Time for a Learning Mandarin Chinese Q & A

My children have been learning Mandarin Chinese since they were each just five years old. Thus, my daughter has been studying the language for 10 years. In May, she plans to take the AP exam in Chinese Language and Culture.

When we officially began homeschooling in 2007, one of the major driving forces behind our decision was my daughter’s desire to learn Chinese. I have periodically shared with you a little about their journey to fluency in Mandarin. Several years ago, I detailed How I Teach Mandarin Chinese, Not Speaking it Myself and have highlighted a few products or curricula that we have had the opportunity to work with.

Today I would like to answer a few questions that I am often asked by my readers and by people in my social circles when they learn of our decision to learn Mandarin.

learning mandarin q&aDo you think a private tutor for Mandarin is best?

My great grandparents emigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. Somewhere along the way, the ability to speak Norwegian had been lost – at least amongst my family here in the US. As we are in contact with our Norwegian cousins and the Norwegian culture is so strong in my family, I have always wanted to learn the language. I’ve used CDs and textbook programs but my pronunciation is poor. I can read and write far more than I can speak or understand orally.

As I do not speak Mandarin, I wanted to assure that my children would learn the correct pronunciation. I highly recommend working with a native speaker – whether you hire a private tutor, attend classes, or work with someone online.

The primary purpose of language is communication – grammar is important, but there’s a bigger picture. Language is no longer seen as being learnt through mechanical exercises, it’s developed through students interacting and engaging.

q&a learning mandarinCan you recommend a Mandarin tutor in my area?

Sadly, I am not familiar with tutors in areas outside my own small community. My suggestion is to reach out to the local homeschool community and/or the community college. When we moved to Redding, for example, I had posted on the local homeschool forum the following query, “My children are interested in continuing Mandarin lessons and would like contact information for local providers in the area.”  This simple question provided us the opportunity to meet Shawn – he and his wife attended the same church as a member homeschool family.

Where we are now in Oregon, the local college previously offered a community education course in conversational Chinese. I contacted the college and requested contact information and an email was provided.

Other options for native speakers or tutors is through video conferencing software. While we have not had the chance to try out each, here are a few providers:

How many times a week would produce the best result?

We generally meet with Shawn twice a week (initially in his home and now via Skype as he resides now in Indiana). He plans each of the two weekly lessons, assigns and grades homework, and generally works with the kids independently for an hour each lesson. On occasion they do cultural and cooking lessons together – I even get to join in on these.

In addition to their lesson, Shawn recommends they spend between 1 and 2 hours “actively” studying the language. As fluency is very important to her, Geneva meets this goal regularly. Jeffrey, on the other hand, often does his homework as quickly as possible. When they were younger, I pushed for daily practice more consistently. Now, I have come to realize they have their own individual goals and I allow them more autonomy.

mandarin q&aDo you have any experience with … ?

Until most recently, we have predominately been using the Better Chinese curriculum as we had previous experience with the program and the product line was diverse. They have gradually progressed from the elementary series, My First Chinese Reader to the more advanced middle school series, Discovering Chinese Pro. The material is presented in several formats allowing students with different learning styles to choose the method for which they are best suited.

Periodically, Shawn or I will also supplement their lessons with movies dubbed in Mandarin, music, other materials to enrich the lessons and keep the kids engaged. Some of the other resources we have used include:

Mandarin Resources for On-the-Go: “Miao Mi” App Now Available

My daughter is preparing to take the AP exam in Chinese Culture and Language in May. My son will follow her example a couple years later. I am thereby always searching for quality Mandarin resources that provide practice in her second language as well as keep her interest.

A few months ago, I shared a delightful Mandarin resource for families learning Chinese, Miao Mi Educational Programs, a subscription service available through Amazon Prime Video. It has provided a fun way to integrate Mandarin language into our home – even for my teens!

miao miI am happy to announce that Celestial Tiger Entertainment has also launched a Miao Mi app. Now parents can easily immerse their young children in Mandarin language-learning just by using their tablets – perfect for an on-the-go lifestyle like ours.

