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madteaparty

Beginning Mandarin?

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I’m inspired by the insane time I’m having in China to teach my DD and myself the characters. I will let a tutor take it from there with her.  Any great beginning resources? 

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Yes! I have recently started teaching my 4-year-old Mandarin (traditional characters) and he's up to being able to write 160+ after 3 months of 10-15 minute daily practice. We do spend additional 20 minutes or so on conversation/speaking. I use a variety of resources and make up my own syllabus as I go, and since languages are my passion, I would be more than willing to share everything we have done! My Mandarin isn't very good at all yet (weak conversational + knowledge of about 1000 characters), so take everything I say with a grain of salt. 

If you have a generous budget, I recommend Fluenz Mandarin to learn the very basics very well. (They have really good sales in the fall, but not sure if there are any discounts throughout the  year.) How old are your kids? They might be able to use it with you if they are mature enough. You can view a free lesson to get an idea of how their program is structured. If you don't have the budget, ping/PM me and I'll think & recommend something else. Also, if your kids are on the younger side, I have a ton of other resources I can recommend, so talk to me.

Fluenz doesn't teach characters, though. It teaches basic grammar and conversation skills. There is a fantastic app you can use to learn the characters, which is what I have been using for myself and my son, called Skritter. It literally makes the learning of the characters addictive. It's based on spaced repetition so it's incredibly efficient. You can use it with both traditional and simplified characters. I can share more details if you're interested, including a sample character-writing syllabus I wrote to be used with Skritter for the first couple of weeks. Skritter has a 2-week free trial, unless you get it via someone's referral, which I think gives you an extra week or two of free play. (I haven't tried if the referral system works.)

I'm on my phone now and off to make breakfast for the kids, but please do PM me or respond in this thread if you'd like me to share more info. Hope you're having a great time on your trip!

 

 

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Thanks! That app sounds like what I’m looking for. I have the budget but I’m not interested in learning or teaching the speaking, will outsource that. 

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Fantastic. You will love Skritter! When you sign up, you can choose from a number of their pre-made lists for beginners. And I will also post my character starter syllabus for Skritter here when I find it, so probably when the kids are asleep. I think the app works best on Android and in browsers, but the iPad app is good enough, too. (If your kids like the iPad, you can use both the iPad app and the browser version in Safari.) 

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Did you all speak Chinese before you started doing it with the kids? Because I would love for the kids to learn some basics, but I have no idea as to much beyound what I learned in Ni Hao, Kai-Lan.

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Just remembered to add: the Pleco dictionary for Android/iPad is really, really good.

Janeway, I had completed the Fluenz course, which only gives you basic conversation skills and then learned about 1000 characters using Skritter before I started teaching my son. If you're willing to study alongside with them, I think you can definitely teach your kids at the same time. If you don't want to study the language yourself, you should still be able to introduce them to the basics. For example, this lady here, who doesn't speak Mandarin, has a nice write-up about teaching her daughter Mandarin with links to many resources: https://oaxacaborn.com/2015/03/21/how-to-teach-chinese-to-kids/

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1 hour ago, OneThoughtMayHideAnother said:

Fantastic. You will love Skritter! When you sign up, you can choose from a number of their pre-made lists for beginners. And I will also post my character starter syllabus for Skritter here when I find it, so probably when the kids are asleep. I think the app works best on Android and in browsers, but the iPad app is good enough, too. (If your kids like the iPad, you can use both the iPad app and the browser version in Safari.) 

Dd and I already played around in skitter tonight before her bedtime and agree re the addictive quality of it. But (but!) it’s still hard for her (and me). It tells you to write the character for “you” and the phonetic spelling but you have to scribble it wrong a few times before it gives you a line to trace. I need a step in between, dotted lines, lol. Because unless I click the lttle

i for info, we wouldn’t know off hand what that is (though she seems to have a much better memory than me once she sees it)

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1 hour ago, Janeway said:

Did you all speak Chinese before you started doing it with the kids? Because I would love for the kids to learn some basics, but I have no idea as to much beyound what I learned in Ni Hao, Kai-Lan.

