Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mandy & Pandy

After our first Language Stars class, I got E down for a nap and got on the computer searching for Mandarin learning resources for her. We now have 6 Little Pim DVDs that get played with some frequency.  I was hoping to find a book or two that would have English, Mandarin characters and Pinyin (so I could attempt pronunciation).  I was excited to find Mandy & Pandy-board books that come with a cd that has the story on it!

I was also pleased to find one of these books at our Language Stars center. I bought the only one they had: "Mandy and Pandy Say "Ni Hao Ma?"  I tried reading this to E the first night we had it. It did not go over well. She was asking for Dora by the 3rd page (oh no-should we have gone the Spanish route?!) We tried it the next day with the cd.  We listened to most of it-going along with the book. But I dont know if it took too long or what, but E was done before we got to the end.  I see on their website they have a counting one, too. Maybe she'll like this one since she is familiar with the numbers already.

These books are $12.95 on their website and $19.50 on Amazon right now.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Language Stars - Week 10

Hungry Caterpillar week!

Our teacher used the Hungry Caterpillar this week to review foods, colors, and counting. It seems our class is just two kids now-just E and a boy who is almost 3. His mom also brings his infant brother with-a nice thing about Language Stars, I think. I believe you have to start paying once a child is a year old.

E used to love the Hungry Caterpillar at home-but lately it has been out of our book rotation. She was familiar with the story and said the foods in English. She was able to pick out pin gua (apple) and yu mi (corn) from a bag of fruits and vegetables when asked.

Our project this week was coloring in a sandwich. This one one of our least successful "art" projects-it was straight forward coloring and a little hard to tell what some of the items were intended to be.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coffee Shop Encounter

Before Mandarin class this week we had some shopping to do at the Gluten Free bakery nearby. So, we had lunch at Starbucks and watched the trains go by.  E was in a great mood after having had a 20 minute nap in the car. We shared a sandwich and talked about the trains going by. Wondered what they were hauling and where they were going.

I told her we'd have to clean up so we could head over to Mandarin class. She exclaimed, "Oh yes!"  Then she started in with "And we will say 'Ni Hao' and [our teacher] will say 'Ni Hao' and we will play with toys and see the boys and then say 'Zi Gen'!"  I was tickled at her excitement and summation of our weekly experience. And, so was the mom of the 18 month old behind us.  She was curious and asked us all about our class. She had experience working in Asia with her husband and was very keen on having her child learn and Eastern language, too.  I wish I had thought to write my name down in case she did decide to try Language Stars.. Have I mentioned their referral program? Each party receives $50 off the following semester's enrollment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Language Stars - Week 9 - Private lesson!

We were the only ones in our class this week-so it was a nice private lesson!  The theme was grocery store, fruits and vegetables.  My dad came with to see what it was like.  E enjoyed having Grandpa, or Yee Yee, with her in class.

We started out reviewing sun, snow and rain with puppets.  I cannot seem to remember sun.  E wasn't very interested in it.  The puppets are nice-but a little scary to her, I think.  The teacher took out a parachute and we reviewed colors and counting while letting E ride on top and then play underneath it.  She hasn't said any of the color names in Mandarin yet but knows at least three of them when asked to point them out.

Then we moved on to the fruits and vegetables. This is obviously a large vocabulary category. First we used plush apples, tomatoes, corn and bananas to learn those items. Then we built sandwiches out of plastic bread, tomatoes, cheese and lunch meat.

Snack time came around and we built sandwiches out of animal crackers and raisins.  We also looked at a book about fruits and vegetables. E was very good this week at responding to the teacher and echoing the vocabulary. I'm sure it helped that the other kids weren't there.

We also did a coloring activity with a grocery store scene and used stickers to further decorate it. The teacher gave E an extra sheet of stickers to take home. E was thrilled!  Grandpa was impressed with the class and commented on how smiley and encouraging the teacher was.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Language Stars - Week 8

Things weren't clicking this week in class. The other kids were just getting over colds or up from a nap. E was extra bouncy.  The kids wanted to sit in chairs during our normal sit on the floor in a circle time.

