Saturday, December 31, 2011


2kids学汉字- This app is worthy of mention. The instructions are all in Chinese but I didn't let that stop me from downloading this app- don't let it stop you! I've only had this app for a few days, but my four-year old keeps coming back to it. It has been wonderful at helping us to review characters she's seen already since it covers many common characters.  This app is aimed at children who already speak Mandarin and so the primary objective of this app is to teach them character recognition and writing (stroke order).  However, I've found it useful as an immersion tool for teaching character recognition in my kids (who are learning Chinese as a foreign language).

*There is a companion app by the same company called 2Kids学拼音.

General Organization- Each Unit covers 6-8 characters and most Units are taught across 2 Lessons.  Only one Lesson can be completed each day.  This helps to ensure that a child is retaining character recognition over time.

Specific Organization- The first Unit covers 6 characters: 大,小,人,口,上,and 下. The kids are introduced to pictures that correlate to each of the characters in the lesson. Then they are shown how to write the character using the correct stroke order. Next, much like in the popular TV show Dora and Diego, they help four story characters solve problems  by correctly identifying the target character from several choices. The graphics and animation is high quality.  Kids are rewarded with short animation clips, with virtual stickers, and by watching the story characters progress through the story. The makers of this app had young children in mind!

Update 1- Just bought the first extension (Content Package 1).  The characters covered and the incentives (digital stickers and animation clips) have expanded.  It appears there will be 6 simplified characters per Unit.  I'm still recommending this app even if you are teaching your children traditional characters because most people who read Chinese will need to recognize the simplified forms (which Mainland China primarily uses). Don't let learning two forms of the same character intimidate you. Often the two forms are very similar. Consider English and all the fonts a proficient reader must be able to navigate: two forms of lowercase 'a,' uppercase versus lowercase, cursive versus print, etc. As native speakers, we pick up these variations and accept them on the path to English literacy. Use this same concept to help your child become proficient in reading Chinese; expose them to variations!

Below is an example of how similar the simplified and traditional forms can be:
妈 --> 媽 ("mother")

Of course, not all of the characters will have such obvious similarities between the two fonts,
but give your child some credit.  If they are a native speaker, they've probably already figured out
that "soda/pop," "T.V./television," and "picture/photo" refer to the same thing.
只--> 隻 (a common Measure Word for animals)

Keep in mind that many Chinese characters look exactly the same in their simplified and traditional forms.
大-->大 ("big")

Update 2- The characters covered in each Content Package aren't revealed until the child has learned all of the previous Units.  So I can't post subsequent characters until my kids pass their lessons, but I'll try to post as I have access to them.  Future Units include the following simplified characters:
  • Content Package 1 (Lessons 1-5) 
    • Unit 1- 大, 小, 人, 口, 上, 下
    • Unit 2- 爸, 妈, 天, 太, 一, 二
    • Unit 3- 中, 月, 哭, 笑, 阳, 水
    • Unit 4- 三, 亮, 星, 火, 云, 地
  • Content Package 2 (Lessons 6-15)
    • Unit 5- 个, 和, 四, 我, 心, 有
    • Unit 6- 明, 木, 山, 石, 头, 土
    • Unit 7- 耳, 好, 花, 牛, 田, 五 and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)
    • Unit 8- 聪, 眉, 目, 手, 树, 羊 
    • Unit 9- 鼻, , 日, 六, 叶, 的 
  • Content Package 3 (Lessons 16-25)
    • Unit 10- 草, 多, 少, 雨, 孩, 七 & 2 Short Stories (see Update 3 below)
    • Unit 11- 红, 黃, 白, 家, 是, 吃 and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)
    • Unit 12- 愛, 不, 唱, 奶, 爷, 子
    • Unit 13- 朋, 歌, 八, 在, 学, 书 and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)
  • Content Package 4 (Lessons 26- 35)
    • Unit 14- 宝, 生, 贝, 儿, 九, 友
    • Unit 15- 看, 里(里面), 气, 十, 这, 字 & 2 Short Stories (see Update 3 below)
    • Unit 16- 来, 你, 听, 只, 做, 会, 女, 去
    • Unit 17- 见, 今, 男, 鸟, 说, 坐, 期, 走
  • Content Package 5 (Lessons 36-45) 
    • Unit 18- 鱼, 早, 车, 飞, 鸡, 绿, 青, 雪 and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)
      • Note to 2Kids Publishers:  The last two characters in this list cannot be seen when you first go to the "stories" icon at the bottom of the page and then to the "flashcard" icon at the top of the page.
    • Unit 19- 他, 夏, 秋, 春, 冬, 跑, 要, 们
    • Unit 20- 李, 狗, 也, 真, 开, 蓝, 猫, 都
    • Unit 21- 黑, 关, 哥, 马, 米, 姐, 面, 出 and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)
    • Unit 22- 跳, 着(睡着), 了, 又, 弟, 妹, 东, 就(就是他的)
  • Content Package 6 (Lessons 46-60)
    • Unit 23- 快, 还, 得(得到), 西, 乐, 到, 起,玩 and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)
    • Unit 24- 捉, 迷, 球, 很, 高, 鸭, 方, 兴 (高兴), 
    • Unit 25- 向, 对, 能, 叫, 晚, 问, 电, 门
    • Unit 26- 只(一只), 打, 冷, 热, 新, 再, 回, 急
    • Unit 27- 请, 过, 吗, 左, 右, 前, 外, 里(里面) and a Short Story (see Update 3 below)

Update 3- I'm becoming more and more impressed with this program. Starting in Lesson 5, children are occasionally given a short story to read. My daughter was giddy with delight to realize she can now read a short story in Chinese.  Here is the "story."  The characters that aren't covered by the iPad app lessons have a speaker icon above them.  The kids can tap on those characters and the word is read for them.

Update 4- This app is going on my top recommendation list!  Starting in Lesson 6, the user is asked to retain in memory a short sentence that uses the characters taught in this app.  The user is then suppose to arrange the characters in the same order as the sentence.  What a great way to practice listening skills!

