Mastering Mandarin Language with eChineseLearning

Learning a language can be an experience that transforms your life. It provides a competitive edge in career choices and opportunities for personal enrichment through travel and building relationships with new friends.

In our homeschool, my children chose to learn Mandarin Chinese at an early age. It has since become a focus of our curriculum. Recently, my daughter prepared for the Chinese Language and Culture AP exam and now my son has taken on the challenge.

I received access to an eChineseLearning class in exchange for an honest review and I was compensated for my time writing the review. All opinions are my own.

One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to work with a native speaker. A native speaker provides you with the opportunity to learn a variety of useful phrases, sentence structures, vocabulary, and the proper tones. The more you engage with native speakers, the more you learn.

This rule has been proven to be effective for many language learners. I am confident it is the reason my daughter was successful. Finding a native speaker is not always easy, however. Especially if you live in a rural area as we do.

I have picked up a few Chinese phrases over the years. I have always wanted to learn more though. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a short conversation with my kids in their target language?

Learning Mandarin with eChineseLearning

I was delighted to learn of the online lessons available through eChineseLearning. Perhaps now I could begin to learn what the kids are saying when I hear 妈妈 (māmā)?

My first lesson was with Bonnie. It was just like sitting down for a cup of tea in our favorite coffee shop. Meeting for the first time, our conversation focused on getting to know one another as she gently corrected my pronunciation and guided me to express myself.

I had explained in advance that my goal was conversation, it was less important for me to learn how to read the characters as I know I do not have the time to invest. I simply want to be able to chat.

E: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.)

B: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.) 你好吗? (Nǐ hǎo ma?)

E: 我很忙,我很好。(Wǒ hěn máng, wǒ hěn hǎo.)

Bonnie pointed out that the conjunction 但 (dàn) would be useful in this situation to join these two sentences together. I listened to her example and repeated,

E: 我很忙,但是我很好。(Wǒ hěn máng, dàn shì wǒ hěn hǎo.)

B: 你是美国⼈吗。(Nǐ shì měiguó rén ma?)

E: 对。(Duì.)

Positives of eChineseLearning

Our lesson continued for thirty minutes though a typical lesson is 50 minutes in total. We took turns using the vocabulary intermittently as either a statement or a question.

She did a great job of allowing the conversation to flow as naturally as possible considering I know very little. She was able to scaffold the lesson and made adjustments to the lesson according to my needs and level of understanding.

As a VIPKID teacher, I am familiar with online language learning. Just as my students have a workbook from which they can study between our online lessons, eChineseLearning provides textbooks. With guidance from the teacher, a study plan is crafted.

Students have the option book their lessons with a favorite or regular teacher but are also encouraged to work with a variety of teachers to develop their listening comprehension skills.

I was very impressed with the quality of the lesson and am excited to continue developing my Chinese language skills.

Negatives of eChineseLearning

While eChineseLearning is good in many ways, it has disadvantages too. All their lessons are conducted with a teacher on a one-on-one basis, so I have to say they are not cheap. It might not be suitable for you if you do not want to spend a lot of money on learning Chinese. However, if you are very serious about learning Chinese and have a strong specific goal, eChineseLearning is definitely worth a shot.

Stay Strong Campaign

eChineseLearning students and teachers send their wishes for people fighting the coronavirus around the world. I was touched when I watched this video – they want everyone to know that we are not alone.

Best wishes for people fighting the coronavirus around the world!

This is a great time to begin language lessons. Currently, eChineseLearning provides three campaign offers:

#1 Not Satisfied with a Lesson? Don’t Pay for It!

If you are not satisfied with a particular lesson and your request is reasonable, eChineseLearning will provide you with a free make-up lesson.

#2 1-Month Free Lessons to Give Away

If you purchase or upgrade a course package during the campaign period, you will get an extra month of lessons (two lessons per week) for FREE.

This offer is valid for new, current and former students.

#3 Refer a Student and Get Two Months Free Lessons and $100 Credit

If you refer a student to eChineseLearning during the campaign period, you will get extra month of FREE lessons on top of the existing rewards (1 month Free lessons plus US$100 credit), which means you get 2 months of FREE lessons and US$100 credit in total.

