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:

Five Benefits of Online Classes & Five Classes I Recommend

Online classes are becoming more and more popular. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an online class is defined as “a formal education process in which the students and instructor are not in the same place.”

Online classes include pre-recorded tutorials and videos providing step by step instructions on a variety of topics. As they pursue their independent study projects, my kids have watched hundreds of these type of lessons on YouTube – whether she is learning to tie a new fly, improve her watercolor techniques, channeling his inner Indiana Jones, or learning to code a Minecraft plugin.

Online classes also include direct interaction with the instructor and occasionally live instruction either through a virtual classroom or occasionally through Skype. In fact, when our language tutor accepted a position in Indiana, our Mandarin classes transitioned from live in-person classes to classes delivered via Skype.

onlineclasses5 Benefits of Online Classes

Whether you are a seasoned homeschooler or your children attend public school, I have outlined five advantages of online learning that will persuade you to consider alternative approaches to education.

1. Learn Whatever You Want

The great variety of online programs and courses is a huge advantage of this type of education. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you want to study – you can always find a suitable course or even a degree program that you can follow from home.

2. Comfort

Forget about attending classes for hours and sitting in an uncomfortable chair. When you opt for an online course, all lectures and needed materials are provided via online platforms, so you’ll easily access them from the comfort of your home or via the subway as you commute into the city.

3. Self-Paced

Most online classes are self-paced. This means that the student can start completing the targets at any time and she can arrange a learning schedule that meets her individual needs. Many even allow access to the material for a year or more.

4. Less Expensive

While the actual cost varies from one program to another, online courses are generally always less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Many online courses are completely free of charge. MIT, for example, offers all course materials online without any charges. Though free courses don’t usually come with certificate of completion, they are still more than useful for anyone who wants to learn from prestigious educators.

5. Achieve Your Goals

Taking online classes allows you to work toward your goals at your own pace. As homeschoolers, this is something with which we are very familiar. Upon completion of online classes and tutorials, students can frequently take assessment tests to prove competency in the subject and even receive college credit.

Tips for Success

Not everyone has what it takes to succeed in the non-traditional setting of online classes. They will test a students self-discipline, time management skills, and ability to learn independently.

In face-to-face classrooms, there are reminders to finish projects or assignments. Frequently, students are graded for simply showing up and participating. This is not always the case in an online class. You should thereby learn to login regularly to see what has changed or been updated, or who has replied to your posts. This is especially true if the course is graded or provides a certificate of completion.

Online Classes I Recommend

Art History with Alisha

Art & Mixed Media

Mixing with the Masters is one of several mixed media workshops by Alisha Gratehouse that we have enjoyed. Each week, we receive an email with a private access code to a video lesson. The necessary materials are clearly outlined and a list is provided in advance. Upon receiving the email, we simply gather our materials and jump in.

What I love about these online workshops is that I can pause the video at anytime or “rewind” if I need to see a technique demonstrated again. With lifetime access, we can work on our art projects whenever we want and at our own pace.

In addition to the art lessons, Mixing with the Masters includes:

* A short biographaphical video on each artist
* Printable PDF study guides
* A weekly student “challenge”
* Printable patterns and templates
* Inspirational quotes by each artist
* Suggested books, videos, and websites for further learning
* Private Facebook group in which to share students’ works of art

Hanbridge Mandarin

Foreign Languages

We have had the opportunity to try a variety of online foreign language courses. Hanbridge Mandarin and Middlebury Interactive are our two favorite. While both are very different in their approach, they each provide opportunity for students to develop proficiency in a foreign language.

Hanbridge utilizes a virtual classroom and live interaction with a native speaker. Middlebury uses an immersion approach similar to the well known Rosetta Stone. Both incorporate videos, stories, and games throughout the lessons. Students are completely submerged in the new language from the get-go. They must listen, speak, read and write in the foreign language.

Bright Ideas Press

North Star Geography

North Star Geography, is written by Tyler Hogan and is designed to give students a deep understanding of how geography impacts all of us —with real-life applications for college, career, citizenship, and ministry. You will love the open ended approach that allows you to mold the program to how you homeschool. I love that the program is flexible – providing schedules for one-semester, one-year, and two-year options.