Me? Nary a word. I’m struggling so

much in China omg. I have a Chinese friend on wechat standby. But I’m motivated to teach my kid ;)

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Are you using the iPad app, madteaparty? If you log into your Skritter account through their website using a browser (works pretty well in Safari on the iPad), you will see the option for it to walk you through all the strokes (the  icon with the little numbers) as well as the option to show you the whole character before you write it (the eye icon.) Also, if you download the Pleco app, the dictionary can show you the stroke order for every character. Although that might be available only in the paid version of the app: I don’t remember any more at this point. (BTW, you can easily search the dictionary by entering pinyin or English terms.)

That being said, it's still tricky when you're new to it. I recommend starting with the simplest characters and building up. This way you naturally get used to the stroke order, which in time becomes second nature.

As I teach my son, I come up with little phrases or stories to help him remember the characters. I make the stories as funny and personal as possible. Some of them I act out, so they don't translate to writing very well, but I will try to share some basic ideas below.

Here is a sample list you can start with, along with some notes on how you can try to help the kids remember the characters. (Please note that the notes are just mnemonic devices and, most of the time, don't reflect the actual etymology.)

After you’re done with the 88 (ahem) items in the Skritter list, I think you’ll be much more comfortable tackling new characters from that point on. The process I use for all new characters I want to learn is to 1) look them up in Pleco, 2) check what individual components they are made up of (in the CHARS tab under "Components"), 3) learn all/some of the components I think might be important, 4) come up with a story to help me remember the character, 5) practice the character in Skritter. It might not sound like it, but it’s a lot of fun.