Comments-  My son has now completed all six of the currently available Content Packages.  So I've decided to make some comments about my observations.
  • The purpose of this app is to teach character recognition and that is why I decided it was still a good buy for my son who is learning the characters introduced here as a second language.  However, I've noticed one issue that parents of non-native Chinese-speaking children should be aware of- Sometimes a character is introduced with one meaning within the flashcards, but then is reused as a word with the same character BUT A DIFFERENT MEANING later in the Unit.  For example, 得 is introduced in the flashcards as being related to the phrase "得到".  However, later it is used as part of the phrase "我们玩得很高兴。"  In these two instances the "得" has a different meaning, a different grammatical function, and a different pronunciation!  Native speakers would probably assimilate this just fine; however, it can be a bit of a hang-up to non-native speakers.  Where this has occurred within this app, I've tried to make note of it below:
    • 得 introduced as "得到" and later seen in phrases such as "我们玩得很高兴。"
  • There are a couple of places where the same character (same pronunciation and same meaning) is repeated:
    • Unit 15 and Unit 27- 里

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Point it out!

Point it out!- As I mentioned in my introduction, I have a background in early (English) literacy development.  And like any parent, I've been watching my kids and looking for those tell-tale signs that they have reached an important milestone.  And, of course, I've been helping them along by providing them with lots of opportunities to practice each new literacy skill.  I've played the "Find M for McDonald's" game with them as we speed down the highway to grandma's house, I've taught them how to spell their names and have looked for places to point out those special letters in other places, I've shown my kindergartener how "little a" has two fonts, and I've given my kids plenty of practice sounding out words and spelling.

The Peace Pole
But then I realized something.  Never, outside of Chinese class, have I done these same things for Chinese.  And I could.  My kids have started learning the radicals, the building blocks, for Chinese characters in the past few months.  There are Chinese characters in our home, in the artwork on our walls.  We visit the Asian food markets where we are surrounded by Chinese characters.  We periodically eat at Chinese restaurants.  We walk the pedestrian mall where there are Chinese characters decorating the walkways.

So I've started pointing out places where I see Chinese characters: on the labels of food we buy at the store, T-shirts at the mall, on our artwork, in movies we watch (Kung Fu Panda!), on the menus at Chinese restaurants, on books we see at the bookstore, the Peace Pole outside the Iowa City Public Library, etc.  My children have taken more of an interest in Chinese.  They're noticing it.  Just as when I pointed out signs to my kids like "stop" and "McDonald's," now they are pointing out places they see Chinese.  And more importantly, they are asking about it.  And that's the first step to literacy.  Recognizing that these letters/characters have meaning and are important in navigating the world.  So take a look around your world and see where you can find Chinese.

If you are having difficulties finding places in your neighborhood where Chinese is apparent, below are a few ideas.
  • Check out your library.  You might be surprised by the number of books that are available for kids in Chinese (with ㄅㄆㄇㄈ or pinyin or only characters).  If the selection is slim, suggest to your librarian they invest in more books.
  • Go to a Chinese restaurant.  Most buffets will list the items in English and Chinese. 
  • Check out Panda Express (the water cups have the word 水 on them; very cool!)
  • Invest in a Chinese Magnet Poetry set.
  • Point out Chinese restaurant signs as you drive down the street.
  • Create a Chinese Calendar.  Hang it on your wall and talk about the familiar characters/radicals you see. 
  • Provide opportunities in your house to see and practice reading Chinese:  See Post It! Part 1 and Post It! Part 2.

    Post it! Part 1

    If your kids attend a heritage school, chances are they attend during the normal school year and then have three long months to forget everything they've learned.  Don't let this happen!  Fight back by posting those characters around the house.  Depending on your child, you may choose to post only a few characters at a time, but don't forget to rotate these characters so that all of them get a chance for review in your home.  Then challenge your child with one of the games below:

    I Spy-  Pretend you are in a jungle with your child.  Tell them there are wild characters hiding all throughout the jungle.  Tell him/her that you've been challenged to pictures of as many different wild characters as possible (or just point out the characters with a finger).  Walk with your child around the house; can you child tell you what each wild character says (read the character)?   What does the character mean?

    Landmarks-  Throughout the week, create situations that make the posted characters useful.  For example, when your child asks where his/her favorite teddy bear is you could say, "I think I saw him in the same room as the 木 character."  Help your child find the correct character and track down the bear. 

    Find the Pirate Treasure-  Consider that your child has to learn three things when learning a new character.
    1. What the character looks like (AKA Character Recognition)- ex. 木
    2. What the character says (AKA how to read the character)- ex. "Mù" OR "ㄇㄨˋ"
    3. What the character represents- ex. Tree
    Use these pieces to make a "treasure map."  This is slightly complicated, so first lets pretend that the game is all set up; here's what it would look like:
    • Hand your child the first clue.  Ex. Find the character 木.
    • Your child looks for 木 hanging on the wall.  Once found, the child looks under the paper and finds the next clue.  Ex. A word starting with the sound "ㄕ."
      • You'll want to be sure that only one of the currently posted characters starts with  "ㄕ."
    • Your child finds the character 水.  Looking under the paper reveals the next clue.  Ex. A word meaning "sun."
    • Your child finds the 日 character.  Under the paper, your kid finds a picture of a treasure chest.  You tell him/her they've reached the end of the hunt and have discovered the pirate treasure.  Its a piece of gum, chocolate treasures, a certificate redeemable for extra book reading time at bed time, a trip to the park, sticker, game time with Mom/Dad, etc.
    O.K., got the idea?  Remember when you create your clues, you have three different characteristics you can ask your child to look for (character recognition, the sounds in a character, or the meaning).  After posting the characters around the house/room, place the next clue underneath the character until the last clue is found.  Place the treasure or treasure chest picture under the last character in the hunt.  Have Fun!

    Bumper Kids-  I call this game "Bumper Kids" to remind you that this game is best played with only one or two kids.  Have the kids stand in the middle of the room.  Next, call out different characters (in Chinese or provide the English meaning).  The child or children then try to run as fast as they can to the place where that character is posted.  (This game works best with 3-5 characters posted in the same room.)