Whether you build your own atlas, create unique hands-on projects, dive into a research quest, or set off on a fieldwork itinerary, you will find North Star Geography packed with a wide variety of learning options for every student’s interests. My favorite components of the textbook are the sidebars that provided us with a variety of cultural diversions. We also loved creating our own atlas and geography picture dictionary.

Through the online class, each of the book’s 16 lessons is available to download individually, along with the activity directions, map work, memorization, research questions, and note-taking pages. When you’re done with the lesson, take the quiz online and get feedback instantly!

The North Star Geography Online Class includes:

* Hands-on activities and projects
* Map work, memorization, and geographic research questions (with answers!)
* Quizzes, a final exam, and a grading rubric for the homework
* Reproducible outline and reference maps, note-taking pages, and graphic organizers
* Audiobook version of the Student Reader

 

Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.netMr. D Math

Mr. D offers both Algebra I and Algebra II as well as a variety of other courses including SAT Prep. On a weekly basis, students work through the material and develop mastery of the math concepts, while also learning to manage their time, coursework completion, tests and grades.

My daughter loved the Mr. D Algebra 1 course. Her experience really helped to build her confidence.

I really like that every problem is worked out clearly. If I make a mistake, I can see where I went wrong and it helps me improve.

Mr. D Math Self-paced Online Curriculum includes:

* 12 chapters of video-based instruction (Mac and PC compatible)
* Coursework for each section of each chapter
* 12 chapter tests
* Two semester exams
* A comprehensive solution manual
* An online gradebook
* Enrollment in the Mr. D Math virtual learning center

Students who want guided instruction in addition to the Self-paced Online Curriculum can register for a full academic year of live Online Class Sessions via the Mr. D Math “virtual classroom” (August – May). Each class meets once a week, and there are several days/times to choose from.
The Mystery of History Online Academy

The Mystery of History 

The Mystery of History provides a historically accurate, Christ-centered approach to world history for all ages. In the online course, author Linda Lacour Hobar takes junior high and high school students through The Mystery of History Volume III: The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations in two online class options: live and self-paced (recorded).

The Mystery of History Online Academy includes:

The Mystery of History Volume III Student Reader and Companion Guide in e-book format
* Recorded weekly videos of live classes led by Linda Lacour Hobar to view at your student’s convenience
* Automatic quiz grading
* One full year of learning (18 months of course access)

LIVE classes of The Mystery of History Online Academy with Linda Lacour Hobar begin on August 30, 2016. There are two options 10-11am CST or 2-3pm CST, both on Tuesdays.

Learning Mandarin with Middlebury Interactive

Disclosure: I was given a free membership to Middlebury Interactive Foreign Languages Middle School Mandarin Course in exchange for a thorough review.  I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. As always, what I share about the product is from my own perspective, and are my honest opinions of the product. 

middleburyMy daughter first expressed interest in learning Mandarin when she was just five years old. It is actually one of the reasons we initially embarked on our homeschool journey. As such, Mandarin is a major component of our homeschool.

In the fall of 2013, we even had the remarkable opportunity to travel through China as a family, Discovering China. Though we had traveled aboard previously, our experiences in China were so incredible – inspiring my children to approach their language studies with more diligence and vigor.

In the years since she first began lessons, we have tried many different programs and used a variety of supplemental resources. In our ongoing quest, we seek out interactive programs that will hold a child’s attention and make learning fun. This is critical to sustain interest long-term.

The Middlebury Interactive program does just that, using an immersion approach that incorporates videos, stories, and games throughout the lessons. Students are completely submerged in the “new” language from the get-go. They must listen, speak, read and write in the foreign language.

The immersion learning method can be a bit frustrating at first, which Geneva quickly discovered. Though a list of vocabulary words was given at the beginning of each unit, the English translation was not. Not being accustomed to this, it took her a little time to get comfortable with the new format, but she was on her way in no time.

Her initial frustration could also stem from the fact that since my daughter has had significant experience with Mandarin language and also works with a private tutor twice a week, rather than start at the beginning (which would be the most logical) we opted to select lessons that coordinated with the content or vocabulary that aligned with the lessons she was doing with her tutor. In doing so, there were some vocabulary words that she was not familiar.

middlebury2One of our favorite components of the program are the Journal Assignments that ask students to write a response to a variety of prompts and to make cultural comparisons. In the unit on clothing, the journal assignment instructed her to write a few sentences describing what she was wearing. The instructions stated to use pinyin but over the years, she has learned how to type pinyin in her word processing program which coverts it to characters. Here is a peak at what she wrote for one of the lessons:

A:你好!你好吗?

