Mandarin Archives - Page 2 of 4 - Eva Varga

December 3, 20162

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.

April 30, 2016

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!!

July 13, 20152

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

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. 


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


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%. }


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

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!

October 15, 20144
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:








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.


July 7, 201415

When we officially began homeschooling in 2007, one of the major driving forces behind our decision was my daughter’s desire to learn Chinese. She was just five years old at the time and thus we began our journey.

mandarinfluency1 Our Road to Fluency

Our first task was to find a native speaker. We were able to find a Mandarin Immersion Preschool right away and though she was the oldest in the class, we gave it a go.  After a year, it was clear that studying Mandarin was something she really wanted to do and we thereby transitioned to semi-private lessons (which she continued for four years).

Since then, we have moved to a new state and fortunately we were able to find another native speaker to continue her lessons. Upon our arrival here in California, my son also began to learn Mandarin – though he has grown to love it, in the beginning he wasn’t happy with our decision and would have preferred to continue his free time.  (What 6 year old boy wouldn’t want free time, right?)

My daughter has thereby been studying Mandarin for seven years, more than half her life.  My son has just three years under his belt but already, his skill nearly matches hers for we discovered soon after working with our new tutor that the former had not emphasized the tones well enough, had moved through the vocabulary very quickly, and that much had not been retained.

Better Chinese

I haven’t blogged very often here at Academia Celestia about our Mandarin lessons.  This is partially because my focus here is on science and our ancestral heritage.  Additionally, a couple years ago I began to blog for Better Chinese, the publisher of the integrated curriculum we use, and thus I share our Mandarin anecdotes there.   Better Chinese is designed to motivate students in non-native Chinese environments to start speaking Chinese.

My posts are meant to show how we as a homeschool family utilize the Better Chinese materials and other resources to develop our language skills.  If you are interested in reading any of these posts, I have conveniently gathered the links here for you (listed chronologically according to the date they were published – newest on top).  


I would be more than happy to write a post specifically addressing any questions you may have in regards to how we approach our language studies.  If there is something you would like to see .. don’t hesitate to leave a comment and let me know.  🙂

ForeignLanguageLooking for other languages or ideas on how to implement language learning? Visit the iHomeschool Network’s Foreign Languages in Your Homeschool linkup.


October 9, 20136

We’ve recently returned home from a family holiday in China and thus our study of the culture and language of this diverse country has been on the forefront of my mind.  Much of what we do in homeschool revolves around our Mandarin studies so I thought I would take a few minutes to share with you all a little of what we do.

How I Teach MandarinAs I sat down to write this post, however, I came to realize that my vision for how I teach Mandarin does not necessarily match with what we actually do.  We could do more.  We need to do more.  Our experiences in China proved that while the vocabulary is there – we still need more experience with practical application.

What We Did Then

When we first began our journey to learn Mandarin, I wanted a curriculum that had teacher materials in English as I myself do not speak or read Chinese.  When I found Better Chinese, I knew immediately that I had found what we needed.  The spiral-up approach allows students to review past lessons as they advance through the volumes in the series and the cute graphics and animations were captivating to my daughter, five years old at the time.  Most importantly, there was a large variety of supplemental materials available that corresponded to the textbook, thereby a strong potential for enrichment activities.


my first chinese wordsI thereby ordered My First Chinese Words, a series  for kindergarten and 1st grade learners with no prior exposure to Chinese. The set of 36 size-appropriate storybooks was a great introduction to the language and thereafter, we moved into My First Chinese Reader, a student-centric 4-volume, 48 lesson, curriculum that builds Chinese language and culture skills in a spiral-up approach.  When we first began our journey I honestly knew very little about teaching a foreign language.  Previously, my only experience was as a student myself.  Since then, I have learned a lot. The biggest impact, however, was changing tutors, a change that was brought about by our move.

What We Do Now

My kiddos meet with their language tutor (a native speaker) twice a week for an hour each.  Presently, they work with him one-on-one for an hour each session.  Thus, they each receive two hours of direct instruction each week.  Occasionally (generally once a month), when we do cultural activities, we join together in a small group. I love these days because I get to be a part of the lesson as well!

my first chinese reader老师 Shawn introduces each new lesson using the illustrated story in the textbook.  Sometimes he makes special activities related to the illustration that engage the kids in the vocabulary and get them moving physically – role play, games, drawing activities, etc.  For homework, he asks the kids to use the illustration vocabulary to create a conversation of their own.  The next session, they review the homework and move on to the activities in the text or additional activities that he has developed.  The workbook and textbook challenge activities are assigned over the weekend. Often they are also expected to practice reading aloud the conversation they composed earlier in the week.

If the written work is complete and time allows, the kids are expected to review their vocabulary words (they are encouraged to make and use flashcards in a variety of games).  Ideally, they are supposed to do Mandarin daily for at least 30 minutes each day.  Admittedly, this doesn’t always happen and as you can suspect, many times they wait until the last moment to complete their assignments – failing to review past vocabulary.

What We Will Do Next

When we were in China, we came to realize that while the kids have a strong grasp of vocabulary and can recognize perhaps hundreds of characters, they lack the ability to put these skills to work in real life.  This is in part due to their age and personality.  My son is more outgoing and though it took him a few days to feel comfortable, he engaged in numerous conversations in Chinese with local people we met during our travels.  My daughter, on the other hand, was more reserved.  I should have expected this because she is quiet and shy at home.  As a result, she spoke very little but was very helpful in providing me with the correct pronunciation for phrases that I needed – addressing the taxi driver, asking for directions, etc.

Upon our return home, 老师 Shawn was not surprised to learn of this and we discussed it in great detail as we planned the next academic year.  Our desire is to increase the practical application of their language skills and to encourage them to communicate more regularly with one another.  In addition, we will be incorporating reading assignments and oral presentations.

discovering chinese proWhile Better Chinese has materials for all grade levels, they recently released a new app for their upper level materials, Discovering Chinese.  Lessons in Discovering Chinese parallel the lesson progress in My First Chinese Reader, so students who began their Chinese learning with the My First Chinese Reader series can easily switch to Discovering Chinese once they enter middle school.  I love the flexibility of the new app – it provides a wealth of activities to practice their budding skills in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.  To learn more about the program, I have reviewed the app in more detail here, We Are Loving Discovering Chinese Pro.

I am excited about the possibilities that these new tools and our new approach will bring to our language curriculum.  I am confidant that so long as I stay persistent, their confidence and thereby their fluency will improve dramatically.


The bloggers of iHN are sharing how they teach their children at home. Browse other topics in the link up, How I Teach, and find the posts that best suit your situation.