Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Just in time for summer vacation: iPhone apps to learn Chinese

Two years ago when I got my iPhone, I searched for decent educational apps that could support my kids’ Chinese learning. They were few and far between, and mostly developed by Westerners for non-Chinese speakers to teach basic vocabulary. In recent months, I have followed tips I read on Twitter (thanks @lantaumama!) or on blogs and, ever since the iPhone was introduced in China, it seems the market has expanded and improved. These are a few of our favorites so far (this post will be a work in progress so please send in any tips of programs I may have missed!):

- Rye Studio: A series of animated stories, with the option to switch between English, Japanese and Mandarin. By far, the best, most engaging and professional Chinese app I have seen. They are cheap, several are free, and my kids love them. Mulan and the Monkey King are favorites and can be downloaded here.

- Apple Tree Books: Illustrated books including classics like the Hare and the Tortoise, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, etc. They have an option to read it yourself or have it read to you, which is nice for beginning readers. Not quite as sophisticated as Rye Studio but good nonetheless.

- FeedMe Chinese: A favorite with my three-year-old, the program asks simple questions about colors, shapes, numbers, etc and the child must drag the correct answer into the mouth of a silly purple monster. If the answer is correct, the monster gives a happy whoop. If it’s wrong, he spits it out and looks dejected and sad. Very cute.

- Just as I was finishing this post, I received an email about a new Chinese reading app, Catch Me if You Can, which is a fun character recognition game, where students have to “catch” the correct characters to recreate a sentence. My six-year-old tried it and was hooked right away. The only downside (for us) is that the versions using simplified characters are very limited. (I emailed the developer and she said they are planning more versions with simplified characters soon.)

- 5Qchannel: A great storytelling website has just started creating iPhone apps. I haven’t tried them yet but the content on their site is quite good.

- Doodle Chinese teaches basic vocabulary in three categories: Animals, Numbers and Greetings then offers quizzes with cute drawings to test your knowledge and expands to more complicated conversations. Good for a new learner.

- ABC Chinese: A simple flashcard application to teach basic vocabulary。

For my six-year-old, the best writing practice is simply the Chinese character touchpad input screen on the iPhone 4, where he can draw a character with his finger and it magically converts it into type.

Some others I have seen but not yet tried:

- Chinese children’s songs. Frankly, I don’t dare download it since I know my daughter will want to listen to nothing else. But it looks good for those whose kids are learning the standard Chinese children’s songs. And it’s free.

I don’t have an iPad so haven’t included any apps that just work on tablets. Beatrix Potter storybooks, in English and Chinese, with the original illustrations, look great but are only for iPads.

For those without smart phones, Childroad is a nice Chinese story and reading website.

What did I miss?


Kindergarten in China

A beautifully-conceived documentary film, produced for Link TV, shows the first days at a boarding school in China where children as young as two live Monday through Friday and then return home on weekends. There is no narration except the sounds and voices in the school. With all this talk about Chinese mothers and education and discipline styles (even though Amy Chua’s controversial article had little to do with people in China), this film shows the actual lives for some Chinese children. The school is clearly for the elite in China and some scenes are heartbreaking, such as the little boy who says he is sent to the school because his father is too busy inviting people out to dinner and his mother too busy getting facials. Watch it here.


Feeding the Minds of Little Readers

[This has been cross-posted from Bay Area Mama.]

Despite the popularity of Mandarin classes in schools around the country these days, finding engaging materials for kids who are learning Chinese can be a challenge anywhere, even here in the Bay Area. But recently a number of new, local resources have cropped up offering a much broader selection of Chinese books for my little ones. In particular, I was interested to see, on the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council website, that a Chinese bookstore (and a local one, no less) is going to offer a Chinese reading club similar to the Scholastic program that has been omnipresent in American schools since I was a kid. Learn more from this PDF.

For those in the East Bay, there will be another opportunity to browse and buy a wide variety of Chinese books, DVDs, games, and other educational materials at the Shu Ren International School Fall Festival and Book Fair on October 30. This is a great chance to stock up on materials for your little ones – and also have some fun while you are at it. There will be a magic show, classical Chinese dance performance, games, a bounce house, and food. The book fair will be co-sponsored with, another local company that offers a selection of Chinese books and other materials.

And on a recent visit to the bookstore in the Ranch 99 mall in Richmond, I noticed that they have increased their range and selection of children’s books, which is now a great resource as well.

Happy reading!


Speaking in Tongues – Watch it Online

The powerful documentary film, Speaking in Tongues, which follows four children in language immersion classrooms (Chinese and Spanish) in San Francisco, is streaming live through Friday on the PBS website. From PBS:

In a country where most states declare English as the official language, Speaking in Tongues turns the issue on its head and explores how bilingualism can be a national resource. Following four students involved in an educational experiment designed to make them bilingual and biliterate, the film questions rote debates about immigration, assimilation, globalization, and what it means to be American in the 21st century.

