Mandarin Archives - Page 3 of 4 - Eva Varga

October 7, 20136

I am über-excited about the new Discovering Chinese Pro app by Better Chinese.  As most of my readers are aware, we have been using Better Chinese curricula for our Mandarin studies for years.  I even blog about our language learning endeavors for them.

Discovering Chinese Pro review

For the past several years, we have been using My First Chinese Reader and have been anxiously awaiting the release of an interactive iPad program. Discovering Chinese Pro is the answer. Easy to navigate, engaging animations, and a variety of practical language skill applications.

Each volume in Discovering Chinese Pro contains twelve lessons and each lesson begins with the goals outlined clearly.  Upon reading through the goals, each lesson begins with a short animation. The material is presented in several formats allowing students with different learning styles to choose the method that is best (with or without pinyin, with or without audio, and with or without English translations).  The student even has the choice to use simplified or traditional characters and can apply this option to specific words or the entire lesson.

Tabs across the top divide the lesson into sections that allow the learner to easily jump to the desired section:  Language Notes, Culture Points, Practice, Homework, and I Can.

Language Notes

The Language Notes section of each lesson introduces in more detail the new lesson vocabulary, additional required vocabulary, and proper nouns.  Here, the words are defined and the characters, pinyin, and parts of speech are shown.  Students can tap on an icon to hear each word spoken aloud. Within ‘Language Points’, students are shown how to combine different characters for phrases and example sentences can be heard. ‘Language Tips’ points out short cuts or more commonly used phrases.

Discovering Chinese Pro

Culture Points

True of all the lessons in the series, the tab Culture Points helps put the lesson vocabulary into historical and cultural context.  Here students are introduced to China with idioms and photographs – bringing the Chinese culture to life.  In anticipation of our trip to China, I had selected two lessons from Volume 2 to review, Lesson 19 “Shopping” and Lesson 24 “Trip to China”.  These tabs were very valuable to me, providing a better understanding of the culture of China.


The practice section is split into six parts – pinyin, characters, listening, reading, speaking, and writing.   In the pinyin section you can practice pronunciation of the four tones, pinyin identification, and pinyin dictation.  In the character writing section, several characters are introduced that correspond to the new vocabulary introduced in the lesson.  Here, students can see the story behind a Chinese character, watch the stroke order animation, and try it themselves.

The next four practice sections work on the students’ listening, speaking, reading (split into reading comprehension and reading challenge), and writing skills (split into grammar exercises and composition).  The activities and practice applications vary with each lesson – ensuring the students are engaged and have ample opportunity to practice their budding skills in varied contexts.  In the speaking section of Lesson 24 “Trip to China”, students were asked to interview a friend about his/her recent trip.

One of the things I liked best about the Practice section was the partner and group activities.  In Lesson 19 “Shopping”, students were asked to set up a flea market.  Working in small groups, they were to decide upon a name, what to sell, categorize the items, create an inventory, set prices, determine if bargaining is allowed, and finally create a poster.  In Lesson 24 “Trip to China”, students were asked to pick a destination from a list of overseas trips and to create an itinerary to potential customers. As a group assignment, tasks were to be divided between students (transportation, food, activities, etc.).  In both scenarios, the students were to present it to the class.


The homework section provides additional opportunities for the language learner to test his developing listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills.  The listening section has three dialogues. The reading section has two short passages with characters only, followed by a few comprehension questions.  The speaking section asked the student to record an oral narration of the lesson animation.  The writing section provides grammar practice whereby students follow a specific sentence structure or pattern as they compose sentences of their own.  In addition, a composition activity is provided that varies with each lesson. In Lesson 19 “Shopping”, the student was asked to compose an email response to a friend regarding what she bought at the store.

Each practice and homework section has a prompt box whereby the student can record their audio reply and/or type their composition.  If desired, images can even be added for a multi-media approach.  As I know even less Mandarin Chinese than the kids, I love that the students can email their tutor their work for review.

To learn more about Discovering Chinese Pro, visit the Better Chinese website.  You may also wish to watch their Discovering Chinese Pro Demonstration to see how to navigate this app more thoroughly.

I received the Discovering Chinese Pro app in exchange for an honest review. I am very pleased to be a part of the Better Chinese Blogging Team. All opinions are my own.  Please see my disclosure policy for more information. 

June 12, 2012
I am continually amazed by the creativity of our new Mandarin tutor.  He is always coming up with innovative ways to keep the kiddos excited about learning another language – particularly when it comes to rote memorization or review of vocabulary.  He loves technology and frequently integrates the use of the iPad.  He has shared with us many fun new apps for Mandarin.  Most recently, he and #1 spent their instructional time texting one another back and forth.  It was impressive to see how much more comfortable she was conversing in this way.
Last week, we had an opportunity to go to San Francisco – one of our favorite cities.  In anticipation of this trip, he  devised a scavenger hunt to engage the kids as we explored Chinatown.  #1 was expected to do all of the “Must-do” assignments as well as 3 “Optional” assignments.  #2 was expected to do only 3 of the “Optional” assignments.  
San Francisco Chinatown Scavenger Hunt – Click on it to enlarge

To further integrate their assignment into our homeschool activities, I requested that they each complete the tasks on their own blog.  Here are links to their completed work:

#2 – not yet finished
Please consider popping over to their blogs and leaving a comment for each of them.  They love to hear from their readers and it sparks them to want to write more.  🙂

April 3, 2012

Educreations is a fabulous learning tool.  Their motto is, Teach what you know. Learn what you don’t.   Using the app for iPad or your browser window on your desktop, you create simple little videos that you can share with others.  You have the option of making the videos private and sending a link to specific people or you can make your videos public.  You can also browse the library of public videos on a variety of topics and skill level.