The Miao Mi app features award-winning shows and games that reinforce language learning. It provides access to more than 500 videos including “Star Babies” and “Pleasant Goat” – popular children’s programs in Asia.

Children and parents with no prior exposure to Mandarin can easily pick up the unique sounds of Chinese just as well as those from Chinese-speaking backgrounds. The programs on the Miao Mi app offer an immersive experience for children at different stages of Mandarin language learning.

“We created ‘Miao Mi’ to give parents a wide range of entertaining and educational programs and games to help give their pre-schoolers a head start learning this increasingly vital global language.” ~ Todd Miller, CEO of Celestial Tiger Entertainment

Available on the App Store and Google Play, the Miao Mi app is free to download, and $5.99 per month to subscribe. A 7-day free trial is available.

To download the “Miao Mi” app, visit the App Store for iOS.  “Miao Mi” is also available in the United States through Amazon Prime Video on Amazon Channels for $5.99 per month. A 7-day free trial is available. For more information, visit www.miaomi-tv.com.

Miao Mi Educational Programs Delight Both Preschoolers and Teens

My children have been learning Mandarin Chinese since they were each five years old. We do not live in an urban area like Portland or San Francisco – so access to bilingual schools or immersion programs have not been available to us. We have thereby relied on the materials we could find online.

I was compensated for this review; however, all opinions are my own.
Miao Mi Amazon Channel Review @EvaVarga.net
This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission.

When we first began our journey with Mandarin, we struggled to find resources and materials that were targeted at second language learners. Much of the curriculum I found was directed at parents who spoke Chinese themselves and desired to teach their children their mother tongue. As I don’t speak Mandarin myself, I was at a loss and unable to assist them with instructions.

Over the years, the availability of materials has increased and I am continually learning of online learning resources, bilingual materials, and curriculum designed specifically for families like ours. When I learned of Miao Mi, an educational channel on Amazon, I was delighted to try out the material with my kids.

Miao Mi offers an excellent way to support language learning, and provides a Mandarin language immersion approach to learning a new language.

Miao Mi is Educational

Miao Mi is a collection of animated programs in both English and Mandarin. Each series is designed to educate and entertain through captivating animation, adorable characters, and clever storylines.

The target age for the Miao Mi educational programs is preschool and early elementary. I was therefore a little apprehensive about sharing the programs with my teens – I feared they would balk at the content and find the animation babyish. Much to my surprise, they not only enjoyed the animated storyline but were engaged in the language.

By writing and dubbing each episode in Mandarin and again in English (without translations or subtitles, using appropriate character voices) Miao Mi provides high-quality, entertaining, immersive experiences in both languages.

Miao Mi is a safe, ad-free channel or subscription based service provided by Amazon Prime presenting high-quality animations from Asia’s leading producers of children’s programs.

Miao Mi Amazon Channel Review @EvaVarga.netMiao Mi is an Immersive Experience

Miao Mi is designed to provide immersive language exposure for children who are learning Chinese (Mandarin). Most of the programs do not provide language instruction, rather they immerse the child in the language.

My teens enjoyed the programs, “The stories are really cute and it was easy to follow along.” Though they were familiar with most of the vocabulary, the words that were unfamiliar could be easily understood based on audio and visual context clues.

While prior exposure to Mandarin will help a child learn the language more quickly, the immersive experience of Miao Mi will provide an entertaining supplemental resource that extends the language learning experience.

For Amazon Prime members, ongoing access to the Miao Mi channel is only $5.99 per month.

Miao Mi is Variety 

One of the greatest benefits of Miao Mi is the diverse content. There are several programs to choose from – each of which offer multiple seasons and subsequent episodes.

The Miao Mi language learning video-on-demand service offers over 500 videos specifically curated for kids around the world.

Snakker du Norsk? Our Favorite Norwegian Language Resources

When I was very young, I would occasionally hear my great-grandparents speaking in a language I did not understand. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that they were speaking Norwegian. I would have loved to learn but Norwegian language resources were non-existent in my small community. When I started high school, the only language classes that were available were Spanish and French.

