Saturday, 12 April 2014

Update (very long overdue!!!)

Schmoo, age 1

Schmoo, age 9

Pan-Pan, age 1

Pan-Pan, age 6

Here are my ickle bilingual babes, all grown-up! My experiment of raising children in a language that is not my mother tongue and that I am, at best, only 'proficient' in, has worked a treat: Both children speak fluent accent-free French (and fluent accent-free English!!) and enjoy reading and writing in both languages as well as chatting.

While attending a French school has been absolutely key, I have also put in hours of time and energy into this project, not to mention hard cash at times (employing French students to play with them, reading to them in French at every spare moment, playing French stories in the car when I'd rather be listening to music, buying them French books, CDs and films, setting up playdates with French-speaking friends, and most of all only speaking with them in French for around 6 years, from when they were babies until they were safely ensconced in a native French school).

The effort has been so very worthwhile and my heart sings whenever I hear them running around with their school friends, chattering away like French natives! I will keep pushing French at every opportunity, because to succeed at their school they need to keep expanding their vocabularies. Luckily they do a lot of the work themselves now without even realising it, by reading to themselves :)

I feel sure they will retain their bilingualism into adulthood now and hope the whole experience has helped them become more sensitive, culturally aware, individuals.

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Saturday, 20 July 2013

REVIEW: Plushkies

Schmoo & Pan-Pan larking around with Mei Mei

When children's website Plushkies asked me to review their clever educational soft toys, I was thrilled! I knew my kids would love them and since I am dead keen for them to learn about other countries, this seemed like a perfect solution.

As my children are learning Mandarin, I requested the Chinese Plushky, who is named Mei Mei. The other options are currently USA, Italy and Mexico.

When the perfectly packaged toy arrived I was amazed at how large the box was! I had got the idea that the soft toys were fairly small, as they appear on the website, and would fit in one of my kids' hands. But our China Plushky is really rather large, about the size of the average teddy bear, as you can see in the photo!

Schmoo, age 8, is the real lover of soft toys, and sure enough she pretty much adopted Mei Mei right away, sleeping with her every night, and playing with her too.

The twin aims of Plushkies are to teach in a fun way, so I really wanted to base my review on two essential questions:

Are they educational?
My children will always know the shape of China and the colours of its flag now, so yes, they have learnt a key geographical fact from the toy! The little booklet that comes with it gives lots of detail as to  who Mei Mei is - a shy Chinese girl who can also be outgoing, enjoys socialising in Shanghai and speaking English with foreigners, where she is born and where she is studying, etc. These little details give children an insight into Chinese life and culture, and help them think about what it would be like to live there themselves. Now that Schmoo and Pan-Pan are learning Mandarin, I'm so glad they can enjoy interacting with a toy that helps them envisage where the language is spoken.

Are they entertaining?
My children are 8 and 6, so a good age for imaginative play with soft toys. They both played with Mei Mei and Schmoo loved snuggling up with her and a favourite book. Mei Mei now lives on Schmoo's bed!

All in all we would definitely recommend Plushkies to any parents keen for their children to effortlessly memorise country shapes, associated flags, and a few facts about its culture to boot.

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Saturday, 13 July 2013

RESOURCES: 5 fascinating things I've learned about Mandarin

1. Mandarin is spoken by an incredible 885 million people! That's more than double the 400 million people who speak English.

2. If you speak both Mandarin & English, you can communicate with over half of the world's people! (Mandarin is the most widely-spoken first language in the world)

3. It's a tonal language. I did have some vague idea of this before we started learning Mandarin, but had no idea how central the tones are to the language. It's not just a few words, there is a tone to learn for almost every single character! There are 4 different tones (and one so-called 'toneless' tone) to learn.

4. The grammar is easy! After all the effort to learn the 2,000 characters you need for basic literacy, at least there is very little grammar to learn. You don't need to conjugate verbs to make tenses at all, and there is no difference between singular and plural nouns.