    Pre-Made Papers
    *Here are some pre-made files to help you begin these games in your house.
    Common Characters Only
    Common Characters with ㄅㄆㄇ
    ㄅㄆㄇ Only for Common Characters
    Common Characters with Pinyin
    Pinyin Only for Common Characters
    Images Representing Characters (only some characters are represented since not every common character lends itself to being represented with an image easily)
    ㄅㄆㄇ Letters

    Post it! Part 2

    Here are some more ideas for making Chinese more prevellent in your home.

    Picture Captions!  Use Chinese to write captions for the pictures your kids draw! Don't forget to include the BoPoMo or pinyin pronunciation guide where appropriate.

    Label your children's toys!  If your toy room uses any type of baskets or buckets to help corral small pieces, most likely those boxes have labels so your child knows what toys belong in which box.  Well, there is a great opportunity to add some Chinese to your home.  Ask a Chinese-speaking friend, a teacher, or check a dictionary for how to say the various toys in your boxes (think in categories like cars, building blocks, dress-up clothes, etc.).  On one side of your label write the character and its pronunciation on the other side you can print a picture that represents that type of toy.

    For our toy room, I used:
    • Self-Sealing Laminating Pouches (by Scotch 3M) OR baseball card (individual size) plastic covers
    • Book Rings (Staples)
    Both of which can be purchased at an office supply store or Walmart.  When I hung up the tags, I chose to make the Chinese character the side that is displayed (the kids can flip the card over to see the picture).  For them, it's like a mini game of Memory; "I bet this one is cars."  They started recognizing the characters before too long and I've heard them sounding out the characters a couple of times.

    As a side note, the pictures are important when visitors come over and help clean up.  The tags also make great conversational starters about Chinese with kids and adults!

    Art of Glow

    Art of Glow- is a free iPad and iPhone app that allows you to make mini art movies.  I've used this app to make movies of common characters being slowly written.  When my kids view the movie, they see the character being written slowly (using the correct stroke order*).  I ask them to guess what character is being written and to shout it out when they think they know.  You could also use this app to practice recognizing ㄅㄆㄇㄈ or pinyin ("Shout it out when you think you know what sound it is!").

    You can make and save several movies on this app.  When making the movie, be sure that you change the settings so that each stroke remains visible (I max-out the Life Time, minimize the Speed and Blink settings, Size should be in the middle of the range, and Amount somewhere between the middle and the maximum).  If your kids don't read the Mainland Chinese pinyin system, you can save the file using this naming system and then they can randomly pick a movie and play the game by themselves. 

    *To see the correct stroke order for a character visit, locate the character in the dictionary and then choose the "Stroke Order" tab.

    Read a Grocery List

    Once your child has learned how to sound out characters using ㄅㄆㄇㄈ or pinyin the next step is to practice it in meaningful context.  One example of this would be at the grocery store.  You might be thinking to yourself, "Really?"  But lets look at some of the advantages:
    • Captive audience- your child has to be with you there anyway.
    • Willing helper- most kids I know are begging for something to do while mom marches up and down the aisles.  This gives them that "something" while feeling helpful.  AND kids really like to cross off items!
    • The foods you are buying are the words your kids are most likely the words your kids will want to know how to say. 
    • Kids see that Chinese is a language that is being used not just studied.  Seeing mom and dad using Chinese reinforces that the Chinese language is important and a useful tool.  Kids want to imitate their parents!

    So help your family practice Chinese by writing part or all of your grocery list using ㄅㄆㄇㄈ/pinyin (with or without the characters). What foods should you start with?  It's common for kids to learn the names of fruits early in their exploration of Chinese.  Here's some of the most common fruit names:
    • 平果 (ㄆ一ㄥˊ  ㄍㄨㄛˇ, píng guǒ, apple)
    • 香蕉 (ㄒ一ㄤ  ㄐ一ㄠ, xiāng jiāo, banana)
    • 葡萄 (ㄆㄨˊ  ㄊㄠˊ, pú táo, grapes)
    • 橘子 (ㄐㄩˊ  ㄗ˙, jú zi, orange)
    • 番茄 (ㄈㄢ  ㄑ一ㄝˊ, fān qié, tomato)
    • 桃子 (ㄊㄠˊ  ㄗ˙, táo zi, peach)
    • 杏子 (ㄒ一ㄥˋ  ㄗ˙, xìng zi, apricot)
    • 木瓜 (ㄇㄨˋ  ㄍㄨㄚ, mù guā, papaya)
    • 李子 (ㄌ一ˇ  ㄗ˙, lǐ zǐ, plum)
    • 梨 (ㄌ一ˊ, lí zi, pear) OR 梨子 (ㄌ一ˊ  ㄗ˙, lí zi, pear)

    Consider including the number of each fruit you want to buy in your list.  If you are not sure what Measure Word  (MW) to use between the number and the fruit, use 個 (ㄍㄜˋ)- it's the generic MW.  As your family's skill in Chinese advances, you'll learn the proper MWs for nouns, but for now don't let imperfect grammar stop you from practicing. (If it is absolutely driving you crazy that you don't know the correct MWs, click here.)
    • Remember to use 兩 (ㄌ一ㄤˇ, liǎng) instead of 二 (ㄦˋ, èr) for two.
    • Examples,
      • 一個蘋果
      • 兩個蘋果
      • 三個蘋果
      • 四個蘋果

    If your child is flying along, ask him/her to help you write one or two words on the list using ㄅㄆㄇㄈ or pinyin.  This is also a great way to introduce new vocabulary.  You can come along later and write in the characters.  Not sure how to write the word?  Use an online dictionary such as* or ask a friend or teacher-  they'll LOVE to help!

    *YellowBridge does not allow you to look for characters based on the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ system.  There is a conversion page between the pinyin system and the ㄅㄆㄇ system here.

