinese. Hanging out at home, there’s really a limited vocabulary that you need to get by every day. It’s when you’re out and about outside that you see new things and really need to learn new words and how to say new things. Enforcing the rule to speak Chinese outside has been very important.

I’ve heard that if kids can keep speaking another language until they are about 7 years old, then it becomes somewhat permanent. It’s amazing how fast they can forget. Once when our oldest was almost three, we spent a month at my parents house. We spoke English the entire time. When we got home, we realized that he had forgotten A LOT of his Chinese. Even basic things like colors didn’t come back to him right away. Hopefully if we keep it up Chinese will be a permanent part of his brain some day.

Send them to China

One good thing that we might do some day is send our kids to China for a while. We’ve visited my wife’s family several times and spent a month at a time in China. Unfortunately, my wife’s family lives in a small town and speaks a dialect similar but more complicated than Shan Dong Hua. Native Chinese speakers think it’s easy to understand, but it’s difficult for me. This means they don’t really have full immersion of mandarin when they go there, and it’s probably hard for them to understand everything. Nonetheless, it’s surely beneficial for them anyway.

Let them watch Chinese TV

We’ve written several posts about letting our kids watch Chinese cartoons. Our kids used to watch 1 or 2 episodes of English cartoons or children’s shows on most days of the week. We don’t have cable or even an antenna, but we do have Amazon prime and there’s no shortage of kids shows for them to watch. For the past 2 months, however, they almost never watch English TV shows. We’ve used our Roku to show them Chinese kids shows we find on youtube. There’s tons of kids TV shows on youtube for them to watch. We have written about two of them, Qiao Hu and Lao Hu Huan Xiang. I feel no guilt when they watch TV. Not only are they having fun and being entertained, but they are learning Chinese. I don’t feel like their brains are rotting away in front of the TV set. To the contrary, they are learning more about Chinese culture and getting immersed in the language.

Sing to them in Chinese

If you grew up in China, chances are you know some Chinese nursery rhymes. Sing them to your kids! If you don't know them, learn them. There are many on youtube you can find.

Listen to Chinese Music

This is one that we haven't really tried yet... our kids are starting to really appreciate American Music, and we bias them with our eclectic taste of indie rock and folk rock. I am thinking we should listen to more Chinese music, but both my wife and I don't have nearly as much Chinese music on hand.

Read Chinese books to them

We have 100+ English kids books. There’s so many books out there it’s hard to be a parent in America without accumulating lots of them. And that’s a good thing. We have a much smaller supply of Chinese books, but we always jump at the chance to read Chinese books with them. Every Chinese book teaches them new words. You might be surprised how many Chinese books your local library has. If they don’t have some at your local branch, most cities still might have some that you can request be sent to your library. Eventually, we hope that Amazon starts carrying more Chinese books. It's so easy to buy from Amazon that I know we and others would buy more if they carried them.


Learning to Read and Write Chinese

Our 4 year old has gotten to the point where he can probably read about 150 – 200 characters. He can probably write from memory about 80. This has been a combination of us giving him worksheets to do, us reading him books, and probably mainly him playing with the iPad.
The blog has a page on different Chinese worksheets, and there’s lots of resources out there for free. There’s also worksheets you can buy. Keep in mind that these are more time intensive. For your kid to get anything out of a worksheet, you are going to need to coach them through it. You can’t just expect them to do it by themselves and learn something.

iPad apps, on the other hand, pretty much do all the teaching for you. We’ve found about 4 apps that we really like, that are affordable, and that do a great job teaching our kids Chinese characters.
One of them is called Chinese Writer, where for $10 you can have access to 5000 characters. The app lets you practice writing the characters on the iPad, you can create different practice packs for your child, and there’s a little game which is surprisingly fun and great practice for both kids and adults. I think it’s very effective. We have a little Chinese book that we read with my oldest, and I’ve put all the new characters from the book into a practice pack on the app. After several episodes of playing with the app, my son is almost able to read the book by himself now. We made a small practice pack with the numbers 1-10, and our two year old was able to learn the numbers quite easily.

The other apps are basically fancy versions of flash cards or animated stories that teach you characters along the way and have little quizzes and games as you progress through the story. They are fun, my kids love them, and they actually learn stuff as they play. It’s way better than them wasting their brain on the iPad playing things like fruit ninja or plants vs zombies.

