FAMILY BACKGROUND (in her own words)
I was born in Hong Kong. I immigrated to Vancouver when I was 6. My husband was born in Hong Kong. He immigrated to Vancouver when he was 7. Both our families were raised speaking Cantonese only at home.
My dad speaks Cantonese, Mandarin (he studied in Taiwan for university), and English. My brother and I had to go through Chinese school every Saturday.
We started going to Mandarin school in grade 1-2 (ZhuYin – as the teacher was from Taiwan), and we learned one Bo Po Mo Fo a week. I still remember them and I think I’ll start teaching my daughters soon as I find it helps me pronounce things better – and also Taiwanese picture books!!! I cheat and look at them if I’m stuck when I’m reading the story in Cantonese to my kids.
Then I was put through Cantonese school on Saturday – this accelerated the Chinese learning quite quickly – memorizing poems, characters, and writing essays. Then when we moved to another part of Vancouver, we went to Mandarin school – and this was when I learned pinyin.
My husband taught himself Chinese through TVB, comic books, and novels – he never went to Chinese school and his Chinese reading is higher than mine. So sad I forgot a lot of the less frequent Chinese words but I still write better than he does (from memory), and I can read both traditional and simplified…that counts, right?
4-year-old daughter (started: 3 years old - exposure at 2; currently: on Confident Reader, Book 4)
2-year-old daughter (not applicable but planning on starting when she turns 3)
IN HER OWN WORDS
1. Why did you choose Sagebooks?
I chose Sagebooks because it was highly recommended when I was searching for Chinese material for my daughter. I bought the books when my daughter was turning 2 years old. My best friend was going to Hong Kong before visiting me in Toronto, so I sent her to buy some books. At the time, I only asked her to buy sets 1 and 3 (Beginning Reader and Building Reader)… I had no idea it was consecutive! I didn’t really know what they other books were (Treasure Box, Idioms, etc.) so I ignored them. (Of course now I’m regretting that decision…)
2. What was your experience with going through Sagebooks? What did your typical lesson look like? Did you do additional activities?
In the beginning, the books were just a distraction for my 2 year old daughter. I just had my second child and my parents came to visit me in Toronto to help with the first month so I had them read Set 1 (Beginning Reader) and Set 3 (Building Reader) to Valerie for fun.
I did not clue in when my mom said…”these blue books are boring – how can you have 山山山for the first entire half of the book?! These orange ones are much better – they’re actual sentences with some plot line?!...” Basically, they were being nice when reading these “story books” to my daughter but really wanting to read real Chinese picture books (which we luckily had a few).
When I finally decided to sit down with Valerie and start each lesson (a year later) – I really had to laugh… I had no idea what I was putting my parents through! We then started going through the books really fast (probably because Valerie remembered a lot of them when she was reading with grandparents). When I realized that I needed the set 2 quickly before set 1 was done, there was some mad scramble to find someone who would help me get them in Hong Kong!
At 3 years old, we started by going through 2-3 words a night… It was fun. We finished a book a week on average. We finished set 1 within 1-2 months. We finished set 2 in about 1-2 months. Some nights it was tough and we had to skip “lessons” – either we were tired, it was too late, or had an early start the next morning.
When she was reading with my parents at age 2, she recognized words like 人, 和, and was super excited when she saw them on signs in Chinatown! She even memorized some words and pages, but she never really learned how to read them until we “formally” started.
Valerie loved learning new words every night – she would request more and more!
Valerie is now 4 years old. We are in set 4 – it’s getting tough and a bit of a struggle to stay consistent to read for bedtime routine. At 4 years old, she is reading at a grade 2-3 level in English, and she wants bedtime routine to be more English stories than Chinese characters. Our method now is review 1-2 words and learn only 1-2 new words a night.
She gets stuck on a few words. I used to want her to know them before moving on, but recently, I have decided that if those words were frequent words, they’ll come around again. I don’t want reading Chinese to become an unpleasant experience. And since I’ve decided to just casually continue, my daughter has gone to her shelf to pull out set 5 and started reading through them for fun (we just started set 4 book 3).
She asked me yesterday, Mom – what does it mean with the sun rises from the east? And then when I asked her why, she ran to get her book and read the entire lesson in Cantonese to me by herself! Yay! Win!
3. What did your typical lesson look like? Did you do additional activities?
From the beginning, we would always trace the stroke order with our finger. This was her favourite part. We were practicing our numbers. We also discussed the different part of the words (radicals, etc.) and the meanings behind them and how similar words will have similar parts. She also liked saying “tick!” when we tried to follow the strokes. Bedtime routine is reading Chinese for 20 minutes, and then reading from a book of her choice (recently, 1-2 chapters of Magic Treehouse) in English for 10-15 minutes.
Additional activities - I run a Cantonese music class with 0-4 year olds, and my two daughters are also in the class. I try to reinforce Chinese characters through simple flashcards on the walls throughout the semester. But it’s hard when not all the children are at the same age or level. So my goal is just exposure to seeing characters on the wall – sometimes we have worksheets, or we do crafts.
4. What did you like about Sagebooks? Was there anything you didn't?
I like that it is very repetitive and that it builds on the previous characters. It’s exciting to know that by the end, my daughter will have learned 500 characters!
I recently asked my daughter to try and read a picture book and when she realized that she could, her attitude towards learning Chinese has changed! She is now motivated to learn more characters again. Now I wish I bought the treasure boxes. I plan to buy them on my next visit to Hong Kong.
I wish Sagebooks came with a bookmark that covered the English and the pinyin so that I don’t have to do it on my own. My daughter sometimes cheats and reads ahead with the English – treating the books like one of her story books on her bookshelves. And sometimes, she would read the pinyin to guess the word in Cantonese.
I had made bookmarks to just cover the top and bottom, showing on the Chinese characters, but each set, the layout was just slightly different that I had to remake the bookmarks to cover up the right paces – and lately, I’ve been too lazy so I’ve given up. I just try to cover when I can, but sometimes I let her use them as clues to help her figure out the characters.
My favourite thing that I love doing with my daughter – and because she has been so happy that she has learned to read English – is to have her read the Chinese and translate it into English for me… and then we do a “reveal” and see if she translated using the same words as the Sagebooks. She loved it! We only do it sometimes now – to make it still fun and avoid it being a chore.
5. If you have more than one child, would you do it again?
Definitely! I will go through the books with my younger daughter – we tried Beginning Reader book 1 – she liked lessons 1-3 and then stopped showing interest so we’ll wait a little bit.
For the second round, I am going to purchase the Treasure Box and go through those at the end of each level. I think that will build confidence and hopefully show the girls how amazing it is to be able to read a story!
My younger daughter is the complete opposite of my older daughter. She just recently stopped throwing books across the room or ripping up the pages. My older one would sit still through an hour of story time when she was 6 months old. But my younger, who is now 2 years old, has just recently showed interest in reading stories for bedtime. Yay!
When I start with my younger one, I will delay teaching her in reading English – no more cheating (in both pinyin and English translation).
6. Any advice for parents who are just starting?
Be consistent. Join the Facebook support group because it helps with motivation. Look for picture books in Chinese – try reading them, listening to them, be exposed to the Chinese writing. Buy the Treasure Box (maybe? I haven’t received mine yet). Buy the entire set all at once!
Thank you so much for your detailed answers, Eveline. It’s such an encouragement and reinforces the benefits of having a full set as well as the supplemental books and materials. Children really do get motivated when they see how much of a book they can read all on their own.