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.

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.

Hanbridge Mandarin: Stepping Stones to Fluency

My kiddos have been studying Mandarin for years. For this reason, I am always on the lookout for resources to provide them with a rich experience.

When Hanbridge Mandarin reached out to me to review their online courses, I jumped at the chance.

Hanbridge Mandarin

I was provided a free trial of the courses as well as compensation for my time in writing this review.

The virtual classroom was easy to navigate and the instructor was excellent. A native speaker based in Shenzhen, China, she was able to customize lessons for both myself (a beginner) and my daughter (an intermediate/advanced learner).

I share more details in my HubPage, Hanbridge Mandarin: Stepping Stones to Fluency and encourage you to look into this great resource. For a limited time, they are also offering a significant discount via Educents:

Hanbridge Mandarin 4 Online 1-on-1 Lessons ~ Jump start your Chinese learning with online classes from native live Chinese teachers for a significantly reduced rate. Educents offers a package of 4 lessons for just $11.25 per lesson!!

Curriculum Plans for 2015-16 (8th and 6th grade)

This upcoming school year promises many new challenges and experiences for us. We are very excited to be moving back to Oregon, more specifically to the southern coast where Patrick and I both grew up.

While we will be surrounded by family, the transition will not be without obstacles. The homeschool community is much, much smaller compared to the previous two communities in which we have lived (Bend, Oregon and Redding, California). Therefore establishing connections may require a little more effort on my part.Our Curriculum Choices @EvaVarga.net

Geneva will be entering 8th grade this fall while Jeffrey will begin 6th grade. I will continue to teach the same material to them both. Their skills are relatively equal in most areas so as a homeschool mom of two – it works. Best of all, it requires less planning on my part.

Science & Nature Study

These past couple of years, I have been coordinating STEM Club for our local homeschool community. With our move, I have decided to step back from this for awhile and see what opportunities are available. My daughter has also expressed interest in volunteering at the local interpretive center as well as initiating a long-term study of the impact of invasive turtles on the local ecosystem.

As we will be living on the Oregon coast, the ecology is significantly different than that of the High Desert or the Central Valley and Cascade Foothills of Northern California. I am very excited to explore the area more in-depth with the kids. We will thereby be resuming our regular nature studies in conjunction with Barb’s monthly Outdoor Hour Challenges at Handbook of Nature Study.

Both kiddos have asked to learn more about astronomy so I will be putting together lesson plans and projects to follow their interests. Thus while I will continue to develop my own curriculum for science, we will be engaging in lessons independently rather than with a small group of other homeschoolers. I will also be require more reading of each of the kids. I will be using CK-12 Life Science and CK-12 Earth Science in addition to other free science curriculum I’ve found. 

Math

Life of Fred has been working very well for us since we transitioned from Singapore 6B a couple of years ago. Jeffrey is presently in the middle of  Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology. Geneva is using Advanced Algebra. When they struggle with a concept, we have used Khan Academy.

One of the biggest benefits of our move is being close to family. Patrick’s uncle is a retired high school math teacher. We will be reaching out to him in hopes of meeting once every couple of weeks to go over their assignments. This will be a huge relief for me as I always struggled with algebra myself. Additionally, we will be looking into the possibility of concurrent enrollment for math at the local community college.

Language Arts

Writing

As the summer was just getting started, we started using Cover Story which I had purchased at a discount from Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Cover Story takes middle school students – 6th through 8th grade – on a guided tour through the process of creating the content for their own magazine. In a single school year, students are led, step by step, on a fun, thought-provoking journey of exploration and creation. They write poems, short stories, non-fiction articles, letters, and many other short pieces. We’ve only just begun (having completed the first three weeks) but we look forward to jumping back in when the dust settles from our move. { Homeschool Buyers Co-op will again offer a GroupBuy savings for Cover Story on 07-27-2015. Save up to 20%. }

Literature

We utilized a few Brave Writer Boomerang single issues a bit last year. We liked it but I just didn’t follow through and plan ahead as I should have. I know I need to do better. My goal therefore is to create a plan or a list of books for each of the kids for the upcoming school year. I will be sharing more details on this when I’ve mapped it out better.