      Make a Calendar

      The New Year is fast approaching and it's time for a new calendar, but before running out and buying a new one consider making your own.  This is a great way to review numbers and the character 月 (ㄩㄝˋ, yuè, moon or month).  The reason for this is simple- in Chinese the names of the months are simply 一月, 二月, 三月, etc.  If you already have a calendar, use a piece of paper to stick the name of the month in Chinese next to the English name.

      • January       一月
      • February     二月
      • March         三月
      • April           四月
      • May            五月
      • June            六月
      • July             七月
      • August        八月
      • September  九月
      • October      十月
      • November   十一月
      • December   十二月

      If your kid finds this interesting or if you want to add a little bit more to this short lesson, show them how the Chinese write/say the names of the week.  Notice that the week starts on Monday, not Sunday as in the Western calendar.  Also point out that the days of the week follow a pattern until you reach Sunday.
      • Monday=      星期一 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 一, Xīng qí yī)
      • Tuesday=      星期二 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄦˋ, Xīng qí èr)
      • Wednesday= 星期三 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄙㄢ, Xīng qí sān)
      • Thursday=    星期四 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄙˋ, Xīng qí sì)
      • Friday=        星期五 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄨˇ, Xīng qí wǔ)
      • Saturday=    星期六 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄌ一 ㄡˋ, Xīng qí liù)
      • Sunday (written)=      星期日 (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄖˋ, Xīng qí rì)
      • Sunday (spoken)=     星期天  (ㄒ一ㄥ  ㄑ一 ㄊ一 ㄢ, Xīng qí tiān)

      You may also notices several other common characters and radicals.  See if your child can find the following radicals/characters inside the days of the week:
      • 日(ㄖˋ, rì, sun )
      • 生 (ㄕㄥ, shēng, to be born)
      • 月 (ㄩㄝˋ, yuè, moon/month)
      • 天 (ㄊㄧㄢ, tiān, day/sky)
      • 一 (一, yī , 1)
      • 二 (ㄦˋ, èr, 2)
      • 三 (ㄙㄢ, sān, 3)
      • 四 (ㄙˋ, sì, 4)
      • 五 (ㄨˇ, wǔ, 5)
      • 六 (ㄌㄧㄡˋ, liù, 6).

      Below is an example of a calendar you can make with Chinese characters.  Please, feel free to print this off and use it for your home.  Consider this another way to "Point Out" Chinese characters to your child in your home.  Each day cross of the last day and talk about what the new date is.

      Dragon Board Game

      Dragon Board Game- This comes directly from my days in grad school when I was practicing to become an Speech-Language Pathologist.  Kids love games and sometimes turning a rote task into a game is the best way to keep a child's attention.  I found this board online and have adapted it to suit the situation and I hope you find it useful for practicing ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, radicals, characters, or whatever you need to study.

      Click below to open and download the board game I used with my kids.  Of course, you can use modify something you already have like Candy Land or Shoots and Ladders.  The key is to find something that gets your kid(s) excited and motivated about learning Chinese.

      Roll of the Dice

      Consider using a die with Chinese characters to replace any you may be using at home when you play games.

      Chutes and Ladders

      Here's another great opportunity to review ㄅㄆㄇㄈ and Chinese numbers.  Print off the pdf below, and then follow these directions:

      1.  After printing, cut and tape the four board pieces together.
      2.  Next cut out the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ cards and the dice.  Cut along the solid lines and fold along the dotted lines.  Then tape the die together to form a cube.
      3.  Use anything you have in the house for the playing pieces (Legos, erasers, marker lids, etc.).

      This version of Chutes and Ladders is played similarly to the original version with a few extra twist:
      1. Roll the die and move the indicated number of spaces.  
      2. Next, blindly choose a ㄅㄆㄇㄈ card.  If the card is read correctly, you stay on that spot.  If not, then go back 2 spaces.  
      3. If you roll the die and land at the bottom of a ladder, you cannot go up unless you get the sound correct.  
      4. If you land at the top of a chute, you must go down before reading your card.  If you misread the card, go back an additional 2 spaces.
      • If your child is overwhelmed by the number of ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letters, limit the number you play with and just focus on a few letters at a time.  You can print of extra of the cards you need or just spread them upside down on the table and draw them randomly as in "Go Fish."
      • You could also use this to review radicals or characters; just make your own cards.
      • Need to move the game along a little faster to keep your child's attention?  Print off two dice and roll both to determine how far a piece will travel.

      Tips for Learning and Assessing ㄅㄆㄇㄈ

      Wondering where to start on the road to literacy in Chinese?  Most foreign language teachers* would agree that learning a pronunication guide such as ㄅㄆㄇㄈ is a great first step.  Learning these "letters" can be done in conjunction with introducing phrases and basic nouns/verbs.  Learning words and phrases gives your child immediate joy in learning the language and the pronunciation guide will set him/her up for long term success.

      While taking steps to teach  ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, it is important to periodically assess progress.  This will allow both you and your child to see that mastery of the material is progressing and also allow you to assess the methods of how you are teaching.  If, after assessing, you determine that the material is not being remembered, ask what is inhibiting retention of the material.  Don't be afraid to ask for help if you're not sure how to modify the lessons.  Keep in mind that there are many people around who would love to help, IF you know where to look for them.  Check out the "Where Do I Start?" page to get ideas about resources.  AND remember that you don't have to limit your conversations to people who teach/know Chinese; you can often get wonderful ideas from kindergarten teachers who are very knowledgeable about teaching literacy or foreign language teachers at local high schools.

      *Here's the research to back it up!  Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language:  Theories and Application, edited by Michael E. Everson and Yun Xiao; see specifically Chapter 5.

      Assessing Knowledge of ㄅㄆㄇㄈ  Letter/Sound Correspondence-  Below is a chart of the individual ㄅㄆㄇㄈ  letters.  Print out the chart, and ask you child to point to any sound and then tell you what the sound is.  Put a sticker/stamp/etc. next to each sound they correctly identify.  Now you know which sounds your child needs the most help reviewing!

      My kids loved this chart because they could tangibly "see" their progress as they added more and more stickers every week.  This chart also helped me remember which letters needed to be practiced so that they didn't forget the letters.  Since I have two kids, sometimes a simple worksheet like this can be handy when the kids aren't learning at equal rates.