What are you waiting for? Come join me. ⾛吧! (Zǒu ba!) – Let’s go!

Muévete con José-Luis Orozco: Songs for Healthy Bodies

One of the most enjoyable ways to learn or practice a foreign language is through music. Folk music and children’s artists like José-Luis Orozco are a great place to begin for young language learners.

Although my children are fluent in Mandarin, I myself, am fluent in Spanish. I began my own language journey when I was in high school and I continue to develop my language skills today.

When I was first learning Spanish, one of my class assignments was to memorize the lyrics to La Bamba. I had to work in the evening so I wrote the words out on paper and taped them to the wall where I could see them. As I worked I would look up and read a couple of lines and repeat it to myself several times. I would then add another couple of lines and repeat this process until I had the entire song committed to memory.

The movie, La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips had been released that year and the song was popular on the radio. Having learned it so well in high school, it became my “go to” song at Karaoke a few years later in college.

When the kids were little, we would borrow music CDs from the library featuring artists from the cultures we explored in our geography club.

Getting to Know José-Luis Orozco

One of my favorite children’s musicians is José-Luis Orozco. Born in Mexico City in 1948, Orozco grew fond of music at a young age. He learned many songs from his paternal grandmother.

José-Luis Orozco playing the guitar as he leans under a tree.

I received a copy of Orozco’s new CD, ¡Muévete! Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through which I will earn a small commission.

At the age of 8, he became a member of the Mexico City Boy’s Choir. He traveled the world to perform and gained the cultural knowledge he now integrates into his music.  

Orozco moved to California when he was 19 years old and earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He continued his education at the University of San Francisco earning a Master’s degree in Multicultural Education. 

After completing his Master’s program, José-Luis dedicated himself to what he truly enjoys — singing and writing for children. He began performing for children and included bilingual songs in his repertoire even though his audiences were not Spanish speakers.

Award Winning Music & Bilingual Books

In 1971 he signed with Bilingual Media Productions label and released the first of 13 volumes for children, Lirica Infantil: Latin American Children’s Music. The album featured classic songs from Mexican, Central, and South American culture,  including Guantanamera and Los Pollitos. 

He has also written several successful award-winning bilingual books that feature an extraordinary collection of songs, rhymes, tongue twisters, lullabies, and games from various Spanish-speaking countries. His DVD releases feature live action and animation – all celebrating Latino culture.

  • De Colores (Dutton 1994)
  • Diez Deditos (Dutton 1997)
  • Fiestas(Dutton 2002)
  • Cantamos y Aprendemos con José-Luis Orozco (2003)
  • Rin, Rin, Rin…Do, Re, Mi (2009) 

¡Muévete! Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

Earlier this month, his latest CD was released, ¡Muévete! Songs for a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body, produced by Smithsonian Folkways. 

This new album promotes fitness for children. It is the perfect complement to his earlier release, ¡Come Bien! Eat Right!, which promotes healthy eating habits.

Amongst the 18 bilingual tracks is Clap, Tap, Tralalá an original song by Orozco, encouraging kids to express themselves through movement and to learn new words.

Caution! His lyrics are catchy! I find myself singing this Clap, Tap, Tralalá as I go about my chores in the house. I know kids will love his music!

5 Great Board Games to Boost Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a very important skill to have for multiple different areas of your life. It will help you at your job, at school, and even in your personal relationships. While there are many different ways to build up your critical thinking skills. One of the most enjoyable and exciting is playing board games.

However, not all board games will boost up your critical thinking skills, despite how fun they might be. So which board games are good for developing critical thinking skills? Without any further ado, today I share 5 great board games to boost the critical thinking of everyone from teens to adults.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through which I will earn a small commission. Reviews are done based on my own opinions of the quality of the products. All opinions are my own.

Dungeons and Dragons

While more of a tabletop game than a board game, Dungeons and Dragons definitely can help improve your critical thinking. It is a game all about crafting your character and working through your own adventure with your friends.

My daughter loves D&D! She explains, “I like being able to experience the fictional words I always dream about, creating unique characters, trying things out, and experiencing the repercussions of my decisions. It’s also fun!”

