Our AP Exam Experience: Chinese Language & Culture

In Oregon, students entering a four year university must have completed at least two years of a foreign language. As a homeschool, we are a non-accredited provider and therefore the language learning that my children have done with their private instructor is not recognized by four year institutions in Oregon. They must prove competency through examination.

Typically, there are multiple avenues or choices for credit by examination. The two most popular options are Advanced Placement® (AP) and the College Level Exam Program® (CLEP) – both of which are subject-specific credit-by-exam programs offered by The College Board.  Keep in mind, each university determines what tests are accepted and the qualifying score required.

Though my daughter will most assuredly apply to multiple institutions, her top choice is Oregon State University (OSU). It is an in-state school and both her father and I are alumni. Most importantly, the degrees she seeks (environmental and chemical engineering) are intertwined within the same college or department, rather than separate programs as is common at other universities.

OSU will accept either exam option. However, as there is no CLEP exam available for Mandarin Chinese, the AP exam is the best choice. The score required to prove competency on the Chinese Language & Culture AP Exam is a 2. If she scores a 3+, she would be awarded 15 credits and permitted to begin with upper division language courses.

Sophomore Year

We partnered with an umbrella school in the fall of the 2017-18 school year. While our reasons were varied (I’ve outlined them here), the school we partnered with promised it would make it possible for her to take the AP exam in the spring. None of the other area schools offered the Chinese exam – though any would likely be willing to secure it, I wanted an assurance.

The AP exam is offered only once a year on a predetermined date in May. In October, we began to communicate her intent to take the exam in the spring by both email and telephone. When April’s showers began to bring May flowers, we had given up hope that it was going to happen at all. We had received no confirmation of registration.

The week of the exam, we received a phone call that a make-up exam had been scheduled for the following week. Surprise!! We had no idea this was even a possibility. The school apologized and explained that this was the first AP exam they had the opportunity to administer (it is a relatively new charter school) and thus there was a bit of a learning curve.

We drove over to the school with few expectations. She had not taken a standardized test since grade school so our goal this time around was simply to gain some familiarity with the testing format.

Upon our arrival, we are informed that the “testing room” had just used been used to heat press t-shirts which accounted for the chemical odor that lingered. They opened a window but that only served to intensify the loud ruckus of students on their lunch break.

When I picked her up a few hours later, she complained of a headache and nausea. She is a strong test taker and yet was disappointed. “The fumes and noise made it difficult to concentrate. I began to feel queazy soon after we started but there was nothing I could do.”

Needless to say, she did not pass. No big deal. She could take it again the following year (she only submits . She and her Mandarin instructor began a focused effort immediately, using Barron’s AP Chinese study guide to prepare.

Junior Year

Since we first began Mandarin language instruction years ago, we have scheduled two classes each week. During this two hour block of time, each of the kids works with Shawn for one hour. Periodically, he incorporates cultural or cooking lessons whereupon it is a combined class but generally they work with him independently.

Over the course of the year, she would often have a focused two-hour block to work specifically on AP exam prep. With a familiarity of the testing format, she knew what she needed to do the second time around.

I also communicated more effectively our disappointment in the testing atmosphere to our umbrella school. While taking AP exams provides many benefits to students, it also reflects well on the school. I was certainly willing to overlook the concerns I had last year but did expect them to make improvements.

All her efforts were rewarded last month when we received her score report from the College Board. She passed! Her score was sent automatically to the community college where she is dual enrolled and 12 credits were awarded free of charge! Well, not exactly free. The cost to take the exam in the US is $94 – but that’s certainly much less than tuition.

Benefits of AP Examination

As I mentioned briefly above, taking an AP exam provides many benefits for students. I can’t recommend this option enough.

1. You save money on tuition

2. You will have greater flexibility in college and can potentially graduate early

3. AP classes impress college admissions officers

4. AP classes help develop college-level academic skills and increase your chances for merit aid

To clarify, taking an AP class is NOT required in order to register for and thereby take an AP exam. Whether you are working with a tutor or studying independently, you can still take the exams by simply arranging to test at a participating school or authorized test center. Learn more at I’m homeschooled. How can I take an AP Exam?

Tim Tim Tom Bilingual Books Teach Languages the FUN Way!

My children have been learning Mandarin since they were each five years old. We have been fortunate in that they have had the opportunity to work with a native speaker since the beginning. As a learning partner, I am always looking for resources to augment their language studies.

Image of a child reading a bilingual bookI especially love bilingual story books that provide them with rich text and an immersive storyline. While my own children are now teens and are more selective of their reading material, children’s books still provide a great way for them to practice reading in their target language.

Our Mandarin tutor has a family of his own now and we have enjoyed getting to know his daughter as we’ve continued our own language studies. When the opportunity arose to review the new bilingual books from Tim Tim Tom, I immediately thought of her.

Image of a child reading a bilingual bookI was most intrigued that the bilingual stories from Tim Tim Tom allowed for personalization. Not only is the text in the language of choice, but so is the character. I was able to customize the little girl in the story to look much like the little girl in my heart!

I had the book shipped directly to her and added a personal dedication to her in both languages. Her father shared with me that he read it with her when it arrived and that she looked at it herself throughout the day. “This girl is me! I just like Auntie Eva. She’s so nice.”

image of bilingual book covers labeling title and author Tim Tim Tom Publishing

Presently, they have three books (or adventures) currently available, each in either one or two languages of your choice.  You can simply order the book that you think you or your child might have the strongest connection.  As a volunteer at our local marine life center, my personal favorite is the underwater adventure so I chose it for my niece.

The ordering process is super easy. First, you choose the language or languages. I was then able to choose the name and the look of the main character as well as write a personal dedication.

As my niece is herself learning both Mandarin and English, I selected the dual-language option. Currently they offer the stories in TEN languages: Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese (Simplified or Traditional). You can choose any two of these to appear in your chosen book.

An illustrated image of children reading a book - the 2019 poster image for Multicultural Children's Book DayMulticultural Children’s Book Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year. It was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board! View our 2019 Medallion Sponsors as well as our 2019 MCBD Author Sponsors.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event.

Collage image of each of the Multicultural Children's Book Day Co-Host Team

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty Arab, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Biracial Bookworms, Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Descendant of Poseidon Reads, Educators Spin on it, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joy Sun Bear/ Shearin Lee, Jump Into a Book, Imagination Soup,Jenny Ward’s Class, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Raising Race Conscious Children, Shoumi Sen, and Spanish Playground

Twitter Party

Sponsored by Make A Way Media: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/25/19 at 9:00pm.E.S.T. They are giving away TONS of prizes and book bundles during the party.

Resources from MCBD

Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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)