Our teacher handled it all well, though and did her best to get them to participate.  The moms ended up pitching in a bit more than is normally needed.  We spent a lot of time on happy (kai xin!), sad and scared this week.  We used puppets with the different emotions expressed in their face. One activity included trying to knock over the correct puppet (standing upright with help from a mini-construction cone) with a ball.  I don't know if this works with other groups of kids or not-but ours saw this as an excuse to throw the ball around the room.

The kids did much better around the table with the small craft project-happy/sad face on a Popsicle stick. And of course the snacks are always a hit with this crew.  E learned how to ask for more and actually said it this week.

She has started to ask me how to say things in Mandarin now.  We'll be at home and she'll ask "How do we say 'pink' in Mandarin?" I loaded google translate onto my ipod so now I'm ready with an answer! It satisfies her initial question-but I haven't retained any of the words we've looked up yet.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Language Stars - 1/2 off on Groupon

Wanted to share that Language Stars is on Groupon today. 1/2 off for a 4 week session. It looks like it is good for all Chicagoland locations.

Maybe we'll see some of you there?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Library #2 Review - FAIL

I was so excited to find Mandarin learning resources at our library the other month. We visited the library in a neighboring town, and while they had rows of Spanish bilingual books, their Mandarin Chinese section was small enough for me to check completely out - 3 books. And while technically they do have both English and Mandarin Chinese characters, they don't include the pinyin-so for someone trying to learn Mandarin-they provide only a glimpse into cultural and historical aspects of China, but none of the sounds.

Mouse Match by Ed Young  

A traditional tale about parents of a young mouse who search for the best groom for their daughter. They seek the sun, clouds, mountains.... each object referring them to another, greater, more powerful being until they end up at a mouse. I don't get the draw of this story whatsoever. The artwork was dark and the book opens up accordion style to show the whole story at once (not really very practical). The Chinese characters are on the reverse side with no artwork. My daughter has a decent attention span and patience for books, but this one was not a hit. I quickly had to change from reading the words to talking with her about the pictures - which is fine for working on her love of reading.  I was just disappointed that this was not a tool to help us with Mandarin.

The Magic Brocade, A Tale of China Retold by Aaron Shepard and Illustrated by Xiaojun Li

My daughter liked the illustrations in this book. Overall, I liked them as well-they are high quality watercolors that give the book a dream like quality, fitting for the storyline. I tend to shy away from any books that mention "Magic" of any kind, but took this one so I could review it as part of this blog. The story itself is kind of sad and strange involving fairies-we quickly went to talking about the pictures instead.  At least the Chinese characters are on the same page as the English-but no pinyin, so not helpful.

Lady White Snake, A Tale from Chinese Opera Retold by Aaron Shepard and Illustrated by Song Nan Zhang
This is not a children's book. I think the target audience would be for someone high school age or older who was going to see the opera in person. It has a lot of helpful information in the back about the history of locations and items in the story.  The pictures have a lot going on with them-so E and I were able to look at those together. The Chinese characters are on the same page as the English in this book as well.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Language Stars - Week 7

We've moved onto new topics this week at Language Stars - emotions and family relations. When I saw the curriculum sheet online, I was curious how this would be taught because I don't think my two year old understands all of these emotions in English.

We started with love and hearts.  I'm not sure if E understood, but it was sweet. The craft was coloring and folding this picture - so we practiced saying "I love you" and "I love you a lot" or "I love you so much."

We also reviewed family members - mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, sister and brother.  I'm not sure if she understood this part either-as the family looked a bit different than ours. I'm planning on printing out some pictures of our family along with the words and practicing again.  Thanks to Kai-lan, I think she understands grandma and grandpa already.