Educreations transforms our iPad into a recordable whiteboard that captures voice and handwriting and thereby produces amazing video lessons.  It is very intuitive – as simple as touching, tapping, and talking.  We were first introduced to Educreations by our Mandarin teacher, 老师。 I was immediately impressed with the technology and am excited to see how this tool can be used in education – there are so many ways this can be adapted to different learning tasks.

Example #1
老师 assigned a set of vocabulary words for my daughter and she was to practice writing the characters by creating a short video on Educreations.  She then sent the link to him and he responded with another video pointing out the characters she had trouble with.  Stroke order is important in learning Mandarin so in addition to writing characters over and over again – Educreations provides a way for teachers to check the order the strokes are done.

Here is a lesson she created on writing the characters for the numbers 1-10.  She created this one as a sample to assure she understood what she would need to do.  She has made this one public but most of her videos are private and shared only between her teacher and her parents.  Though we occasionally send links to her proud grandparents as well.  🙂

Example #2
老师 sends a link to a video he creates that has characters and graphic images or pictures.  The kids can then interact with his video by drawing a line to match the corresponding words and pictures.

Example #3
The student can create a video that incorporates photos and characters to tell a story about their trip to the market, how to make a recipe, or a fictional adventure story about a little hungry mouse.

March 2, 2012

I am amazed each week how much Mandarin the kids & I are learning. Our new teacher is awesome!  In the past, I was never quite sure how much Sweetie knew.  Come to discover, that which she did know … she pronounced poorly.  We’ve thereby been reviewing  A LOT.   Our teacher is great at keeping it fun … incorporating songs and cultural lessons each month.  This month’s song is about the months, similar to one that I first learned in Spanish:

30 days hath September
April, June, and November
Excepting February
When comes the time
Every Leap Year 
gives it twenty-nine.

Literal translation of the characters shown above:
First month big, second month small
third month big, fourth month small
fifth month big, sixth month small
seventh month big, eight month big
ninth month small, tenth month big
eleventh month small, twelfth month big.

In addition to the song above, he shared with us a little trick to tell which months have 31 days (大)and which have less(小).  Extend your left hand and beginning at the knuckle of the index finger, move to the left as you say the names of the month.

The 1st month (January) is on the knuckle of the index finger. The 2nd month (February) is in the groove  just to the left (between knuckles). The 3rd month (March) is on the knuckle and so forth to the 7th month (July) which is on the knuckle of the pinky finger.  From there, you move back to the index finger for the 8th month (August) and so forth once again.  Each time you point to a knuckle, it is a large month (大) 31 days.  Each time you point to the space or valley between, it is a small month (小) 30 days, or in the case of February 29 or 28 if a leap year.

January 30, 20121

As students of Mandarin, we celebrate Chinese or Lunar New Year.  The biggest event during Chinese New Year is the family dinner on the eve of the lunar new year.  The dinner consists of dumplings (represents wealth), fish (for abundance), and new year cake (for prosperity).  Children receive ‘red envelopes’ or (Hóngbāo 红包) with money inside as blessings.


Chinese New Year is a time when families and friends wear new clothes from head to toe (symbolizes a new beginning in the new year) and greet each other. Traditionally, people would set off firecrackers to scare off the mythical beast called Nian 年.

This year, the kids learned a song as well (sang to the tune of Ol’ My Darling). It was such a fun lesson. We had earlier learned to sing Silent Night in Mandarin and thereby we had that melody in our heads, causing us to goof up occasionally (hence his comment at the end of the video).


新年好呀, 新年好呀


我们唱歌, 我们跳舞


xīn nián hǎo ya
xīn nián hǎo ya,    xīn nián hǎo ya
zhù hè dà jiā xīn nián hǎo
wǒ men chàng gē,    wǒ men tiào wǔ
zhù hè dà jiā xīn nián hǎo

Happy New Year
Happy new year, happy new year
Wish you all a happy new year
We sing and we dance
Wish you all a happy new year

January 4, 20122

One of the biggest worries I had prior to our relocation last year was in finding a native speaker of Mandarin to continue my daughter’s lessons.  I posted an inquiry on the local homeschool board hoping another family could recommend someone.  My query resulted in only one option – can you feel my anxiety?

I gave him a call shortly after we moved and made arrangements to meet.  Both Patrick and I were very impressed and agreed to continue our studies with him.  Phew!  In addition, not only would Geneva be continuing her lessons (two 1 hour sessions each week) but Jeffrey would begin as well (two 30 min sessions each week).Exploring Chinese Culture: Cooking Chinese Food

The other major difference was that the lessons would take place in his home.  One of the greatest advantages of this is that it enabled us to take part in regular cultural lessons, specifically cooking.   Over the past few months, we have had three cooking lessons – each very different:   饺子(jiaozi),  热干面 (règānmiàn),  and  毛豆 (máodòu).

“For me, cooking is an expression of the land where you are and the culture of that place.” ~ Wolfgang Puck

Each dish has been wonderful and the kids and I have been able to recreate each a few days later to share with Dad.  It has been a delight … and a bit of surprise.  When we were reflecting upon 2011 and discussing our goals for 2012,  Jeffrey stated that his favorite food was Chinese Food (I hadn’t realized this before) and that he wants to get better at cooking.

Exploring Chinese Culture: Cooking Chinese Food

As we have continued to learn how to prepare a variety of Chinese dishes, I have compiled the links to the recipes and lessons below for your convenience. I will continue to add to this list as we progress.