I think the role playing aspect is large part of the attraction. My daughter really gets into the game when she plays and even uses uniques voices for her characters. She has journals full of character sketches and notes on their abilities.

By rolling dice, the game throws numerous different problems and roadblocks at you, and you will need to decide upon the right action incredibly quickly. The game can help you make the right decision at high speeds, and also helps you think outside the box. It allows for a ton of creativity as well.

The game is easy to get started with as long as you have some friends and a set of dice. Dungeons and Dragons can be made even more exciting by purchasing fun accessories like game mats, dice trays, game master screens, and mini-figures. If you’re in the market for some colorful and unique dice for your Dungeons and Dragons journey, consider checking out D20 collective. I’m partial to the Druidic Dreams color scheme shown here.

Settlers of Catan

Catan is a wildly popular game that is played by tens of millions of people regularly. The game starts you off with a couple of roads and settlements, and you need to build that up to a whole civilization. Using a roll of the dice, you will eventually get the materials required to build your settlement.

The game is incredibly fun and rewarding, but can really test and improve your critical thinking. You need to always be aware of how many resources you have, the best ways to use them and whether there are any trades worth making. You need to come up with a strategy for how you’ll build the best civilization, while also making assumptions about the goals of others.

There are many versions available of Settlers of Catan including expansion sets, card games, and dice games (pictured above) .

Chess

Dating back hundreds of years, chess is one of the quintessential board games when you think of critical thinking. The game is played by two people, with the ultimate goal being to take out the opponent’s king piece. Each piece in chess can be moved a certain way and is unique from the other pieces on the board.

There are thousands of different moves that can be made and strategies that can be used. Chess relies a lot on using your mind, applying critical thinking skills. You need to think of the best and most optimal strategy for yourself. Using concentration, logical thinking, and focusing on the potential moves your opponent could make in response to what you do.

While there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to first playing the game, once you know the rules, it becomes easy. Chess is also great as it can be played by anyone, no matter your age or background.

For more critical thinking games, check out Hnefatafl and Kübb, two Norwegian games.

Mastermind

With a name like Mastermind, you just know that this game will be able to help boost your critical thinking. It is a game about breaking a code where one person creates a code, and the other tries to eventually break it over time. This takes a lot of critical thinking, deductive reasoning and helps to utilize and build up these skills.

There are well over 1,000 different patterns of colored pegs that could be chosen by the code maker, and the codebreaker has to start from nothing and use their critical thinking and reasoning to eventually decipher it. You need to think about not only choosing the right colors, but also eliminating the wrong ones on your journey to breaking the code.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is without a doubt, one of the most exciting games on the market and is also one that challenges you to think critically. The goal of the game is to connect train cars and fill railways across the map, trying to make links between specific places. The game is all about using logic and strategy to successfully build your connections, while also preventing others from doing the same.

Ticket to Ride is one of my family’s favorite games. We actually own three different versions – Asia, Nordic Countries, and Europe (including the expansion, 1912). In my post, Board Games & Fun, I share more of our favorites.

Ticket to Ride is a game with very simple rules, but can be played and won in several different ways. Some people might try to fill the largest railways possible to score points. Others will spend their game trying to stifle other people’s plans and focus on building smaller train connections. You have a lot of options and with numerous ways to connect different routes. You are free to play the game how you want.

In conclusion, these board games are great ways to not only have fun, but also boost critical thinking. What are your family’s favorite games?

Language Learning Resources: Linguacious

As we all adjust to this new normal, many of us are finding we have more time. More time to spend with our immediate family, tackle projects we have put off, and even pick up new skills. If you are like me, I have enjoyed the extra time at home so that I can focus on my language learning goals.

I received a copy of the book and cards in exchange for an honest review. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through which I will earn a small commission. The reviews are done based on my own opinions of the quality of the products, not because of the commission I receive from your purchases.

Linguacious – One Language at a Time

I love finding new language learning materials and I was overjoyed to discover the diversity of languages offered by Linguacious. Their print materials – books, games, and posters – available in 57 languages presently!