We also spent more time this week reviewing some basic statements like:
  1. My name is __
  2. I am __ years old
  3. I live in ___
E did so-so with the echoing of the statements. I think she did catch on to the first 2, but I don't think she understands we live in America or Illinois or even the correct city yet. Something for us to work on.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Move over Dora, Kai-lan is our new favorite!

Dora has been a favorite of my 2 year old's.  She goes along with her on the adventures, responds when Dora asks her to-in English or Spanish.  It has made me wonder if maybe we should have signed up for Spanish instead of Mandarin! Until...

Kai-lan's Great Trip to China came in the mail from Netflix yesterday. Instant hit.

I've read reviews of how Kai-lan was essentially a Chinese version of Dora, and to an extent she is.. but it is different. The episodes don't have the same set-up like Dora's use of the map, backpack and three steps to make it to a destination.  Instead the episodes are more about certain topics and her friends include her Grandpa. How sweet is that? 

We've watched it one time through and had a chance to practice some of our established vocabulary plus learn some new words-like "happy," "grandpa," "grandma," and "pull." Most of the episode is in English-with just a few words in Mandarin Chinese.  While I don't really like to have the TV on much-I certainly am happy to have found another cute option for helping our Mandarin learning.

The Nick Jr. website has a few print-ables as well for Ni Hao Kailan.  Here is a link to number flashcards. I appreciate that they have the Chinese characters and pinyin on the cards.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Language Stars - Week 6

Week 6 was all about animals. Our makeup class at the other center covered the same topic. So, we had a very similar lesson at our regular location.  The teachers did present some of the items differently-which I appreciated.

The kids played a game trying to find the different animals under cups. I don't know if they didn't understand the game or if it was too tricky for them-but it seemed like this wasn't their favorite activity. 

We had snacks and used place mats with pictures of 5 different animals to help learn the vocabulary.  We've retained: duck, cow, cat, horse and pig.

I really like this art print on Etsy.  I like the flashcard style and the simple monochrome and modern design of the duck.

I'm drawn towards ducks.  I read that my great-great-great grandfather and his twin brother raised ducks and sold duck eggs in Thailand (then Siam) before they were "discovered" and traveled the world. But that is a story for another day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Language Stars-Online Resources

Once you've enrolled in Language Stars, you have access to a special part of their website for students. I have found this extremely helpful as I still struggle to pronounce things correctly.  We use this a few times a week.  I haven't seen such a thorough offering from any other language learning school.

This includes:
  1. Mandarin Character Practice Sheets - roughly 20 vocabulary words with step by step directions on how to create the characters. I've printed a few of these out but we have not tried them yet.
  2. Learning Topic Sheets -  These are the exact ones used in class-just smaller. I print out a few copies of these for around the house.  I try to place them near like objects for review.  Online, you are able to click on a button and have a native speaker say the vocabulary words. I use this feature a lot.
  3. Nursery Rhyme -The same rhyme that we do in class- and again with a button that will have someone say it for you correctly. We've been doing the same rhyme for a few weeks now-so it is becoming more familiar.
  4. Song -Song with lyrics in Mandarin and English. Some of these are the same as on the Language Stars cd. All are playable from the website.
  5. Coloring Page - Basic coloring sheets covering the vocabulary items from class. This week we are reviewing farm animals and pets - so we have a copy of this next to our barn.
  6. Activity Sheets - These are activities for parents and kids to do at home to reinforce what was taught in class. They are game type activities and we haven't tried them yet. They seem a bit advanced-but I plan to give them a try in the upcoming weeks.

One thing I would like to see on their website that is not there yet is a pinyin pronunciation guide for Mandarin Chinese.  While I'm able to piece some things together from the rest of the vocabulary, it would be helpful for me to have a resource to go to when trying to sound out something that is not part of the Language Stars curriculum.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Peking Acrobats Show

We took in the Peking Acrobats show last night for some Chinese cultural experience. It was part of my mom's birthday gift. The theater was crowded and the show was really amazing.  E does a gymnastics class once a week-so I pointed out things that we're working on in class - back bends and handstands.