      Monday, December 12, 2011

      The Magic School Bus

      Want to watch some quality television in Chinese for kids?  Even my 4 year old loves this series!  Check out your options below:
      • One option is to buy the DVD's from a website like
      • Your second option is to visit  YouKu (China's version of YouTube); there are several episodes available.  Unfortunately, if you are outside of Mainland China, you can only watch a few episodes such as "Flexes its Muscles," which uses Mandarin and traditional characters in its subtitles. 
        • If anyone finds other episodes that are available outside of Mainland China, or if you can explain why China has done this, then please make a comment below.

      Tuesday, November 29, 2011

      How to write in Chinese on your iPad/iPhone

      This post will teach you how to input Chinese on you iPad/iPhone.

      You have several keyboard choices.  To allow this function on your iPad/iPhone you need to do the following:
      Go to you iPad/iPhone's "Settings."

      Make sure you are in the "General" tab.

      Next, click on "International Keyboards."

      Then choose "Add New Keyboard."

      Scroll down until you see the keyboard you want to have available on your iPad/iPhone.
      You could select/add all of them.
      The Chinese keyboards I have found most helpful are discussed below.*

      Chinese-Traditional Handwriting- This program allows you to HAND-WRITE CHINESE CHARACTERS on your iPad/iPhone. I immediately fell in love with this program, because it allows my children to practice their knowledge of Chinese characters in a practical way. The program allows the use of a finger to "write" the characters on the screen, thus reinforcing character memorization.

      Chinese- Simplified Handwriting- Same as above with the exception that it uses simplified characters instead of traditional. 

      Chinese-Traditional Pinyin- This keyboard allows Chinese character input via Mainland China's pinyin system. If you use this keyboard, after installation you should check its settings (General, Keyboard, International Keyboard, Chinese- Traditional Pinyin).  Take note about whether the "fuzzy pinyin" option is on. Fuzzy pinyin typically allows some errors when pulling up possible characters. You may want this option off if you are using this program to teach your child.

      Chinese- Simplified Pinyin- Same as above with the exception that it uses simplified characters instead of traditional.  Just as above, check to see if the "fuzzy pinyin" option is on.

      Chinese-Traditional Zhuyin- This one allows you to input the Zhuyin Fuhao (AKA Bo, Po, Mo, Fo) and then pulls up possible character matches. This is nice for children learning this system of sounding out the characters.

      *Each keyboards option is a wonderful teaching opportunity waiting to be used.  For example, my four-year old can "write" the Chinese character for "water" in the Google search page and see what images are brought up. However, parents should try this out with each character before setting their children to this task in order to be sure that the pictures Google returns are age appropriate! (You can adjust Google's search engine filter by taking the following steps: Go to "," Click on the gear/setting icon in the upper-right corner (you may need to sign in first), Select "Search Settings," Slide the Lock SafeSearch bar to its highest setting- "Strict.")

      Tuesday, November 15, 2011

      YouTube Videos about Charactes and Radicals

      YouTube Videos- Don't ignore the power of videos to help teach kids the connections between really objects, the ancient forms of characters, and the way in which those same characters are written today.  Below is a small selection of what you can find.

      1.Imvolunteer's YouTube Videos- This are an awesome resource, especially if your child is a visual learner.  The videos made by "Imvolunteer" provide an excellent opportunity to really show your child how radicals have been changed and adapted into today's characters.  Below are some of the links to these videos:

      2.  Unknown Creators . . . or at least they are unknown to me.  The video(s) below has/have been uploaded by several people so I'm not sure who is the actual author of the video.  It's very well done and is a great way to reinforce characters your child is studying.  This particular video really makes Chinese come alive!

      3.  Yu Ji has created some wonderful videos detailing characters.  The author lists his/her email as ""

    • Keep Looking for More!  And don't forget to share (in the Comment Section below) any other videos you find helpful for studying characters and radicals.
    • Learning 100 Chinese Radicals

      Learning 100 Chinese Radicals- This is a wonderful site to help reinforce the radicals you are teaching.  Not all the radicals are examined in this website, but the 100 that are displayed are gone over in detail.  Each character review contains three parts:  Basic Info, Exercise 1, and Exercise 2.

      In Basic Info, the meaning, ancient script (original character), and pronunciation (audio and pinyin) are provided.  In addition, the stand-alone radical and how it can be seen within other characters is provided.  The stroke order of these characters and their component pieces can be played as an animation.

      Exercises 1 and 2 all vary slightly.  The opportunity is given to look for the radical component pieces inside other characters.  This is done in isolated characters and in photographs.  Some exercises ask you deduce the meanings of novel characters based on the radical components within them.  Other exercises ask you to deduce the pronunciation based on the components of novel characters.

      Tuesday, November 8, 2011

      Dr. Suess "The Foot Book"

      Dr. Suess "The Foot Book"- I came across this book just as my children were learning 左 and 右 (left and right).  This was a nice surprise since this book gave them plenty of opportunities to practice recognizing and reading these characters (there is no ㄅㄆㄇ or pinyin).  For those of you in Iowa City, this book can be found in the Children's Section of the Public Library.  For those who would like to purchase their own copy, follow the link above or try a Google search.

      Sunday, October 2, 2011

      Chinese Writer

      Chinese Writer is a wonderful app which integrates game and flashcard options to help young students remember stroke order, pronunciation, and meanings of characters. There are now over 5,000 (an update in Spring 2012 increased the available characters from 3,500) simplified/traditional Chinese characters from which you can make your own list to practice. An initial set of 43 simplified/traditional characters are free and then you have the option of purchasing further sets.

      What drew me to this Chinese Writer (by trainchinese) is that it contains the radicals (the building blocks of Chinese characters). From this app, I created a list of specific characters/radicals that I wanted my children to focus on. They can practice the correct stroke order (the app lets them know if they write a stroke in the wrong order or in the wrong direction), listen to the correct Chinese pronunciation (or not if I turn the iPad to mute), and tell me the meaning (which scrolls across the top of the page).