We will also begin an in depth study of the history of English utilizing King Alfred’s English.  This unique combination study of both English and history will provide a look at words, grammar, Shakespeare, the Bible, and language. The supplemental activities and materials (including primary sources!) provided on the website will help guide us – we are very excited to explore our language from this perspective.

Our Curriculum Choices: Mandarin @EvaVarga.net

Foreign Language

Fluency in a foreign language is very important to me. My daughter expressed her interest in learning Chinese when we were just beginning our homeschool journey so that is the path we have followed ever since. I have shared a little about How I Teach Mandarin previously. Though Shawn has moved across the country, we have had success with continuing our Mandarin language instruction via Skype or FaceTime.

We will continue to use Discovering Chinese Pro, the middle school curriculum developed by Better ChineseOur Road to Mandarin Fluency has been very rewarding as we’ve been able to travel to China as well as make life long friends. We have taken some time off these past couple months as Shawn was traveling back home to China, conflicts with summer camp, and soon our travels abroad. We plan to resume our regular twice a week sessions come late September.

At summer camp, the kids are learning Norwegian. I would really like to continue incorporating our ancestral language into our weekly lessons but I always slip up. Perhaps our move will ensure I stick with it. We shall see.

History & Geography

We love to travel and like most, we learn best by immersion and first-hand experiences. Thus, to really understand the history of ancient Greece and Rome (our focus this past year has been ancient times), we will be traveling abroad with Trafalgar. We will first spend ten days in Italy (Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, Assisi, and the Italian Lakes) followed by Athens and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. I will be sharing snippets of our trip along the way via Instagram and I’ll post more in-depth travel posts soon.

To prepare for our trip, we have been moving very slowly through Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World. We are only half-way through the book so we’ll continue to work through it upon our return. Hopefully, by January we will move on to the medieval times. So much for my original plan of following a four year cycle; it takes us 6 years!   How We Use North Star Geography @EvaVarga.netAdditionally, we will continue to incorporate activities from North Star Geography. Designed specifically for middle and high school ages, it is an engaging Geography curriculum. We are excited to continue with this program and will be creating our own world atlases (one of the many projects described in the companion guide).

Performing Arts

The kids are both adamant they want to continue to study music. I am confidant we will be able to find a piano instructor for Jeffrey. I am a little apprehensive for Geneva, however. The preliminary leg work I have done thus far has only generated one name and she is only available intermittently for one year as she is a graduate student and will be relocating at the end of the school year.

The community has a great lab band but there is youth symphony is not an option. I’ll have to reach out to the local schools to inquire whether they accept string instruments.

big book homeschool ideasThe Big Book of Homeschooling

To get tons of great advice, and move beyond the basics of academics, pick up a copy of The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas. Topics include active learning, inquiry science in middle school, learning with video games, using LEGO bricks for learning, teaching on the road, learning with movies, high school literature, and stamp collecting.

This book can carry you through all your years of homeschooling, covering the stages your children will mature through: preschoolers, elementary grades, middle school, and high school. As your life situation changes, you will find new chapters that apply to you. You can view the full table of contents to see all 103 topics!

 

Our Homeschool Planner

Working from home as well as homeschooling my kids requires me to be organized. As I have every year for the past six years, I will be using the Well Planned Day homeschool planner. I have tried a few others when we first began homeschool and I have perused others, yet I keep coming back to this one. It just works for me.

I love that it provides templates for meal planning as well as keeping track of the books the kids have read and an ongoing record of their grades. They have student planners available as well but my kiddos prefer that I send them an email each week. They thereby create a note on their iPad and delete each assignment as they go.

This post has been linked to the 2015 Not Back to School Hop.  Join the fun!