I think my favorite act was the parasol balancing. The acrobats are so strong and skilled-they really make it look simple. The biggest crowd pleaser had to be the man who stacked chairs maybe 8 high and then did a one armed hand stand on top.You can watch some of the show here.
According to E, it was "Really really really really really good!!"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Play & Learn Chinese with Mei Mei, vol. 1 - DVD Review

This is the second DVD we've watched from Mei Mei.  This one was much more helpful for us in our vocabulary building and practice.  Mei Mei goes through a topic, then a child does as well.  We're only familiar with numbers, some body parts, and some greetings at this point-so we found these sections the most helpful.  She also covers family, actions, games, songs, and ages.

The DVD is a little dated in my opinion, but it doesn't take away from the effectiveness.  Like Mei Mei's Dance and Learn, we'll check this out from our library again.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Language Stars - Week 5 Make Up Class

E was sick with a cold and we missed our regular class at Language Stars. Luckily-they do allow make ups and they can be done at any of their locations!  We have a fairly busy week scheduled so I was glad to find a class at another center that worked for us-it was twice as far away for us, but worked out well.

There were just two kids in this class and they seemed younger than E. The teacher used a lot of songs in this class - including Old McDonald and My Body Makes Music.  E was not quite herself-but the other kids really participated with responding to the teacher and repeating things she said. I was impressed-we covered a lot of vocabulary today including colors, numbers (to 20), farm and pet animals, and body parts.

We did a craft with a duck reviewing colors and counting while coloring it and taping different colored feathers on it.  E was thrilled that fruit loops were again on the menu today.

She did say one word to the teacher today - "Zai Jian" as we were headed out the door.

Lantern Festival at Lu's

Dinner out last night for Lantern Festival at our local Chinese restaurant, Lu's.  We had a chance to practice a bit of what we've learned so far-hello, goodbye and thank you.

We won prizes for guessing the answers to riddles: chopsticks and this little cup.

E's fortune this time was: "Executive ability is prominent in your make up." Quite fitting for this two year old!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

China's Bravest Girl

China's Bravest Girl is the legend of Hua Mu Lan.  It is written in a poem in this version by Charlie Chin.  The pictures are sweet with enough going on in them to keep E's interest.  We've read it daily since we found it at our library. We can only read this in English since there is no pinyin accompanying the Chinese characters.  I wonder if we'll ever be able to read the characters! Here is one passage from the book that is my favorite part:
"The ocean hides the oyster.
The oyster hides a pearl.
Bright armor and heavy helmet
hid China's bravest girl."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Language Stars-Week 4

There is a new girl in class! I believe all of the other kids in class have at least one Mandarin speaking parent.  I don't believe I've mentioned this but the other moms in the class are lovely-they all have more experience with Mandarin than I do and are very helpful if I'm unsure of how to pronounce something. 

We again covered winter clothing and counting.  Additionally we started learning colors.  The story, The Mitten, was told in Mandarin using an English copy of the book.  This is a sweet book in any language.  E understands the words for fox, frog, rabbit and bear.  The kids decorated mittens with stickers after their snack of goldfish crackers and Fruit Loops (used to reinforce the color vocabulary). E has not had Fruit Loops before and loved them-I suppose a few won't hurt. After today we can both confidently say the word for "mitten" - shou tao!

It has become clear to me that I will not be able to retain much from week to week unless we pick up our usage of Mandarin words at home.  I'm also hoping to find a program that I can use-perhaps the Pimsleur Approach? I like the idea of 30 minute lessons I can listen to each day.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mei Mei Dance and Learn DVD Review

We checked out two Mei Mei DVDs from our local library last week. We watched Mei Mei Dance and Learn first. Well, we didn't really watch it all.  We had it playing while playing trains.  Mei Mei introduces the DVD and girls sing and dance to each song.  It retails for just under $25.