We don’t have a lot of experience yet teaching our kids to read and write, but we are encouraged with the results. We really hope we can get to the point where they learn enough characters to be able to read recreationally when they are a few years older. I was raised in a family of readers, and I remember reading books for fun as early as second grade. If we can get our kids to this level, they will be set for life, since they will continue to read for fun and improve their language skills.

That’s our goal!


EDIT:
Check out how we're doing: a video of our son reading Chinese.


Any other tips or suggestions?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

iReading HD – 宝贝学汉字 -- The Best Chinese Flashcard App For Kids

There is absolutely not shortage of flashcard apps for kids to learn Chinese. The problem is that most of them aren't very good. And flashcards aren't really enough to learn Chinese very well, especially since kids aren't disciplined enough to use them. Nonetheless, this is by far and away the best flashcard app out there and it's totally free! It's made for Chinese kids, more proof that it's a great way to immerse your child in Chinese. There's over 200 characters in the pack.




Three different packs -- basic, medium, advanced, each with around 60 flashcards in them (all free)

It reads all the text to you, and when you touch the characters they get read again.

There's a fill in the blank game

Another game

Each character has a pencil button to practice writing. You can watch them draw it for you and then write it yourself

Pretty cool, huh! Download it!


2Kids爱阅读 -- Another great Chinese app for kids

2Kids爱阅读 is another great app for kids to learn Chinese characters. It comes with a few free stories and you can pay $8 to unlock about 30 more. Each story has some animated story for the kids, 6 new characters to learn, and lots of games to practice each new character. Our kids and us both love it.

It's made by the same folks and is very similar to the last app we reviewed, 2kids chinese. Highly recommend them both!


There's different worlds with 6 stories in each world



Every time you get one right, the candy jar fills up. Notice how all the characters are similar to each other! You can tell they put a lot of thought into the game to not make it too easy and help the kids learn

Some games involve writing

You touch a character and it reads it to you. And then you have to do what it says and touch the right picture.

 I think it's well worth the $8. Our kids have gotten a lot of practice with Chinese characters. And all the audio is entirely in Chinese so in the very least it's great immersion. The more Chinese they can listen to, the better.

We think it's a fantastic app and well worth the money. Try it out for free! We get no money if you do... we just highly recommend it.


2Kids Chinese -- An awesome app for kids

2Kids Chinese is one of the best apps we've ever seen to help kids learn Chinese. It seems like it was made for Chinese kids, which is one way you know it's good. There's lots of apps made for American kids and they are just too basic without enough features. This app has it all.

Download it on iTunes now! There's some free episodes you can try, and then in-app purchases to access the 50 or so other lessons they have. Total, it would cost you about $9 to get all the episodes. We think it's well worth it!

Here are some screen shots.

2kids Chinese only lets you do 1 lesson a day. Notice one of the pictures is grayed out. When you try and hit it, it tells the kid in Chinese to come back tomorrow to learn some more.

Each episode has a story with 6 new characters. The story is fun for kids and there's lots of games in each story to help learn the characters.

They are saying 石 and you have to pick the right one. Notice that all the characters look similar -- they make it harder to help the kids learn!

The narrator is saying 大地 and you fill in the blank

the narrator is saying a sentence and you put all the characters in the right place

There's also a sticker feature where you earn stickers for doing stuff... seems silly to me but it sure motivates the kids.


We think it's a fantastic app and well worth the money. Try it out for free! We get no money if you do... we just highly recommend it.


EDIT:

Check out our son reading Chinese with the app. It's definitely helped him a lot!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

胖国王 (The fat king) -- Chinese children's book

胖国王

胖国王 is another book that we really like. I think we found it at a used book store a few years ago. It's in traditional characters. It's about a king who got really fat and felt bad because he was so unhealthy. Then he went on a diet and everyone helped him eat better and exercise by putting his bed up a huge flight of stairs. It's cute, a fun story, educational, and overall a good read.

I found a youtube video that goes through the book to give you all a sample.



I think the real book is better than watching the video, so buy it or check it out if you get a chance!