      The game is like Tetris in that Chinese characters "fall" down the page. The learner taps the character and then "traces" the correct stroke order over the outline of the character. He/she must complete the character before it reaches the bottom or it fills in one of the five boxes at the bottom of the app. When all five boxes are filled, the game is over. As the learner continues playing the speed of the character's fall increases (The user can control the initial speed on the settings page.). Randomly throughout the game, rockets appear that can be tapped for extra points. This really helps my 5-year old keep his attention on the game. He also likes trying to beat his best score.

      For more advanced students, there is a "writing" mode within the game. If you select this game option, you won't see a character once you've taped the character.  You must pen it without help or the character will fill in one of the five boxes.

      In flashcard mode, learners can practice the stroke order without being timed, hear the correct Chinese pronunciation, and read the corresponding English meaning. This is the part of the app that I use for my 3-year old since her fingers cannot move fast enough (yet!) to play the timed game.

      Friday, September 30, 2011

      Courses in Iowa City

      The Confucius Institute at the University of Iowa is offering Chinese Culture enrichment events!  The Confucius Institute is located in the International Programs Department at the University Capitol Centre (UCC) in the Old Capitol Mall in downtown Iowa City.

      Below are a list of classes that have been offered in the past.  Click on the link above to find out what classes are currently available.
      • Language Classes
        • Mandarin Level One, Davenport
        • Mandarin Level One, Iowa City
      • Exercise
        •  Taiji太极-  Taiji was originally designed focus on self-defense, and has gradually evolved as an effective means for flexibility, relaxation, stress control, and overall health enhancement. In this session, students will learn fundamental Taiji movements: Ward-off, Roll Back, Press and Push in a Four Hands form. Any loose and comfortable fitting clothing is suitable. Students should wear light, low, and flat shoes.
        • Wushu武术- Wushu is a style of martial arts that is based on Chinese calligraphy. Participants will learn about the origin and philosophy of this art form, the characters and the movements, the offensive and defensive sets, and practice some basic traditional Chinese martial arts exercises and techniques.
      • Fun and Culture
        • Majiang麻将- This Majiang course is designed to introduce a popular Chinese board game to those who are interested in learning the basic concept of the game, how to play it, and some simple strategies. Participants will also learn some Chinese numbers and characters as well as some related aspects of Chinese culture and customs.
        • Chinese Calligraphy Workshops- Workshop participants will get hands-on experience using calligraphy ink and brushes. No previous experience with Chinese or Chinese Calligraphy is required. Chinese Calligraphy Workshops are led by Dr. Ramon Lim, University of Iowa Professor Emeritus of Neurology and winner of the 2005 Eighth International Calligraphy Competition. Dr. Lim has his works widely exhibited in China, Korea and Japan.
      • History
        • From Yao to Mao: 5,000 Years of Chinese History- This "Great Courses" video series is designed to give students a glimpse into ancient China.  China has a long and complex history full of rich culture.  The course will give an overview of early Chinese dynasties, philosophies, and historical figures.  The course will not only explore China's vast history but is will also offer participants a window of understanding into modern day China.

      Friday, September 23, 2011

      Chinese for Kids

      Chinese for Kids- Created by 321Speak, this program has the same layout as Rosetta Stone, but with vocabulary aimed at kids. The app utilizes simplified characters with pinyin.  I've enjoyed this app and so have my children (ages 3 and 5). Currently there are 11 categories: body parts, people, animals, colors, numbers (Arabic numbers to Chinese pronunciation), food, school, getting places, home, opposites, and more food.

      My only complaint is that the pictures are sometimes confusing.  For example, the pictures used to drill numbers are difficult to see (too busy).  Also, the pictures for up/down (上\下) are misleading.  To illustrate, the picture for "down" showed a cat that was under a sofa but was placed in the upper portion of the picture. The picture for "up" showed a cat that was on a table but placed in the lower half of the picture. When these pictures are compared side-by-side, there is an opportunity for confusion. It helps when an adult can direct the child's attention to the relative position within each picture.  The pictures illustrating other concepts are fine.  However, because of these issues, I'm recomending parents to use this app not to teach the vocabulary, but to reinforce the vocabulary.

      Side Note- There is another Chinese program written by the same company called Chinese (Mandarin) Course- Speak and Learn Pro.  Written for adults, Chinese (Mandarin) Course also uses simplified characters and pinyin.  It contains over 50+ Lessons on various topics including:
      • Airport Travel
      • Travel Vocab
      • Places
      • Directions
      • Money and Shopping
      • Eating/Dining
      • Colors/Numbers
      • Hotel
      • Family and Friends
      • Plus many more 'most used' words and phrases

      Tuesday, September 13, 2011

      Flashcards- Eric Youngsdale

      Eric Youngsdale has written a skeleton program that allows regular folks like you and me to control what Chinese characters we want to study.  The program is nice because it allows you to choose either simplified or traditional characters.  It also allows you to decide how to study (i.e. do you see the phonetic pronunciation, the character, or the meaning).  But what truly makes this program awesome is that the computer keeps track of which cards you need to practice more and makes these cards appear in the deck more often.

      In order to convienently create your own cards, you will need to be able to type in Chinese.  Check out this post to learn how.  Alternatively, you can copy and paste Chinese characters from an online dictionary like YellowBridge.

      Tuesday, September 6, 2011

      Childroad Story Apps

      Childroad - Childroad is an online library of Chinese books, which are read outloud.  Children can read along if they are familiar with the Mainland Chinese pinyin system or simplified characters (although the text is pretty small).  The text is highlighted as the professional narrators read the story.  The content is suitable for children 4 to 12 years of age.   

      For more info. & to see a short video about Childroad, visit the Childroad Blog.
      You can also go directly to their website and begin viewing their free books without membership at the Childroad Homepage.

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      LinguPingu Chinese/English Picture Dictionary

            LinguPingu- This picture dictionary is a favorite of my kids.  Their favorite feature of the app is that they can easily switch between Chinese and English and hear the item being labeled in each language.  I like this concept because it seems to emphasis that both languages are important, which is important if you want to encourage bilingualism rather than stressing one language over another.