You can watch it here (even with Mandarin subtitles). It is also showing on PBS stations around the country, check the schedule.

The filmmakers have also set up an excellent website and a blog about language and immersion education. A number of local organizations are hosting free screenings as well so check the film’s site for ones near you.


Discount on Chinese Books for Hao Mama Readers

As I’ve mentioned before, My Panda Paws offers a variety of books, DVDs and other products to help children learn Chinese. Just in time for back-to-school, they have generously offered a 15% discount for readers of Hao Mama through September 3. Just enter Haomama at checkout. Enjoy!


Jon Stewart on “Socialism Studies”

For many of us who live in the Bay Area, southern California can seem like a foreign country. I was reminded of this while reading about the debates now raging in Hacienda Heights over funding for a Chinese language program in a middle school there. (Read more about the debate here.) In short, opponents claim the program, which is partially funded by the Chinese government, will brainwash children with Communist dogma. In a way that only he can, Jon Stewart takes on the debate:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Socialism Studies
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Confucianism v. Americanism

Through hundreds of Confucius Institutes at schools overseas, the Chinese government has been spreading its soft power through the teaching of Chinese language and culture. Now, a program called Confucius Classroom, co-sponsored by the Asia Society, which funds Chinese language programs in K-12 schools, has sparked outrage among some who don’t want American students learning what they assume will be Communist propaganda. Near Los Angeles, the community of Hacienda Heights is deeply divided over the issue:

Activist Kai Chen and former Hacienda La Puente Unified Superintendent John Kramar reviewed the materials for the district’s new Confucius Classroom on Friday.

“That’s part of Chinese infiltration into this country and the corruption of the political culture of America,” Chen said of the classroom, which will be funded by the Chinese Language Council International, or Hanban.

Hacienda La Puente Unified School District officials have allowed the public to view and provide feedback on books, DVDs and other instructional aids that will be used in the Confucius Classroom elective course at Cedarlane Middle School this fall.

After reviewing the books Friday, Kramar and Chen said they believed the Chinese-sponsored literature did not include a thorough account of the nation’s history. They were also concerned about several definitions in a Chinese dictionary they said reflect ideals of Communism.

And from another article from the right-wing New American:

“Though one tiny corner of my conscience says sure, the more the Chinese spend IN the United States the less they’ll have left to compete with and undermine us. But most of me is outraged — and a little bit alarmed.”

People sounded a similar alarm when the Confucius Institute opened at UCLA in 2007, said Susan Pertel, the program’s executive director. “Everybody was concerned we would be told what to do, what to teach,” she said. “That’s not the situation at all. It’s very much a partnership.”

“People accuse us of advancing a Chinese agenda,” said Chen. “They say the Chinese community is taking over. But one of the reasons to have the program is to make Cedarlane more attractive to all students, not just the Chinese.” But the school district’s voters might have a different idea about how to make the schools attractive, said King, the former superintendent.

“Our kids need to be taught Americanism,” he said. “This board is going to pay a price. I think the community is upset enough to vote them out.”


Word is that Jon Stewart will tackle the dispute in an upcoming show.


More resources for bilingual families

I just discovered that Multilingual Living (which I have linked to before) has a new website, which is a very inviting, useful resource with all kinds of information about raising bi- or multilingual children. That site in turn led to to another new site, Multilingual Mania, which includes personal stories, new research, book and movie reviews and more about raising bilingual children. On this site, I found a clip of the documentary Speaking in Tongues , which explores, “the provocative notion that being bilingual can be a national asset.” This clip focuses on a Chinese (Cantonese) classroom in San Francisco to show how language immersion works and the benefits of an immersion education.

For those in San Francisco, the Excelsior Branch Library will be showing the full movie tomorrow, May 26. For more information see here.

[This post is cross-posted at Bay Area Mama.)


Guest-Teaching Chinese, and Learning America

An article in the New York Times looks at the experience of Chinese teachers who are sent to the US as part of a new government-sponsored program. Living in the Bay Area, where it seems natural to have Chinese language programs, I sometimes forget how incredible it is that places like Lawton, Oklahoma are implementing Mandarin programs in their schools. And what an odd experience it must be for the young mainland teachers to be teaching there. The article offers a glimpse:

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

Some students were astonished to learn that Chinese people used cellphones, she said. Others thought Hong Kong was the capital.

Barry Beauchamp, the Lawton superintendent, said he was thrilled to have Ms. Zheng and two other Chinese instructors working in the district. But he said he believed that the guest teachers were learning the most from the cultural exchange.

“Part of them coming here is us indoctrinating them about our great country and our freedoms,” he said. “We’ve seen them go to church and to family reunions, country music concerts, rodeos. So it’s been interesting to see them soak up our culture.”


How to get more Mandarin in Your Child’s Life

The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council (mentioned here) has a brilliant post with ideas and specific resources for squeezing more Mandarin into your child’s daily life. It is geared toward parents who do not speak Mandarin themselves, and some of the ideas are specific to San Francisco but most could be used universally. A great resource.