This book is actually at several US libraries, including Houston and San Francisco. There might be one at a location near you, check it out!

http://www.worldcat.org/title/pang-guo-wang/oclc/43679670


Here it is on amazon.cn

http://www.amazon.cn/%E8%83%96%E5%9B%BD%E7%8E%8B%E7%98%A6%E7%9A%87%E5%90%8E-%E5%BC%A0%E8%93%AC%E6%B4%81/dp/product-description/B0011CUSEE


Haven't found it from a US based shipper. Let me know if you do!


小猴子, 追呀追 -- Great Chinese Children's Book

 小猴子追呀追 is one of the best Chinese Children's books we've ever seen!

小猴子追呀追 -- cute illustrations and fun text
小猴子追呀追 (Little monkey chase) is one of the best Chinese children's books we have ever seen. We picked it up in China. It's one of the only hard books we've ever seen in China. China is full of books that are flimsy paperback books that break easily and are illustrated in a busy, confusing way. This was one of the only books constructed with card board that is built to last more than a few weeks. It's not quite as thick as the nice board books in America, but it's close.

The story is cute. It's about a monkey who explores around the jungle, and you as the reader act like the mom chasing him around. The book prompts you to make noises imitating the different animal sounds and movements. Our kids really like reading it with us! It's fun.

Sadly, we can't find anywhere to buy it outside of China. But if you are ever in China... Look for it!

It's also in a library in Singapore and Australia:

http://www.worldcat.org/title/xiao-hou-zi-zhui-ya-zhui/oclc/829177736

And here are several links to buy it in China

http://item.jd.com/1063300882.html
http://product.suning.com/103079625.html

Here's the amazon.cn link

http://www.amazon.cn/%E5%A6%88%E5%A6%88%E5%AE%9D%E5%AE%9D%E8%86%9D%E4%B8%8A%E6%80%80%E4%B8%AD%E4%BA%B2%E5%AD%90%E4%BA%A4%E6%B5%81%E5%9B%BE%E7%94%BB%E4%B9%A6-%E5%B0%8F%E7%8C%B4%E5%AD%90-%E8%BF%BD%E5%91%80%E8%BF%BD/dp/B009NAJYVE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401581126&sr=8-1&keywords=%E5%B0%8F%E7%8C%B4%E5%AD%90%2C+%E8%BF%BD%E5%91%80%E8%BF%BD


Let me know if you find US based seller!




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Chinese Cartoon -- 小虎还乡 (Little Tiger Returns Home)

Our kids watch 巧虎, and that's a great show for toddlers. Some kids might find it boring, however. I like adventure stories and I think there's too many TV shows out there that are "educational" and are really just quite boring. Kids need more stories and adventure.

We really like the Chinese Cartoon called 小虎还乡 -- Little Tiger Returns Home. There's about 50 episodes about a white baby tiger who tries to find his way home with the help of a boy, his dog and parrot, and a girl. It's filled with adventure and it's slow enough that kids don't get lost.

A lot of times, children's TV shows talk way too slow and kids never really appreciate how people really talk. This show has people speaking regularly, which I think is better for kids to listen to in the long run. I get so tired of people speaking in slow shouts whenever they are speaking to an audience of children.

There's lots of playlists available on youtube, here is one that has all the episodes:

And here's the first episode. Watch it and let me know if you like it!




FYI, little kids under 3 might be a bit scared... our 2 year old cried in the second episode when it ended with the little tiger getting caught by the bad guys. It was adorable. But we assured him that in the next episode he would get rescued and he calmed down.

It's a fun show and we give it an A-, production is a bit old and plot can be a bit slow.



Friday, May 16, 2014

Free Kids Chinese Textbook and Worksheets -- Overseas Chinese Language and Culture Online

I think we might be done making our own material to teach our kids Chinese. We started doing that because we couldn't find anything free online. One day, however, my husband stumbled upon Overseas Chinese Language and Culture Online (中国华文教育网). It's a website specifically meant to help Chinese people out of China educate their children. Basically, that's us! It basically completely fulfills our needs. The best part about it is that it has tons and tons of free teaching materials for kids to learn Chinese.

So we will still blog about ways we teach our kids Chinese, but we probably won't spend a lot of effort making our own worksheets. No sense in re inventing the wheel!