It was sweet, but not something I think we'd sit and watch.  Some of the tunes were familiar-but they had different words to it. I appreciate that the words were on the screen in English, Mandarin Chinese characters and Pinyin.  It didn't hold E's interest. We had it play twice through while we were playing with other toys. She would glance up every now and then-especially during the portions where they would count, I assume because these were recognizable words to her. Perhaps this will be a DVD we can try in another few months or so.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Language Stars-Week 3

She did it!! We just got home from week 3 at Language Stars and exciting news! E spoke Mandarin today, loudly and clearly to the teacher. She said please and good-bye. She also counted to six correctly!

It took her a while to settle down at the beginning of class. She decided that running circles around me and giving me hugs was more fun.  I try to corral her and get her to sit and listen and interact.  It is challenging, though, because I'm really trying to stick to only speaking Mandarin in the classroom.  I don't know how to tell her to sit down yet. But, definitely something to sort out before next class.

This week we continued to cover cold weather, some winter clothing and counting. The teacher read the book The Mitten to us-the one where a boy loses his mitten and all the animals climb into it to stay warm. We used masks for some of the different animals.  There was also an activity where we put small finger puppets of the animals into a large silicone oven mitten.  We had a coloring and taping activity with mittens and some animals. E did a great job with the double sided tape.  The cookies and gold fish crackers were a big hit again.

We were excited to see one of the other teachers in our local paper-visiting the Elmhurst Library. Not sure how we missed it, but we hope to make it to Naperville's 95th Street library tomorrow for Mandarin Storytime there!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Love our Library!

We made a quick trip to our library today for a book I'd reserved. I figured we'd check out a few new books for E and see if they had any Mandarin resources. I don't know why I didn't before?!

They didn't have that many books-but I checked out 2:
  1. My First Book of Mandarin Chinese Words
  2. China's Bravest Girl
They also had a "Learning Bag" with a large case of DVDs called Muzzy-by the BBC. I've never heard of this.

I looked in the DVD section and was surprised at the selection of foreign language learning DVDs.  I picked up two to try:
  1. Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei - 1
  2. Dance and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei
I have no idea if these will be good resources or not-but will review them here in the next few weeks. Please stay tuned!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chinese New Year Dinner

My husband took E and I out to our local Chinese Restaurant on Monday night for their Chinese New Year dinner.  Some of the staff was dressed up in somewhat traditional clothing.  Each guest was able to draw a red envelope. Mine had a $1 in it, husband's a coupon for beer, and E's a coupon for a free appetizer. Dinner was good. E was on decent behavior. We tried to get her to talk with the waitress, but she was too shy.  She did count the lanterns in English and Mandarin.

She woke up for the fortune cookies.  Her fortune was blank.  What does that mean?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Language Stars-Week 2

This week at Language Stars we again went over winter clothing. Class started with playtime with toys on the floor. E was very preoccupied with moving the chairs around. She participated in cleaning up the toys.  The teacher had a snowman to dress up. E tried to help find the various items to put on.

There was an activity where the teacher said a clothing word and the kids were supposed to hit paper with the word with a fly swatter. E found the correct words. We reviewed a book with pop out pieces of clothing.  E correctly picked the items the teacher asked for. She still hasn't spoken in Mandarin during class, but she seems to be understanding at least some of it. The teacher said she noticed her mouthing some of the words-we'll see!

We printed out the lesson with the vocabulary words for hat, mitten, scarf, coat, boots and have it here next to our table housing some of our winter items (close to the door).  I try to review as we put the different items on each day. Although-lately the weather hasn't been cold enough for most of it!

I just received my email from Language Stars about the next 2 weeks curriculum and it is... Counting!!  I'm overly excited about this topic because E has learned to count to 10 in Mandarin from the Little Pim DVD and I'm hoping this will give her the confidence to participate in class more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Little Pim

I bought our first Little Pim DVD back in September off of ebay. I bought #6 - Counting. We brought it with us on a vacation and had it playing some mornings while we were getting dressed. E loved it! After watching it twice I heard her from the other room say "e, r, san, sik, mo"-not quite right, but counting to 5 in Mandarin! On her own, no coaxing or coaching?! Fantastic! Mandarin it is!