B:你好!我很好。你呢?

A:我马马虎虎。你今天穿什么衣服?

B:我今天穿牛仔裤,灰色的衬衫,咖啡色的夹克,和一双黑色鞋子。你呢?

A:我今天穿黑色的裤子,蓝色和黑色的上衣,和一双白色的鞋子。我昨天穿衣服很美丽。我昨天穿很多颜色的套装和一双白色的鞋子。我昨天也戴白色的围巾。你喜欢吃西瓜?

B:我爱吃西瓜。再见!

A:再见!

The Cultural Lesson for this unit was on the Sichuan province. Geneva was excited that the video mentioned spicy hot pot – one of our favorite dishes. It had her taste buds tingling and she insisted we make hot pot for dinner. Her uncle joined us that evening and she delighted in trying to teach him some of the vocabulary for the ingredients we had selected.

  • 火锅 Huǒguō – Hot Pot
  • 白菜 Báicài – Bok Choy
  • 莲藕 Lián’ǒu – Lotus Root
  • 肉 Ròu – Beef
  • 虾 Xiā – Shrimp

One of the course objectives is a Life-long Learner Assignment whereby “students are required to create a plan for incorporating Chinese into their daily lives. They accomplish this by outlining the long-term benefits of learning Chinese, by making goals for what they want to accomplish with their mastery of the language, and by creating a plan for accomplishing their goals.”

This is one of the areas Geneva has been working on with her tutor. I was impressed that the Middlebury Interactive online language program incorporated this into the course and I am excited to continue using the program as she progresses in her Mandarin studies.

Online Foreign Language Courses

Middlebury Interactive offers several language courses. The courses are available with a support teacher ($175 per student/semester) or without a support teacher ($119 per student/semester).  There are lessons available for Elementary K-2, 3-5, Middle School, High School and AP (Advanced Placement). Check each course for level availability.

  • Mandarin Chinese
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish

Middlebury Interactive is a great option for those looking for a foreign language option for homeschool. The interactive elements of the program makes this a great resource for homeschoolers. My kids love learning new languages and Middlebury made lesson planning easy. Here’s a peak at Middlebury’s middle school course:

The first year Mandarin course is divided into two semesters of 9 units. Within each unit are 10 lessons that guide the student through the material with quizzes and semesters finals. Each lesson has a series of activities designed to introduce new words and phrases, reinforce the goals of the lesson, and offer an audio recording so the student can hear the correct pronunciation and usage.

One of the best parts of the program is the Speaking Lab that allows the student a chance to hear the word/phrase, record themselves saying the word/phrase, and then go back and compare the two. In this way a student can hear for themselves if they need to correct their own pronunciation.

The course includes a daily Calendar that is already set for you. However, if you’d prefer to work at your own pace, you can access any of the lessons through the Table of Contents. This was particularly useful for my daughter as she was able to navigate to specific lessons and thereby coordinate the material with her tutor.

Geneva’s favorite part of the Mandarin course so far are the matching activities and flash cards, “The games are really fun!”  She also enjoys the videos with native speakers interacting, as it not only gives her an idea of the tones to mimic, but it also reminds her of our family holiday in China a year ago.

Middlebury Interactive Giveaway

Middlebury Interactive is giving away 10 One Semester courses. The winner can choose the language and level. The value is $119 per semester. Please note that by entering you agree to give your email to Middlebury Interactive for their mailing list. 

 All courses are digital, so no shipping is needed, and the giveaway is open to anyone in the world.

 Middlebury Interactive is also offering a 10% discount for homeschoolers on their initial order. Simply use this code; HomeSchoolFirst10 at checkout.

Connect with Middlebury Interactive

Follow Middlebury Interactive on your favorite social media. By connecting with them you will get regular updates, information about their products, encouragement for learning foreign languages as well tips and ideas.

It’s always a blast chatting about homeschool.  You can also join the bloggers from the iHomeschool Network as we welcome +Middlebury Interactive Languages as our featured guest in a Live G+ Hangout on October 16, 2014 9:00 p.m. Eastern.