Here is the page that has all of their teaching resources:

http://www.hwjyw.com/textbooks/downloads/zhongwen/

Notice all of the different categories of lessons they have. Click on "单课" after "《中文》教材第一册" to go to the first set of lessons

This is the first subset of lessons Each link to a lesson goes to a 4-5 page PDF of great teaching material for kids.

Here are sample pictures of what's in the second lesson (direct link to the PDF is here)




Stroke order
One of my favorite parts about these lessons is that they have little reading paragraphs. These little paragraphs mostly just include characters that are the current or the previous lesson. Our son was reading these entire paragraphs! He felt like such a big smart boy. We could hardly believe our 4 year old was reading Chinese.




These free lessons are all high quality. I would recommend downloading and saving them all now. It almost seems too good to be true, so I would download them now in case they are not available in the future! It's hundreds and hundreds of pages of lessons.

What do you think?

EDIT:

It looks like you can buy the books on Amazon! The first book seems to be available paperback for about $7 plus shipping, which isn't a bad deal. Sometimes it's easier to have the actual book instead of printing things out all the time.

Since the Chinese government makes these for overseas schools, Chinese schools would probably be the best place to find hard copies. They are hard to find elsewhere.






Monday, May 12, 2014

"How are you" Chinese Worksheet

Our oldest is going crazy practicing his characters. He probably knows around 70 of them by now. We feel like we really need to get him started reading things. If he realizes that he can actually start to read Chinese sentences and hopefully soon start to read Chinese stories, I think he will get really excited. So I made a worksheet today to help with that.

First there is a page teaching the following characters:


  • You 你
  • Good 好
  • Me 我
  • Very 很


Click on the picture to download the PDF of the "How are you" kids Chinese practice worksheet

Then there is a little fill in the blank game. I hope he figures out what is supposed to go into the empty dialog boxes and then feels satisfied that he is reading.


Click on the picture to download the PDF of the "How are you" kids Chinese practice worksheet

Hope you enjoy it!


Friday, May 9, 2014

Six Chinese nursery rhymes and songs

While looking for Chinese nursery rhymes and songs to show our kids I realized there's a lot of terrible videos out there! Lots of them are just really really hard to understand. Hopefully me finding the good stuff for you all will help you out!

1. 两只老虎 -- Todays first video is a classic Chinese nursery rhyme. It's the same tune that is used in an English nursery rhyme so it will be familiar to you. It's called Two Tigers. This video is very good and your kids will love learning to sing it and watching it!


2. 拍手歌 -- This is the Chinese version of "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands". It's good!



3. 我的好妈妈 -- This is an original Chinese nursery song called "My good mother"



4.  祝你生日快乐 -- Your kids are sure to like this Chinese version of "Happy Birthday to You" where it's a bears birthday



5. 上山打老虎 -- This is sort of a Chinese tongue twister about counting to five and squirrels and tigers. Kids will love it!



6. 粉刷匠 -- This is a classic classic Chinese nursery rhyme! I sang this all the time growing up and sing it to my kids now




What do you think of these videos? If any stop working... let me know and I'll look to find another version that works.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Chinese Cartoon 巧虎 Smart Tiger on Youtube

About a year ago, we were looking for Chinese cartoons to show our kids. I was in China and I bought some VCDs of some cartoons, and I downloaded a bunch more unto a flashdrive. We let our kids watch them sometime, but we never really found a cartoon that I absolutely loved and thought was good for our kids to watch. Sometimes we let them watch 喜洋洋, a famous cartoon about wolves and lambs. But we think it's too violent, and they talk too fast for our kids to really understand. It's probably better for older kids around age 7 or 8. Our kids were too young.

Smart Tiger (巧虎) is a really good cartoon that we tried to let our kids watch but never did in the past. We tried web sites like youku and always ran into an error message that said we weren't allowed to watch the video because or regional restrictions. Maybe we didnt' realize it or maybe it's new, but it turns out you can watch them on youtube! There are several different channels that have tons of episodes of 巧虎. You can just subscribe to the channel and then it's always easy to find all the episodes on your own youtube page. We have a Roku, so we just open up the youtube app on our TV and then go to the subscription and then our kids can watch Chinese cartoons on the TV very easy.