https://skritter.com/vocablists/view/6716444511436800

  • yi1: it means "one": one forward stroke
  • er4, it means "two": two forward strokes
  • san1, "three": three forward strokes
  • shi2, "ten": picture a bundle of ten sticks lying together horizontally being tied by a string, which is stretched out vertically
  • nǚ3, "woman": picture a woman's belly, arms, legs
  • zi3, "child": imagine a baby: you start drawing the baby's head, then the body with curled up legs, and then you draw the arms
  • hao3, "good": woman and baby; if anything's really good in this world, it's woman and baby – together
  • kou3, "mouth": picture an open mouth
  • ri4, "sun": the character looks like a window: picture the sun shining through the window
  • yue4, "moon": looks like a crescent moon
  • ming2, "bright": the sun and the moon together: the two brightest objects in the sky
  • peng2, "friend": the moon is lonely in the sky, if only he had a friend, if only another moon could keep it company
  • you3, "friend"
  • 朋友 peng2you, "friend"
  • mu4, "tree": we start to draw it the same way we did shi2 ("ten"); picture a weeping willow with branches hanging low
  • 森林 sen1lin2, "forest": it's a forest made up of trees!
  • ren2, "person": picture a thin silhouette, two legs
  • da4, "big": a person stretching out their arms showing how big, really big something is
  • tian1, "sky": a big person (Titan Atlas?) holding up that extra stroke at the top representing the sky
  • 明天 ming2tian1, "tomorrow": hoping for bright skies tomorrow
  • huo3, "fire": you draw the tiny strokes on the sides of the person in the same direction: just like when you have sparks from a bonfire being blown by the wind in the same direction
  • shan1, "mountain": you start with the tallest peak: that's where you want to go; how do you get there? you first climb the smaller peak on the left; you finish your hiking trip by climbing the last peak on the right
  • 火山 huo3shan1, "volcano": a mountain that spits fire, fire mountain
  • shui3, "water": you start with a horizontal stroke: imagine a droplet falling down into a pool of water, then you see ripples that seem to go (like your strokes) to the center and away, and again, to the center and away on the other side
  • bing1, "ice": I wish I had a video for this one because it’s hard to describe: move your hands from side to side like water flowing, and then suddenly FREEZE with your hands pointing in the same direction as the first two strokes of this character
  • shang4, "above": the little stroke on the right is above the "ground", i.e. the long stroke at the bottom
  • (xia4), "below": the little stroke on the right is below the long stroke
  • (zao3), "early": the sun (ri4) and ten (shi2)
  • 早上 (zao3shang4), "early morning"
  • 早上好 (zao3shanghao3), "good morning"
  • (men2), "gate": the character looks like a gate
  • (wen4), "ask": picture a person/a mouth asking for something at the gate
  • (shou3), "hand": I have no good story for this one, but I try to guide the writing: backward stroke, forward, forward, and then join them
  • (mu4), “eye”: similar to ri4 (“the sun”), but with two strokes in the middle. One middle stroke for the sun, because we have only one sun, and two middle strokes for the eye, because we have two eyes.
  • (kan4), “look, see”: a hand, with its downward stroke brushed away to the side to make room for the eye underneath; my son and I read a lot of Greek mythology, so this one made us think of the Graeae holding their eye in their hands
  • (jian4), “see”: the eye (mu4) walking around on two legs and seeing everything; or, you can introduce the character (er2, “child”) and teach the “legs” as being a part of that; seeing is the child of the eye
  • (ge1), “halberd”
  • (wo3), “I”: now that we know shou3 and ge1, this one is a bit easier, although we do change the stroke order of the individual elements a bit to accommodate their merging into one
  • 我們 (wo3men), “we”: the men2 part is phonetic; we have the standing version of ren2 (“person”) and men2 (“the gate”)
  • (yang2), “sheep”: picture horns and ribs connected by a spine
  • (mei3), “beautiful/America”: yang2 (“sheep”) on top and da4 (“big” at the bottom): America, the land of… big beautiful sheep?!
  • (xin1), “heart”: this character looks very anatomical to me, chambers, blood flowing through them
  • (xiao3), “small”
  • 小心 (xiao3xin1), “be careful!”: small heart, or don’t be too brave, be careful
  • (ma3), “horse”: can you see a silhouette of a horse in this character?
  • 媽媽 (ma1ma), “mom”: nu3 (“woman”) and ma3 (“horse”) – moms do work hard, like horses, but I think this one is just phonetic
  • (che1), “car/vehicle”: we have er4 (“two”) split in the middle by ri4 (“the sun”) and connected by a downward stroke; when you look straight at a car, the headlights are like two suns
  • 火車 (huo3che1), “train”: fire vehicle
  • (cao3), “grass”: sounds a bit like zao3 (“early”) with some grass growing on top
  • (tai4), “too (much)”: da4 (“big”) with an extra little stroke, which makes it just too much
  • 太大了 (tai4da4le), “too big”: the le part is the first two strokes of zi3 (“child”)
  • 太小了 (taixiao3le), “too small”
  • (guo3), “fruit”: looks like something growing on top of a tree (mu4)
  • 水果 (shui3guo3), “fruit”: water makes it juicy and delicious
  • (ye3), “also”
  • (ta1), “he”: the standing version of ren2 and ye3; he is also a man
  • (ta1), “she”: nu3 (“woman”) and ye3: she is also a woman
  • (bu4), “no”: no, no, no, this is not the right way to write mu4 (“tree”)!
  • (bei1), “cup”: I introduced it to my son when he was holding a cup by asking, “What’s in your cup? A piece of WOOD? No!!!”; or you can just think of a hollow (bu4) wooden cup
  • (yan2), “speech”: sound waves flowing from the mouth (kou3)
  • (ke4), “lesson”: a lesson is the fruit (guo3) or what we get from (someone) speaking (yan2)
  • (bai2), “white”: think of white light coming from the sun (ri4)
  • (bai3), “a hundred”: phonetic, sounds almost like bai2
  • (qian1), “a thousand”: picture shi2 (“ten”) wearing a fancy (backward stroke) hat
  • (zhong1), “middle/China”
  • 中文 (zhong1wen2), “Chinese”
  • (yu3), “rain”: picture an umbrella and droplets
  • (ni3), “you”: you are a man (ren2) in a funny hat & you’re small (xiao3)
  • 英文 (ying1wen2), “English”: England has a lot of grass (cao3); the bottom part looks like mouth (kou3) on top of big (da4) – coming up with a story for this one left as an exercise for the reader ;)
  • (er3), “ear”
  • (tu3), “ground”
  • (si1), “private”
  • (qu4), “go”: you go to your private (si1) ground (tu3)
  • (wang3), “net”: it looks the part
  • (wang2), “king”
  • (zhong4), “heavy”: just like a car (che1), but with two extra strokes at the top and at the bottom to make it extra heavy
  • (xin1), “heart”: the standing version of xin1; you can make the regular xin1 out of pieces of strings, and then straighten up the longest stroke while joining it with the middle “dot” to form the long horizontal stroke in the middle
  • (ting1), “hear”: this will be different if you’re learning simplified, but here’s how I remembered the traditional version: it’s important to hear – the ear (er3) is king (wang2) and it’s worth ten (shi2) nets (wang3) and one (yi1) heart (xin1)