Norwegian Language ResourcesTechnology has changed dramatically since then and resources for language learning abound – language learning apps, flashcard apps, Pimsleur audio books, and even online classes with native speakers. I’ve compiled a list of our favorite Norwegian language resources here. Join me in learning Norwegian.

Norwegian Language Reference Texts

Norwegian language resources
Norwegian Verbs & Essentials of Grammar by Louis Janus is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to all interested in learning Norwegian. While teaching oneself a new language is made easier today with all of the various methods available, most fail to include lessons in grammar which are critical to truly understanding a language and developing fluency. This book is very thorough. It gives you the technical grammar explanation and then follows it up with numerous examples to reinforce the usage in practice. A quick reference guide for verbs in the back of the book gives you all the most commonly used Norwegian verbs in a table, each with infinitive, present, past and future tense. I love this!

Norwegian language resources

The Haugen Norwegian–English Dictionary has been regarded as the foremost resource for both learners and professionals using English and Norwegian. It is the first dictionary in any language to include both forms of Norwegian language, Bokmål and Nynorsk, in one alphabet and the first Norwegian-English dictionary to give the pronunciation of the Norwegian words. I highly recommend this dictionary.

Language Tip :: I regularly share an image on Instagram to introduce key words and phrases in Norwegian, #PictureNorsk. Follow along to learn new vocabulary with me.

My First English/Norwegian Dictionary of Sentences by Arielle Modéré is an excellent choice for young children. This dictionary provides a child-friendly introduction to learning Norwegian. It helps children learn vocabulary in the context of sentences or phrases. It is arranged by themes relating to activities in a typical child’s life and the colorful illustrations make meanings easy to understand.

Norwegian Language Lessons

Norwegian language resources
Beginner’s Norwegian by Laura Žiūkaitè-Hansen is a great audio resource. I enjoy listening to the conversation lessons and trying to repeat after each speaker while I am running.

Complete Norwegian is a decent resource for beginners. The audiofiles on the disk could be improved with pauses in between to process whatever was said.

Language Tip :: As your skills develop, a great exercise is to translate simple children’s stories into your target language. Alternatively, ask a native speaker to translate a favorite story for you and then memorize the text.

Norwegian in 10 Minutes a Day is a great beginner’s guide to learning the language. The accompanying CD has some very nice activities but they are limited to only a few subjects.
Norwegian language resources

Norwegian Literature Books

While researching Norwegian language resources for this post, I discovered The Mystery of Nils. It is the story of a doll called Nils, inspired by the traditional Norwegian mythical creature, who leads a happy life with his new family in Oslo. But due to an accident, Nils finds out that he means a lot more to Erna, the little girl to whom he was gifted, than just being a birthday present. Without knowing it, he has been carrying a painful secret, and during an adventurous trip to Northern Norway, he helps Erna to make one of the most important decisions of her life.

Norwegian language resources
The authors, have carefully selected the most frequently used words in the Norwegian language and made sure that the story is primarily made up of them. Separate texts and exercises focus on conversational topics are designed to help you learn the language. While I haven’t yet had the pleasure to read this book, the glowing reviews on Amazon prompted me to purchase it straightaway and I look forward to its arrival very soon.

Norwegian language resourcesAnother delightful book series, Karsten og Petra by Tor Åge Bringsværd and Anne G. Holt, is written specifically for children. We purchased Hilser På Kongen, about Norway’s national holiday, Syttende Mai, while we were traveling in Norway. The illustrations are lovely and the text is very descriptive.

Language Tip :: Ask a native speaker to record him or herself reading aloud a children’s story so you can listen along with the audio.