Our dream is simple: to ensure that all kids in this world can learn to love languages and have fun learning them. We want to publish our products in as many languages as our lifetimes will allow and help kids to become proud of their linguistic heritage and to appreciate the linguistic heritage of others.

The Linguacious team

Bokmål – Our Heritage Language

Language learning has always been very important in our family. Since the kids were toddlers, we have incorporated languages into our curriculum. Though Mandarin has been the primary focus, we have also desired to learn Norsk Bokmål,  our ancestral language.

Our Scandinavian heritage has also been an important part of our homeschool. As members of Sons of Norway, we strive to incorporate many cultural skills and traditions into our home.

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Bokmål resources currently available from Linguacious. Though presently only one book and flashcard set is available for purchase, their goal is to publish their materials in as many languages as possible.

Little Polygot Books and Flashcards

I enjoyed sitting with the Little Polygot book, At Home / Hjemme, and studying the vocabulary on my own. The Around the Home flashcards included much more vocabulary however and were thereby more challenging for me.

Finding time to study and develop my Norwegian language skills is sometimes difficult. I plan to carry the cards with me when I head out for errands or long drives in the car so they are handy.

The flashcards can also be used to play numerous games to make language learning both fun and challenging. Kids can also play several printable games with the books.

What I love best about the materials published by Linguacious are the audio files. Every word featured in the books and on the cards is accompanied by a QR code that will play an audio recording of a native speaker upon scanning it with your phone. You simply download the free app and scan as you go. Simple!

The audio files are also available on their website and are presented in alphabetical order in English (same order as in book) on the left column, and the equivalent word in the target language is found on the right column.

I was impressed to learn that Concordia language villages has recently started using their Norwegian books and flash cards for their Norwegian immersion programs. 

Where to Buy Linguacious

Linguacious is giving away two copies of their Scandinavian language materials – Swedish, Finnish, or Norwegian. To enter the giveaway, you must have a shipping address in the USA, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, or Canada. Those in the USA can win either a flashcard deck or a book. Those outside of the USA can win only books. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To purchase directly, use code LINGUA202015 to get 15% off on their materials, until May 1, 202. The books and cards are also available on Amazon.

Follow them on on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for game ideas and updates on new products and languages added to their product listings.

An Extraordinary Time: Homeschooling Yesterday and Today

When the kids were younger, you would often find us on the beach with Papa, meandering about the woodlands, or strolling along on the Deschutes River Trail just a stone’s throw from our home.

A common query from strangers was, “No school today, kids?”

“Nope, we’re homeschoolers! The shoreline is our school today!” the kids would shout in unison.

In shock or dismay the examination continued. “Oh, but … how can you,” they stammered. “I mean, you will still spend time learning, won’t you?”

image of a grandfather walking along the shoreline at low tide with his two grandchildren, text overlay reads: "an extraordinary time: a look at homeschooling yesterday and today"

Classrooms Today

We’re living in a most unusual time and I don’t mean just due to the worldwide pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. We are living in a time where most people consider learning to be directly associated with a small space inside four walls.

With pencils,
worksheets,
textbooks,
calculators,
whiteboards,
desks,
structure,
routines,
bells,
tests,
and grades.

Stop and picture a typical classroom today. In your mind’s eye, you likely see a group of children gathered by age as the primary criteria. At the front of the classroom, an often overwhelmed and overworked teacher delivering a prescribed lesson at a prescribed pace. A tight set of curriculum standards, assessment measures, deadlines, and accountability governing them all.

How is this scenario considered the gold standard for all students?

A specific, narrow definition of success that is taught early and reinforced often. A place where the pressure to perform and the fear of failure chip away at a child’s mental strength almost daily, exacerbated by the potential of that failure happening openly in front of their peers.

The One Room Schoolhouse

Growing up, my favorite television program was Little House on the Prairie. I loved Laura’s spunk and pictured myself as her regularly. I also loved the one room school house and wanted more than anything to be a school teacher just as Laura aspired to be when she was growing up.

While I never had the opportunity to teach in a one-room school, I cultivated this idea when I made the decision to homeschool my children in 2006. Homeschooling provided the means to surround my children with learners of all ages. More importantly, we were not confined by the walls of the classroom.

