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.