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Your Ancestral Heritage @EvaVarga.net

Norwegian Music

Learning a new language can be challenging but it is also very fun. While we are not yet fluent in Norwegian, we do know many phrases and delight in singing songs that we have learned over the years. Music is a fabulous way to engage youth in language learning. I have shared a few of our favorites here on the blog:

Returning home from heritage camp, my daughter also shared with me a few Norwegian artists that she discovered: Alexander Rybak, Nico and Vinz, Hillbillies, and Innertier. Here’s one favorite (with lyrics), Du Er Ung (“You Are Young”):

You will also find a wealth of language resources for young children on YouTube. I have recently learned that Karsten and Petra have their own videos!! Their first film series was Casper and Emma-Best Friends (2013) with Nora Amundsen and Elias Søvold-Simonsen in the lead roles. The film follows the two everyday with their soft toy Miss Rabbit and Lion Kid. As of 2016, they have produced four movies and a TV series, a fifth film is expected in 2017.

Norwegian language resourcesWith Amazon Music Unlimited, you can listen to a wide range of Norwegian songs from their movies and TV series. Alternatively, you can purchase individual titles for just .99¢  Their films are also available on Amazon in BluRay or DVD.

Norwegian Movies

Movies can be one of the best tools for learning a language. Not only do films in other languages help develop language skills, foreign films enrich a student’s background by developing understanding and creating sympathy for others. There are online resources for foreign films, but finding them is not always easy.

Norwegian Children's Movies

Kidflix Global is working to make foreign films for children more accessible to American audiences. Thus far, we have purchased two Norwegian films, “Magic Silver” and “Wolf Summer” and have been overjoyed with both.

Language Tip :: Watch familiar movies without subtitles and the audio in your target language, if possible.

Netflix and Amazon both have a wealth of foreign films – but not all are suitable for young children. You may wish to preview them in advance.

Language Resources for Kids from Around the World (2)

High School Forecasting: Coordinating Schedules, CLEP Exams, and College Courses

Fall term is nearing an end. Many students are preparing for final exams as well as forecasting with their advisors and thereby registering for winter term. My daughter, Geneva, is amongst them.

She has really enjoyed taking dual enrollment courses on the college campus these past few months and has worked very hard to assure she completes two consecutive courses within the 10-week term. Come winter term she will enroll in two courses – Intermediate Algebra (Math 95) and English Composition (Writing 121).

high-school-forecastingHigh School Forecasting

Her goal is to complete the degree requirements for an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree simultaneously with her high school diploma. While no easy feat, it can and has been done by homeschoolers and public school students across the state.

As at least one of the courses she will take winter term is transferable to a four year university, it is important that we work alongside an advisor to ensure the courses are counted for dual enrollment. We’ve made an appointment and look forward to sharing the four-year plan we have put together.

Course Load and Schedules

I opened our forecasting discussion by first describing the degree requirements for the transfer degree as well as the course list for a degree in engineering (a field in which she has expressed interest since she was a young girl). She then shared the goals she had for herself and what she hopes to accomplish over the next four years.

This FREE customizable spreadsheet provided the skeletal structure for her four year plan. Thank you, Heidi!

High School 4 Year Forecasting Plan

Together, we looked at the course descriptions for each of the classes she was interested in and thereby narrowed down her choices. In addition, we read the prerequisites carefully to ensure there would be no surprises along the way.

Four courses chosen from at least two disciplines including at least three laboratory courses in biological and/or physical science are required for Science & Mathematics.

With the prerequisites and an engineering degree in mind, her choices include a year of General Chemistry, a year of Physics with Calculus (must be taken concurrently), and two terms of Geology. We thereby plugged each of these into the four-year plan assuring that she would take no more than two courses per term at the college.

In addition, the course load during her senior year in high school is relatively easier than the preceding two. This will provide a little cushion and time for scholarship essays and other unforeseen hoops she may have to jump through.

Foreign Language Requirement

In Oregon, there is a foreign language requirement for admission to a four year university:

[Transfer] students who graduated from high school in 1997 or later must meet a foreign language requirement with either two years of high school level study in the same language or two quarters/semesters of college level study with a minimum grade of a C- or better.

While she is fluent in Mandarin (having studied the language since she was 5 years old), as an independent homeschool, Academia Celestia is not an accredited institution. She will thereby be expected to take a foreign language course at the college or demonstrate proficiency by passing an exam.