5. There are 2 styles of writing Mandarin, traditional and simplified (with fewer strokes per character). Luckily, the simplified version is predominantly used today in mainland China! Pin It now!

Saturday, 6 July 2013


The Alien game (or the 'get kids talking' game)

The idea is to pick a word your kid knows very well, like 'the sun' or 'a tiger'. Then you pretend to be an alien, just arrived on planet earth, and they need to describe what that word actually means. 

I had my two in fits of giggles by pretending to misunderstand their explanations. For example, when Pan-Pan was describing 'the sun', he might say, 'It's big', then I'd say, 'oh, so it's a house?'
'Nooooo, it's yellow!' 
'Hmmm, big, yellow, must be a lion!' 
'Nooooo, it's really hot, it's made of gas!' 
'Ah, now I understand, it's a star...' and so on. 

They really have to think hard to find vocabulary to describe their word, and they have a lot of fun at the same time.

I use it to practise their French, but it's great for majority language too, so we play it in English with Daddy :-)

For more ideas on how to get kids talking, see my post 5 ways to get your kids talking (a minority language)
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Saturday, 29 June 2013


Schmoo feeling good in her 'magic' skin
A few days ago on the school run, one of Schmoo's friends suddenly turned to her and announced, 'Your daddy's really dark, isn't he? He's almost black!' Schmoo seemed a bit surprised and quickly responded, 'So?' as though the comment was an insult (it wasn't, just an observation). 'Yeah, that's because he's from Africa,' continued the other little girl with confidence. I felt it was time to step in. 'Actually, he's from here, like you and me,' I said. 'But he's lucky that he has such dark chocolately skin, isn't he? It gives him more protection in the sun.' I could tell Schmoo was very relieved to have my help, as she immediately pounced on this positive association with brown skin, 'Yes, it's magic skin, he doesn't have to wear any sun cream, I need a little bit and mummy needs loads!'

Then we talked about something else, leaving me a little exhausted at the thought of all the times Schmoo is going to have to deal with such (not unkindly meant) observations on her own. All I can do is give her as much ammo as I can when I'm with her, not just in terms of comeback quips, but mainly in terms of feeling good in her skin, the best 'weapon' of all!

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

RESOURCES: Our Mandarin products & wishlist

1. Learning to say characters
E-Readbook & pen
We own this, although I needed to use Google translate to help me buy it! It's exactly like the LeapFrog Tag system, but for Mandarin, and my kids adore it. They play with it for hours, clicking on the Chinese characters, listening to the tones and learning new words.

2. Learning to say characters
Mandarin laptop toy
Just bought this for Pan-Pan, but unfortunately it is much more basic than I imagined. It only has about 10 Mandarin words, so limited usefulness & fun.

3. Learning to read characters
Kingka 1 game
This very clever games promises that you will know over 50 Chinese characters by the time you have mastered the top level! There's also Kingka 2 & 3, which you can add in as your Chinese improves. We now own Kingka 1 and it is absolutely excellent, actually focusses kids on the characters rather than just the Pinyin!

4. Learning to read characters
Learn Mandarin through Fairytales books
There are 3 levels to take you from zero to hero! I haven't taken the plunge yet, as we are still wading through My First Chinese Words, which is wonderful and has 36 books! Another book I'd like to get is the very simple First Words: English & Chinese, as the photos and characters are big and clear, great for beginners.

5. Learning to write characters
Writing is fun books
Teaching how to write the correct strokes to make those beautiful Chinese characters. There doesn't seem to be an English translation of the word on each page, just an image, which concerns me as I don't speak Chinese! But with the help of a dictionary, I am wondering whether it would be worth getting them and writing each word in. For her Mandarin class, Schmoo has a copy of Chinese Made Easy For Kids, which also has useful writing exercises.

6. Learning to read & write characters
Chinese crosswords for Chinese learners
Designed for beginners, you can progress through the books. What a fun way to learn!

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