      The lite version (free) has two pages:  animals and transportation.  You can upgrade to include seven other pages:  food, body parts, farm, toys, nature, clothes, and apartment. 

      KittyWords Chinese Picture Dictionary

      ·         KittyWords- is a free picture dictionary.  It has seven different scenes:  jungle, seaside, pond/field, farm, ocean, African savanna, and forest.  Kids can tap on the screen to discover the Chinese word for the things pictured.  As a bonus, the simplified character for the word is presented as it is read.  There is also a quiz setting that allows kids to test their skills with new words.

      YellowBridge Chinese/English Online Dictionary

      YellowBridge- is a well organized, online dictionary that offers several nice features.  First off, the basic services are free.  This includes audio files that allow you to listen to the word's pronunciation, information on the character’s radical/etymology, and the stroke order for writing the character.  Each entry also has a short list of phrases/compound words that start or end with the target character, which is very nice if you can only remember part of a word or phrase.

      Entries can be viewed in either their simplified or traditional forms.  There are several methods to looking up an entry:
      • English input,
      • Pinyin input,
      • Type Chinese characters (simplified or traditional), and
      • Draw Chinese characters using a Java program.  This function is not accessible via the web on your iPad.  However, you can get around this by activating the iPad keyboard named "Chinese-Traditional:  Handwriting" or "Chinese-Simplified:  Handwriting."  Check out this blog to find out how to do this in just a few easy steps.

        There are also two alternative method for looking up entries, which are based on the root radical. 
        • Select a radical (simplified or traditional) and also the number of additional strokes.  The dictionary will provide you with a list of characters (based on the 4,000 most common characters) that fit your criteria.
          • The pool of entries that the dictionary pulls from (X number of common characters) can be increased by purchasing membership. 
        • If you remember part of a character such as the character's structure and one of the component pieces, the dictionary will provide you with a list of characters (based on the 500 most common characters) that fit your criteria. 
          • The pool of entries that the dictionary pulls from (X number of common characters) can be increased by purchasing membership.  

              Input using 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) is not available, but YellowBridge offers you a great conversion chart.  

              Apple Tree Chinese Story App

              AppleTreeBooks produces story apps in Chinese/English for both iPad and iPhone.  The iPad apps provide an option for Traditional or Simplified Characters, but do not provide either the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) or the pinyin to help the children read along.  However the illustrations are awesome!  The easiest way to find these stories is to visit their website (

              QLL Chinese Story Apps

                    Wow!  I recommend any of the story apps by QLL (Quick Language Learning Inc. Ltd.).  The easiest way to find these apps is to visit the company's website ( and then choose the type of app you need to download (iPad, iPhone, Android, etc).  There are usually some free stories and several that you can purchase.  Check back often as new stories become available!

              Some of the apps use traditional characters along with 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ); some of the stories use simplified characters.  So be sure to look at the description or the screenshots of the app in order to verify what is included.  In general, I have found that the iPad apps use traditional characters along with the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ; the iPhone apps use the simplified characters.  I presume this is due to the screen size and therefore is an attempt at making the characters easier to read on the smaller screens.  The company also produces apps for Androids, but I can't attest to those app functions.

              Here's some more information about the iPad apps- What is great about these apps is that they were designed for kids learning 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).  In addition, you can control the language settings to control both the written text and the audio output.  Do you want English or Chinese text?  Do you want the story read to you in Chinese, English, or both?  Or would you rather there be no audio so that you can practice reading the characters yourself?  Yea!  Practical application of reading skills!  There are currently more than 30 stories produced by this company including:  Snow White, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Frog Prince, and The Three Little Pigs).

              Update!  I've taken screen shots of "The Three Little Pigs" and printed them on paper so my kids now have a book they can color.  I'm also using a white-out pen to cover up the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ of the characters my kids are learning to read by sight.

                   I choose  "The Three Little Pigs" as my test run for several reasons:
              • My kids are already very familiar with the story.
              • There is lots of repetition of the vocabulary.
              • The vocabulary is fairly simple and my kids are familiar with it (if not the character themselves); the grammar is also simple.
              • The kids have memorized several of the characters in this story and can recognize them without the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ (For example, 三,小,有,他,的, 一, 了, 子, 二, 心, 大, 聽, 好, 喜歡, 吃, 口, 是, 家, 門, 不, 我, 你, 叫, 說, 給, 裡, 去, 兩, 生, 力, 想, 也, 笑, 下, 個, 來, 明, 快, 水, and 樂.)
              If you would like to make your own hard copy of the book, you can do that easily on an iPad by creating your own screenshots.  Simply go to the page you want to take a picture of, then press the "Home Button" and the "On/Off Button" simultaneously; this will create a picture and store it in your photo library.  Then email the picture to yourself (I use the Facebook app to accomplish this) and paste the picture into a document you can print (like Microsoft Word).

                loveChinese iPad App

                loveChinese 小宝宝学中- This is a quiz-type program.  The primary purpose of the app is to reinforce already studied basic vocabulary, not to teach the vocabulary- so you'll need to introduce the vocabulary to your kids before they use the app.    The lite version (free) will quiz your child on numbers (Chinese characters 1-9), shapes, and colors.  There are nine additional packs (fruits & vegetables, transportation, animals, daily necessities, occupation, insects & birds, numbers (Arabic), basic words (1), and basic words (2)) that you can purchase.

                Kids earn e-stickers as rewards, and parents can determine how often those rewards are earned on the Settings page.  The nice thing about this app is that you can set it to display注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ), or Mainland Chinese pinyin.  You also control whether simplified or traditional characters are displayed. 

                ABCs and Me

                ABCs and Me- This is a free flashcard app that teaches numbers (0-100), shapes, colors, transportation, and food in Chinese using both simplified characters and pinyin (adjust the language under settings).  The nice thing about this app is that the parent can control which flashcards a child sees.  For example, if you only want the child to study numbers 1-5, you can set that.  