While she hopes to someday learn additional languages (and may yet decide to take a college level course), she will most likely choose this option. Her ultimate goal is to study abroad in China and earn a minor in Asian Languages and Culture.

CLEP Exams

In addition to the course work and requirements described above, there are several foundational (Writing, Communication, and Health & Fitness) and Cultural Literacy requirements.

Four courses chosen from two or more disciplines are required for Social Sciences. Three courses chosen from two or more disciplines are required for Arts & Letters.

For Social Sciences, she selected a fascinating Anthropology course and a course suggested for Engineering students, Economics. To earn addition credits (9) for History 201, 202, and 203 she plans to take the CLEP exam in United States History.

While English 104, 105, and 106 are not required for the AA degree (she chose alternatives in Art and Philosophy), she may also choose to take the English Literature CLEP exam to earn credit (9) for these courses.

What We’ve Chosen for 9th & 7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

When we first began our homeschool journey, my eldest was just entering primary school while my youngest was toddling around after her. I had done a lot of research in the early years and had selected curriculum that remarkably worked very well for us during the elementary school years.9th 7th curriculum

As they approached middle school, I made a few adjustments but essentially we stayed on the same path. Our curriculum choices have always been inspired by Charlotte Mason, with leanings to Classical Education and Unschooling. I am really excited about this new school year (2016-17). It brings the biggest changes to our curriculum choices as well as our schedule and approach to schooling at home.

Curriculum We Use Now for 9th & 7th Grade

Language Arts

Until this year, the kids have always done their language arts studies together. We have used Writing with Skill, Brave Writer, and most recently, Cover Story.

Jeffrey is excited to begin One Year Adventure Novel, developed by the same author as Cover Story. The video-based, self-paced writing curriculum guides students step by step through the process of writing a compelling, fully structured novel in one school year.

Geneva will be going in a new direction. After much research, we opted to try Excellence in Literature series by Janice Campbell. She will begin with Literature and Composition: English 2 as she is already a strong writer. We also purchased the Handbook for Writers as a guide along the way.

math curriculaMath

This is the area that is perhaps undergoing the biggest change. Jeffrey will continue with Life of Fred as the format works well for him and he is having success. While Geneva has worked through most of the Life of Fred books (through Advanced Algebra), there are still concepts that are difficult for her. Read more of our experiences with Life of Fred here.

Recently her girlfriend informed her that she had taken the math placement test at the local community college and encouraged Geneva to do the same. While she had had success with Mr. D’s Math and we’d considered pursuing this further, ultimately she wanted to be with her friend. { I’ll address this again in extracurricular activities below. }

History & Social Studies

We are taking a major step away from our usual world history. In preparation for a family trip to New England later this fall, we’ve jumped into a fully immersive program, focusing on All American History. We are very excited as it provides opportunity to explore American Art History as well as American government.

As a part of the Scouting merit badge system, we are also working through the requirements for the three Eagle required citizenship merit badges: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World. Even if you are not members of Scouts, you can download the workbooks and work through the assignments independently. They are great course outlines and enrichment activities.  { I’ll further discuss Scouting in extracurricular activities below. }

Science

This year, we are using the NOVA awards program and Scouting merit badge system as an outline for our studies. It allows us to design a program specific to our interests and skills level. I will also continue to write my own science curriculum and seek out a variety of citizen science opportunities for us as a family.

Foreign Language

We will continue to work on developing their fluency in Mandarin. Our tutor is AMAZING and we’ve all learned so much from him. He uses Better Chinese curriculum but often supplements with materials he develops himself.

Geneva has opted to begin a third language. She hasn’t quite settled on one yet and thus I have encouraged her to study Latin for at least one year – mostly for familiarity with word roots. She has a passion for natural sciences so an understanding of Latin will help her as she pursues higher level biology courses.

fall recitalPerforming Arts

The kids have had some experience with theater and dance. While they enjoyed it, it is not a passion or an area they intend to pursue. We thereby focus on instrumental music. Geneva plays violin and Jeffrey piano.