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While I hope you do stick with Skritter (and encourage your kids' future tutor to use it with them), since I think it's amazing, and it makes people who aren't even that much into languages go from "Chinese is not happening" to "I just learned 10000 characters using Skritter", here's one alternative that might work well while you're busy on a trip:

https://www.memrise.com/course/80662/learn-basic-mandarin-chinese/

 

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1 hour ago, Meriwether said:

If you are open to considering a class, CLRC will have a Mandarin I class this summer.

I love CLRC but we are still travelling this summer AND she’s only 6. 

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Native Chinese speaker here.

The above posted skritter looks problematic.  It has a combination of words and characteristics.  It has both simplified and traditional characters.  Some are not a character, but part of charcter.  It does not have logic connection between the items.  Remembering those is difficult 

Chinese is difficult to learn.  Chinese has over 6000 characters.  Knowing about 3500 can get you through 99% of written text, knowing about 2400 characters get you through about 97% of written text.  But often, those characters by itself does not mean anything, they need to form words to make meaning.  The word combination is endless.  My daughter is born here, English is her first language.  We have been working hard on English for several years, she knows about 1200 characters now, she can only read baby level doctor Seuss kind beginner book in Chinese, whereas for English, she can read Harry Potter quite a while back.

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David,

Skritter allows you to enter both words and characters as items to learn, so that you can learn characters in isolation or practice them within a word. If a particular character is causing you trouble, you can choose to add several words containing it to your study queue in order to get extra practice.

My list contains only traditional characters as well as some of the radicals that make them up. Skritter allows you to use the same list and choose the option to study the simplified versions, though. Most of the items I selected for the first list, although not all of them, are the same in both systems.

There is logic and connection between subsets of the items on the list, but, correct, no logic and connection between all of them. I used those subsets (e.g., teaching the mu4/tree character/radical together with the sen1lin2/forest word) to make up fun, rewarding daily mini-units of new character writing practice.

I teach my child radicals before teaching him characters made up of those radicals. Some radicals such as the one for "woman" above are stand-alone characters anyway. Knowing basic radicals makes it much easier for him to remember how to write characters such as "ting1". He's only 4 and he's not finding it confusing. He understands there's a radical/character mu4 for eye and then there's the word yan3jing, for example. Knowing radicals also helps him guess the meaning or pronunciation of characters he's never seen before.

I think our method is very efficient. We only study characters about 10-15 minutes a day most days, we have a ton of fun while doing it, and he's learning how to write (with emphasis on the correct stroke order) over 50 (traditional) characters a month. He can read many more than that. For example, he's recently learned to read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" in Chinese  even though he doesn't know how to write all the characters in the book yet. So, anyway, if we keep it up, we're on track to learn *how to write* the 3500 characters that make up a vast majority of texts by the time he's 10. He will likely be reading many more  than that by then. And, at this point, my main challenge is slowing him down, explaining that this is a marathon not a sprint, and that it's probably not a good idea to add all those new characters he's encountered and wants to practice to our study queue at the same time. Sooo, anyway, all this is why I do believe we have come across a very efficient, painless method of conquering one of the hardest (but also the most fun) parts of learning Chinese.