Search for it on youtube and you will find lots of playlists. Here is one:



I think 巧虎 is a great cartoon for 2 - 4 year olds. It's educational, they talk at an appropriate speed, it's fun, colorful, not too complicated, but still has interesting stories every episode. I don't think your kids will get bored watching it.

Do you like 巧虎? Leave a comment!

And if this video or the 巧虎 channel ever stops working or gets taken down, please leave a comment and let me know! I will try to find a new 巧虎 channel to post here.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Chinese Character Practice Sheet: Animals Part II- Sea Animals

My oldest son E would always ask me what my favorite animal is. Once I said that I didn't have a favorite animal. Then my middle son M asked why, and E replied for me: " Because mommy is not a kid any more, so she doesn't have a favorite animal."  Well, I guess that's true. I don't have a favorite animal. But because E loves turtle so much, I get so excited whenever I see turtles anywhere, and I always think of E. My husband and I went to New Orleans for a vacation once and we happened to saw Mardi Gras parade. I snagged a red turtle for E and that was ecstatic. I still remember seeing E's happy face when he saw the red turtle I brought home for him. 

Since E loves turtle so much, I had to make a worksheet with turtle in it. I think E will really enjoy learning how to write turtle in Chinese. Hope your kids love this worksheet as well!

Click on the picture to download the PDF. Chinese Character Practice Sheet- Animal Part II- Sea Animals


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Five elements Chinese Character Worksheet and Matching Game

We just got a laser printer because we didn't want to keep spending crazy amounts of money on ink. We got a good deal on it, and now we don't feel guilty about printing out lots of stuff. This means that now we're really excited to print out worksheets for our kids to work with, so today I celebrated by making another worksheet!

This worksheet is themed after the five major elements: 
  • Water 水
  • Fire 火
  • Sky 天
  • Earth 地
  • Wind 风 
Earth is the only one that's kind of hard for kids to understand. 地 has a lot of meanings and isn't very easy to translate. But it's a common character so we think it's good to learn soon anyway. Actually they are all common chinese characters.

This worksheet has two parts. The first part is a traditional worksheet with stroke order and spots to practice writing.

Click on the picture to download the PDF of this Chinese character worksheet for 水, 火, 天, 地, and 风

The next page is a matching game!

Click on the picture to download the PDF of this Chinese character matching game for 水, 火, 天, 地, and 风

We let our son do them today, and it was a big hit! He loved the matching game and he really started to learn those five characters. These worksheets are making for great quiet time activities.

His worksheet is a bit different because I hadn't added stroke order to it yet


Hope you like it!



Sunday, May 4, 2014

Chinese children's videos -- set #1 (6 short videos / songs)

We give our kids the iPad to play with more than we'd like to admit. Sometimes they're doing great things like learning Chinese characters, and other times they're just playing mindless games. Both are good things in moderation, I suppose. Sometimes we just start youtube and they watch video after video. We've never really turned on Chinese videos for them to watch, but there's actually tons of stuff out there. Here's 6 videos that we watched recently which I thought were all pretty good.


1. Five witches -- a fun song and cartoon, very well done. I like that it's not the cheesy animation you see all over Chinese videos


2. 三轮车跑得快 -- A very silly song that repeats itself a lot and is easy to understand (makes it great for kids!)


3. The Chinese Number Song -- a very advanced song. This little girl sings pretty quickly! If your kids listen to it a lot and start to understand it, you can feel happy their Chinese is awesome. Fun animation.




4. My head -- a very basic animation, good for younger audiences. Teaches parts of the head. Silly animation makes it fun and it repeats a ton for good learning.



5. Count to 30 in Chinese -- at first it seems mind numbingly boring, but kids like to count. Plus it has the characters and numbers so that's good.


6. Name and Age -- the most basic video of this post, just a clown and dinosaur asking each other what their name and age is.




Hope your kids like some of these videos!



Saturday, May 3, 2014

Education.com chinese character worksheets

I don't know much about education.com, but when I did some googling looking for some chinese character worksheets for my kids to play with, I found a set of worksheets that were pretty good! Below is a screenshot of one of the characters of the worksheet. Clicking on it will take you to the education.com website where you can download the PDF file of the worksheets.


Click on the picture or click here to go to the education.com site where you can hit the "download all" button to download the worksheets. It will ask you to create a free account and then you can download a PDF of the worksheets. Alternatively, here is the link I got when I created an account, hopefully it will still work in the future for anyone who wants a direct link to the PDF without having to log in and create an account.