They work with a private instructor once a week and beginning this year, they will take part in an ensemble. We are very excited about this opportunity because they have not had previous experience playing with others. They struggle to play pieces together so this will provide them the skills they need for success.

Passion Projects

As the kids have gotten older and more independent, they have begun to pursue topics of interest to them individually. We call these passion projects. What they learn and how they choose to develop their skills in this area are entirely up to them. I do try to encourage them to keep a log or record of the books they read and the tutorials they watch, however. They are also beginning to document their growth in an online portfolio.

Fine Arts

Geneva is most interested in art. She wants to combine her passions for art, nature, wood working, and architecture. She dreams of converting a shipping container into a mobile tiny house / art studio. To pursue her goals, she takes many art classes, volunteers at the art museum, visits with artists whenever possible, and has even helped her grandfather build her bed (with dimensions specific for the loft in her tiny house).

Coding & Programming

Jeffrey is a gamer and he absolutely LOVES Minecraft. Through this platform he has custom coded his own online server, developed websites (one for his server and another for his Scout troop), and has a growing YouTube channel whereby he edits a variety of gaming videos. It is no wonder that the programming merit badge was one of the first he earned.

independentstudyExtracurricular Activities

We live in a small coastal community. While there are homeschoolers here, we have connected with only a couple of families. In our previous two communities we had built connections with a large circle and enjoyed numerous social outings – field trips, lake days, enrichment classes, and nature outings.

While many of these were in fact organized by me – my kids have insisted they do not want me to take on so much. On top of that, I have returned to work part-time as a substitute teacher so I just don’t have the time.

Swim Team

Both kids continue to take part in swim team. While we enjoy athletics for the fitness and connections we build with others, we don’t schedule our lives around sports. If a swim meet works in our family calendar, we may take part. We have noticed a significant difference between our SOAR team and our new team, however. This may be due in part to the fact that our head coach retired earlier this year and thus our team is undergoing a major transition.

Scouts

What is most exciting is Scouting. I had long desired Jeffrey to join Boy Scouts but intentionally waited until he turned 11 years. So many boys who are active in Cub Scouts do not continue when they enter middle and high school. Granted, this is mostly due to a heavier course load and interest in sports and cars. I was more fearful that he may get burned out.

He thereby joined in February and is now official Tenderfoot Rank. Our troop is small which is both a blessing (more opportunities for leadership) and a curse (most of the other boys are 15 years or older, Jeffrey is one of only three in middle school).

As he has worked through the rank requirements and merit badges, Geneva has often expressed interest. She has also taken part in many of the outings. I thereby began to research Venturing and Explorer Scouts. As we learned more, it became clear that Venturing was the perfect fit for her.

Her crew is also small and though we haven’t yet met the other girls (though it’s a co-ed program, her crew is all-girls), as the lead advisor described the personalities of each, we know it will be a good fit. We are both very excited. In fact, the girl friend I mentioned above will also likely be joining. :)Service Learning

Volunteer experiences have always been a major component of our homeschool. Scouting provides many more opportunities to serve our communities. Geneva will continue to volunteer at the art museum. Jeffrey will continue to volunteer at the retirement home and has encouraged his sister to join him. As a family, we will continue to partner with the estuarine research reserve.

Why We Homeschool @EvaVarga.netCurriculum We We’ve Used Previously

Last year, I outlined our curriculum plans for 8th and 6th grades. Just two years ago, Geneva was entering 7th and Jeffrey 5th. Our Curriculum Choices for Middle School were similar.

 

In the earlier years, our approach was much more relaxed. While we used curriculum in some subject areas (math, Mandarin, language arts, and history), we followed more of an Unschooling approach.

I am surprised I didn’t share more frequently what curriculum we were using. I wrote a little about our goals for 5th and 3rd here and 3rd and 1st here. As I didn’t make too many changes as the years progressed, I suppose I didn’t see the need to revisit. I regret this now.

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