E enjoying Little Pim one morning:

Have you used any DVDs to enhance your child's foreign language learning?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Language Stars-Week 1

We had signed up for the Language Stars Parent/Tot Mandarin class.  Because a friend referred us, we both received $50 credit-nice bonus!  Before we attended our class, I received an email with links to three worksheets of information about what we'd be covering. The first two classes will go over winter clothing: Hat, Mittens, Scarf, Coat and Boots. There is a button on the web page that lets you hear the words spoken by a native Mandarin speaker. This was very helpful!

On our way to the first lesson, I was curious how E would react to the setting, teacher and other students.  Class started with toys on the floor.  Two more mothers came in with their sons. Our teacher is really cheerful and friendly.   She interacted really well with E and speaks only in Mandarin during class.  After a few more minutes of playtime with cars, blocks, rings and things, it was time to clean up. The teacher sang a song that I assume was about cleaning up. All the kids helped put the toys away.

Next we played a  few games with the winter clothing words -dressed up a frog in winter clothing and sang a song about being cold. I did my best to speak the words back to the teacher as she asked. E didn't say a thing, but the class held her interest.  She did hand the teacher the correct clothing item when asked. I'm not sure if she understood or if it was a lucky guess.  The only word I remember is for hat. It sounds like "Mao-zer."

We all sat at a table and had fish and animal crackers.  E liked this part just fine! We were also offered lemonade. There was a coloring activity involving a hat. E was thrilled that we were using markers instead of crayons (a treat around our house). "Marker" in Mandarin sounds like "Marker-bee" to me. I think I'll remember that word.

After cleaning up, class was over.  E was starting to act sleepy-it is past her nap time. Excited to see what next week will bring!

Friday, January 20, 2012

How we chose Mandarin- part 2

The other language we had considered was Mandarin.  So many people speak Mandarin and we could see how it would be beneficial to our daughter in the future especially if she went into business.  I also am a small part Chinese and thought at least there was more of a connection there than with Spanish.

We had a positive experience with Little Pim Mandarin (more on this in a separate post soon).

We tried a parent tot class of Mandarin out at Language Stars.  E did much better in this class. I think she was a little afraid of the teacher (she was shy of most males at the time).  The other student in the class wasn't very participatory-so it was again quite challenging for us.  I wasn't feeling well and we ended up leaving early.  The center manager was very understanding when we spoke on the phone later that week.  I was hesitant to sign up for a class if E wasn't going to participate. I just felt for her it was too early.  We agreed to talk after she turned 2.

The new assistant center director called in mid-December and we did it-we signed up for the Winter/Spring session! I'm very excited to see how this goes!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How we chose Mandarin- part 1

My husband and I have a 2 year old daughter. We'd heard and read about the benefits of exposure to additional languages while children are very young.  Neither of us is fluent in a language other than English.  Spanish seems to be a common second language to learn in the area with many options for schools.

We came across Language Stars based on some friends recommendations. We tried a trial class in Spanish. I was thrown off because the teacher was from Argentina and her pronunciation was different than what I had been taught and exposed to. My daughter was maybe 14 months at the time.  There was a younger child-maybe 10 months and an older child who was having a rough day.  It was not a great experience. The Center Director was very understanding and offered for me to try another class.

Leaving that day, I started to question the choice of Spanish for my daughter. Was this the most useful language for her to learn? Or was I choosing it because it was easiest for me?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Hello! Welcome to my blog. We've decided to learn Mandarin as a family and I will be tracking our progress and reporting on products and resources we try.  I look forward to sharing our experiences and hope to hear from others who are on a similar path. I will be posting more in the next days catching you up on why we chose Mandarin and our first weeks at Language Stars. Talk to you soon!