This set has 11 pages of worksheets with the following characters:


  • Elephant 象
  • Home 家
  • Vehicle 车
  • Boat 舟
  • Good 好
  • Woman 女
  • Fish 鱼
  • Big 大
  • Life 生
  • Water 水
  • Door 门


Overall, it's a great little free set of worksheets that I think my kids will have fun working on today. Nice big characters, plenty of room to practice, easy to download and print out. There's pictures, too, which are essential for kids. Glad I found it, hope you like them too!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Chinese Writer iPad App Review

Our 4 year old son has learned how to read and write 46 Chinese characters over the past several weeks. How? By playing with an app on the iPad called Chinese Writer (it's also available in the Google Play store). It's a pretty amazing little app, and we highly recommend it.

Some of the Chinese characters that our son has learned over the past few weeks with Chinese Writer

The app has a practice mode and a game mode. In the practice mode, you see the stroke order of a character, and then you can either trace it or write it from scratch. It's easy enough that even our 2 year old can do it, and you can make it harder to increase the learning retention. If you write the character incorrectly or get the strokes in the wrong order, it won't let you go forward. One character is on the screen at a time, and whenever you go to a new character it automatically reads it out loud for you.

This is an example of a character in the practice mode. It's in trace mode, so you trace over the white parts that turn yellow when you finish. But you have to do it in the right order and right direction! You can turn the tracing mode off and write from scratch, too. There are arrows you can turn on that make it even more clear what the next stroke should be.

When I learned Chinese, I basically copied characters out of a dictionary and memorized them. I didn't have stroke order, so my writing was terrible. Using this app, our 4 year old has already started to get some great fundamentals down about writing characters. I've been surprised how fun it is for him just to do the practice mode.

The bad part about this app is that kids won't learn what the characters mean unless you tell them. There's no pictures, and young kids aren't going to read the definitions that are given above the characters. Just by telling our son what the characters mean a few times as he goes through them, however, he's learned not only how to write and read them but also what they mean.

The game that the app has is pretty fun as well. Characters fall from the screen, and you have to click on them and write them correctly before they fall to the bottom. You get points for each stroke you get right, and if 5 characters fall to the bottom before you finish you lose.


An example of the character falling down the screen in the game


Our son has been practicing one of the free sets that come with the app, one of the HSK1 sets. It's 46 characters. It also comes with some characters from HSK2 and HSK3. To get more characters you can pay about $10 for all of them, or buy smaller sets for $1 a piece. We are cheapskates, but I think we might end up buying some of the packs. 


Another feature that we will probably utilize in the future is creating your own custom packs You buy HSK packs, and you can choose a pack at a time to practice or play with. Alternatively, you can choose which individual characters to put into a new set to practice to make your own custom pack.

Pros

  • Includes some free character packs
  • Great for learning stroke order
  • Fun for kids
  • Can be easy or challenging
  • Relatively cheap to get more characters ($10 for all characters)
  • Has simplified and traditional characters


Cons

  • The game could be a bit more interesting, although it's still fun
  • No pictures to help kids learn the definitions (developers, you should add an option where kids can press a button to read the English definition outloud)


Conclusion

  • It's a great bargain, the best way we've seen for anyone to get the hang of characters quickly
  • Not perfect, but way better than anything else out there we've seen
  • Our rating = A


EDIT: Months later, I want to confirm that this app is well worth the money. Spend $10 to get all the characters. When you're reading books with your child, playing an app with them, or helping the to read and write Chinese, you'll notice that there's some words you think they should know but don't. Maybe they forgot. When that happens, you can go to this app and add that character to a list. Then your child can spend 20 minutes playing the little game in this app with those characters and learn them super good. I don't think there's a better way than what this app provides. It's awesome!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Arch Chinese -- A Chinese character practice sheet creator

Arch Chinese is one resource that we found when we looked for ways to teach our kids Chinese. It's not one that we chose to end up using for reasons we'll discuss shortly, but we think it's a great resource nonetheless. We definitely wanted to blog about it in case it seems right for anyone else.