Last week, I binge watched Anne with an E on Netflix. I loved the series so much. I had of course read the books years ago but the actors in this version really touched me, especially Miss Stacy.

Miss Stacy, the forward thinking, fierce, and compassionate young teacher (portrayed by the actor Joanna Douglas) who brought new life into the Avonlea schoolhouse. This was me! This is me!

Back on the stream bank, among the ripples, wildlife, plant life, physical exertion, and fresh air … we observed, we experimented, we asked questions, and we learned.

None of what we were surrounded by matched the accepted definition of the best possible “modern” learning space. None of it looked like what learning was supposed to look like. Yet this was our classroom.

Homeschool Spotlight

Around the world, classes have been suspended and schools are locking their doors. In Arizona, the remainder of the school year has been cancelled and Oregon is considering the same decision.

Parents have suddenly found themselves thrust into educating their children at home. Parents are now desperate for activities and educational experiences to occupy their time. There is now a global spotlight on homeschooling.

While it is wonderful to have so much attention on homeschooling, we must be careful to recognize that most of us aren’t actually homeschooling. Even veteran homeschool families like myself. Not fully.

We are all isolated from the world around us. Home educated kids don’t spend their lives at home the way we have been asked to right now.

Six months ago, homeschoolers would be at the library, the swimming pool, an art gallery, at the beach, at the park, or exploring a museum. They would be at Tae Kwon Do, dance class, music lessons, or at drama school.

They were interacting with all the different people in all those different spaces, and the balance this gives is incredibly important to a homeschooling lifestyle. Right now, they are not doing any of this.

image of two high school students seated at a dining room table with a laptop computer and working collaboratively on a project

Homeschooling Tomorrow

I’m hearing from a lot of parents who are struggling. Admittedly, I am struggling. These are extraordinary times. Nothing about this is normal, homeschooling included.

Not surprisingly, families have reached out to me to inquire about homeschool. They are curious about our story and desire to learn more. While the present situation is challenging for everyone, I want to encourage you.

The curriculum we have used has changed as the kids have gotten older. Today, they are both dual enrolled at the community college and taking courses full time on campus (though spring term all their coursework will be delivered online).

Homeschooling has provided us with a rich life experience. Through it all, we have always strived for five things:

meaningful work
good books
beauty (art, music, nature)
ideas to ponder and discuss
imaginative play

It is uncertain where we will be six months from now. When we begin to return to some measure of normalcy, I hope some of you will choose to continue homeschooling. I would be delighted to go tide-pooling with you.

Queen Girls Inspiring Our Youth One Story at a Time

Some time ago I shared with my readers a series of books for young girls that I found both inspiring and uplifting, Queen Girls. The women featured in these short biographies are amazing – strong, determined, and courageous.

I am now delighted to announce two additional titles in this wonderful series: Junko, Queen of the Mountains and Marie, the Bright Queen.

Each of these books continues in the style of the previously published titles. The women featured in the books are of diverse ethnic backgrounds and their stories are brought to life through engaging stories. The soft, colorful illustrations are done by Denise Muzzio in a simple style that may even inspire your young artist to try to paint her own heroines.

The goal of Queen Girls Books is to teach our children that our diversity makes each one of us unique, equally capable of doing anything we set ourselves out to do. To encourage them to find their happiness, passion, drive and self-confidence from within. 

Marie, the Bright Queen! Inspired by the story of Marie Curie, the first woman to receive two Nobel prizes for her discoveries. She is known for her pioneering work with radioactive materials and the discovery of two new elements: Radium and Polonium. She was also the first female professor at a university.

I have put together a short unit study on Marie Curie which I outlined in my earlier post, Science Milestones: Marie Curie.

Junko, Queen of the Mountains! Inspired by the story of Junko Tabei, a Japanese mountaineer and the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, bordering Nepal and China. She was also the first woman to ascend all the Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent.

Whether you have girls or boys, these books will warm your heart and inspire your children. I encourage you to share them with your loved ones.

They can be found online at Queen Girls Books.

#queeengirls #childrensbooks #booksforgirls
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