                To control the "favorite" flashcards that your child sees, do the following two steps.  First, touch the star outline in the top, right-hand corner of the flashcards you want your child to study so that the star turns yellow (like in the picture seen here).  Next, go to the home page and touch the gear in the upper, right-hand corner (this opens the settings).  In the settings page, find "Favorites Only" and slide the bar so that it displays "On."  Voila, personalized flashcards!

                ㄅㄆㄇ學注音 iPad App

                ㄅㄆㄇ注音- I cannot say enough good things about this app and this company in general.  It was produced by QLL (Quick Language Learning Inc. Ltd.) for the purpose of teaching pre-elementary children about the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) system.  The company also produced several other story-book apps in Chinese/English.  Some use the simplified characters with pinyin; others use traditional characters with 注音符號.  To find out more about the QLL story-books, check out this post.

                The home page displays the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ alphabet and your child can select the sound s/he wishes to study.  Next s/he is shown the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letter along with the stroke order used to write the letter.  Three words (characters plus ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) that contain the target sound are also displayed.  Your child can click on a link at the bottom of the page that will take him/her to a story sample.  The story sample contains an example of the target sound within a word and your child is asked to identify the word with the target sound.  This is not too difficult since all the stories produced by QLL for iPad include the注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) next to the characters.  

                ㄅㄆㄇ App by 5QChannel

                ㄅㄆㄇ- This is a wonderful program written by "5QChannel."  Throughout the app, children's knowledge of the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) sounds are reinforced by constant pairing of the sounds with the  ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letters.  From the home page, kids choose which ㄅㄆㄇㄈ sound they want to explore.

                Each sound can be explored in several ways:  
                • By clicking around an image-rich picture (like that shown here) to find words containing the target sound (i.e. Find a picture of a word that starts with the sound ".");
                • By reading the 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) of four different words, which promotes a lexicon of words associated with each sound; and
                • By searching for the hidden 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) letter in a picture, which reinforces letter recognition.

                快樂學注音 lite iPad App

                注音 lite- a flashcard app that will reinforce the注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) sounds.  You can purchase the extended version and get access to a practice section as well as a writing section.

                HuaYu World

                The Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, R.O.C.(Taiwan) in conjunction with HanYu World has a TON of great resources.  The only problem is accessing them if you don't speak Chinese.  The home page (  has a langauge button in the top right corner, but since most of what is posted is pictures, a lot of the content is not translated.  Here are the top links that I've found helpful.

                The ㄅㄆㄇㄈ Alphabet- Check out this website that lists several 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) websites/games.  I recommend clicking on the link above and then scrolling down the page until you see this picture (the one shown to the right here).  By clicking on the picture in the HanYu World blog, you can download this game.  Inside the program, kids can choose which ㄅㄆㄇㄈ sound to investigate.  They will be given a picture of an object that contains the sound and will see how the object looks like the  ㄅㄆㄇㄈ letter.  See below for an example.

                If the website above is not working, please try this one.

                Also, check out this file, which provides a file with all the pictures from this game.  Post them on your wall for quick reference!

                Leveled Reading- This site hosts free, online, leveled reading programs that give children the opportunity to practice their 注音符號(ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).  Check them out at:


       This is a very nice site published by "Mandarin Daily News" that allows your child explore the individual ㄅㄆㄇ sounds with a simple click.  The audio has excellent quality.

                Counting 101 iPad App

                Counting101- A very basic app that teaches numbers (1-9) and counting.  However, I think this app could be more flexible- right now you hear the Chinese, but only the Arabic numbers are shown.

                Chinese Number Trainer iPad App

                Chinese Number Trainer- This is a fun, free app for adults learning Chinese as a second language.  This app is nice because it provides a guide, which gives an excellent overview of how to count in Chinese and includes a brief discussion of how to read a phone number.  The guide provides the pronunciation using pinyin.  

                The app is designed like a game in which the learner is asked to find a particular number from a multiple choice set (you can change the setting so that you control the number range you are quizzed on (0-100, 0-1,000, 1,000-10,000, or 10,000-1,000,000).  There is a time limit, and you try to beat your best score.  The app is free, but will only allow you to play the game 5 times a day for free.  To play more often you must purchase the full version. 


                GenkiChinese- written by Richard (sorry, no last name) this website posts songs and simple games that can be used to teach and reinforce simple vocabulary and sentence memorization.  Types of vocabulary include:  numbers, colors, body parts, names of fruits, the months of the year, directions, names of countries, and different types of drinks.  

                There are two components to most every game on the site.  The first is the vocabulary introduction.  This is where the user can click around the screen and hear the vocabulary.  The simple characters and the pinyin pronunciation also flash up on the screen to help reinforce character recognition.  The second component is the game.  Typically the game asks the user to listen to a vocabulary word and then correctly identify it on the screen.  These games are easy and anyone with a mouse can play- even my five-year old!

                I would suggest reviewing the fruits vocabulary with your child before having him/her play the game.  There are two reasons:
                1. During the game, the picture for grape is a picture of one grape; however, during the review the picture is of a bunch of grapes.  This may be confusing to some students.
                2. Some of the vocabulary is new/different.  Some children learn 菠蘿 (bōluó, ㄅㄛ ㄌㄨㄛˊ ) and some learn 鳳梨 (fènglí, ㄈㄥˋ ㄌㄧˊ ).  Depending on which word your student learned for pineapple, you may need to introduce the alternative.  Remind your student that English also has many words that mean the same thing.  For example: sofa & couch; road & street; child & kid; etc.
                The site also has songs to help language learners remember sentences.  For example, he's produced a song called "你好吗?" (ㄋㄧˇ ㄏㄠˇ ㄇㄚ˙?, Nǐ hǎo ma?, How are you?).  It's a good representation of the types of songs he creates.  Be careful- the songs tend to stick in your head!

                Please, preview the songs first before sharing with your children.  In the song called "请给我" (ㄑㄧㄥˇ ㄍㄟˇㄨㄛˇ, Qǐng gěi wǒ, Please give me) the word "beer" appears.