Arch Chinese is a paid service. It's a website that you sign up for, and it costs $70 or $80 or $100 for an 18 or 24 or 36 month membership. The main benefit of this membership is that it allows you to use their Chinese character worksheet creator. At first, you might think this is a free service. However, when you try to use it, it asks you to sign in if you try to make anything other than the sample worksheet. Here is the sample worksheet I made:


You basically just put in the characters you want to appear on the worksheet, and it makes one for you that you can save as a PDF. You have a little bit of ability to modify the settings of the worksheet, but try as we might we couldn't figure out how to make the boxes bigger. Here is another example of the type of worksheet you can make. You can also make flashcards, and there's online testing features and stroke order animations and sound files that sound out the words. However, the fact that we couldn't seem to make the practice boxes bigger meant that it would be way too small for little kids. For older kids or even adults, though, it's clear that this would be a great resource.

We believe that younger children need pictures and bigger spaces to write. Otherwise, they will probably get bored and frustrated and start to hate the idea that we're making them do the worksheets.


Pros

  • Easily make worksheets for any character, set of characters, or words
  • Other resources like stroke order, quizzing functions, and flash cards


Cons

  • $$$ -- going to cost you at least $70
  • Not great for kids. No pictures, writing spaces are small


Conclusion

  • Might be a doable option for parents that have older children around ages 10+ and are able to strictly force their children to plow through worksheet after worksheet. For many tiger moms out there, this is doable and Arch Chinese might just be a good resource for you!
  • Our rating = B-

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chinese Character Practice Sheet - I love my family

Family is the most important thing in our lives. We don't always have the same structured family, some families are big and some are small. The other day we were driving home from church and I asked my oldest son E how many people there were in our family. He counted and of course forgot about himself, he eventually told me "4!". We laughed at him a little and told him that he forgot about himself. He laughed too. It was cute to see him count again and this time he counted himself as the fifth person. We are a family of 5, with three little boys. The words we often hear at our house are "brother", "older brother" and "younger brother". In Chinese, the characters stand for older brother and younger brother are totally different. Same with the characters that stand for older sister and younger sister. See my practice sheet for the actual characters:

Click on the picture to download the PDF of the I Love My Family
Chinese character practice sheet

As with all of the practice sheets that I make, I found they work best if you put them inside a sheet protector. That way, your kids can practice over and over again with a dry erase marker. In no time at all, they will become competent at writing Chinese characters!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Chinese (小星星)

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is an easy song to sing in Chinese and English. We've always sung both versions to our kids. They've picked it up without an effort on our or their part. Songs are a good way to get kids familiar with Chinese. Twinkle Twinkle little star is especially good because it's one you probably sing every night! If you don't know the Chinese version, just watch the video below!





And just because I love our kids so much and think they're the best, here's our kids singing the English and Chinese version.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

How my oldest son learned to write 1-10 in Chinese Charaters

Today I told my oldest son E who has just turned 4 last month to practice writing Chinese Characters 1-10 and I told him that if he can write them out without any help then I'll give him a dollar. I was thinking there was no way he can do that just yet, so I was pretty confident that this task will occupy him for a good hour also. I printed out the practice sheet from my previous post. Covered them with plastic protecting sheets and gave my son some dry erase markers. It didn't take him long before he told me that he was ready to take on the challenge. I didn't think he could do it but still pulled out a piece of paper and gave him a pen. I was really surprised to see that he actually wrote down all 10 characters and they even look decent. Here is a picture of him:

E and Chinese Character 1-10

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chinese Character Practice Sheet - Numbers 1-10

A facebook friend suggested me to add stroke orders to the character practice sheets, and it was a great idea. So with the help of my husband, I finally figured out a way to add stroke orders. Believe me it was not easy! So here you go numbers 1-10 practice sheet.

Numbers 1-10 practice sheet: 

Click on the picture to download the PDF of numbers 1 - 10
chinese character practice sheet

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chinese Character Practice Sheet - Animals Part I

Hi, I'm Miao Miao. I have three boys who I want to teach Chinese to. Unfortunately, I didn't find materials I wanted online, so I started to make my own. Stay tuned to all the fun practice sheets I'm going to post in the future. And comment to let me know how you like them and if you have better ways to improve them. Please know that all the materials posted on this blog are made by me and owned by me, please refer to the source when you repost.