Of course I understand that knowing characters alone doesn't mean you know Chinese! We use a variety of books, programs, and videos to learn the language in addition to character practice. In this thread I focused on character practice because that's what OP was asking about. OP also mentioned she will hire a tutor to make sure her children are in good hands.
 
No disagreement from me about Chinese being a difficult language. It seems like you're doing great supporting your daughter's Chinese literacy while living in an English-speaking country. If you have any tricks, wisdom, resources (or your own Skritter lists) to share, I'm sure many here would very much appreciate it.

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2 hours ago, OneThoughtMayHideAnother said:

David,

Skritter allows you to enter both words and characters as items to learn, so that you can learn characters in isolation or practice them within a word. If a particular character is causing you trouble, you can choose to add several words containing it to your study queue in order to get extra practice.

My list contains only traditional characters as well as some of the radicals that make them up. Skritter allows you to use the same list and choose the option to study the simplified versions, though. Most of the items I selected for the first list, although not all of them, are the same in both systems.

There is logic and connection between subsets of the items on the list, but, correct, no logic and connection between all of them. I used those subsets (e.g., teaching the mu4/tree character/radical together with the sen1lin2/forest word) to make up fun, rewarding daily mini-units of new character writing practice.

I teach my child radicals before teaching him characters made up of those radicals. Some radicals such as the one for "woman" above are stand-alone characters anyway. Knowing basic radicals makes it much easier for him to remember how to write characters such as "ting1". He's only 4 and he's not finding it confusing. He understands there's a radical/character mu4 for eye and then there's the word yan3jing, for example. Knowing radicals also helps him guess the meaning or pronunciation of characters he's never seen before.

I think our method is very efficient. We only study characters about 10-15 minutes a day most days, we have a ton of fun while doing it, and he's learning how to write (with emphasis on the correct stroke order) over 50 (traditional) characters a month. He can read many more than that. For example, he's recently learned to read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" in Chinese  even though he doesn't know how to write all the characters in the book yet. So, anyway, if we keep it up, we're on track to learn *how to write* the 3500 characters that make up a vast majority of texts by the time he's 10. He will likely be reading many more  than that by then. And, at this point, my main challenge is slowing him down, explaining that this is a marathon not a sprint, and that it's probably not a good idea to add all those new characters he's encountered and wants to practice to our study queue at the same time. Sooo, anyway, all this is why I do believe we have come across a very efficient, painless method of conquering one of the hardest (but also the most fun) parts of learning Chinese.

Of course I understand that knowing characters alone doesn't mean you know Chinese! We use a variety of books, programs, and videos to learn the language in addition to character practice. In this thread I focused on character practice because that's what OP was asking about. OP also mentioned she will hire a tutor to make sure her children are in good hands.
 
No disagreement from me about Chinese being a difficult language. It seems like you're doing great supporting your daughter's Chinese literacy while living in an English-speaking country. If you have any tricks, wisdom, resources (or your own Skritter lists) to share, I'm sure many here would very much appreciate it.

I did not realize skritter is your customized list, and I did not realize that what you posted is not one list but a group of mini-lists.  Then I took back my previous comments.  The list is decent. I especially like the fact you can put radical in the list.  

I don’t use skritter, I use quizlet, similar thing but I can’t put radical in quizlet.

I want to remind you don’t be fooled by initial success.  I remember my daughter started learning fast too.  That gave me a false hope that mastering 3500 characters is a task easily achievable.  It is not!!! My daughter flew through the first 500, then she started to rapidly forgetting, the more I teach, the more she confuse with words she already know.  It took us way more time to get from 500 to 1200, still a long way to go!

I now teach her words instead of characters.  I made up word list for her using only the characters she already know.  

Example:

除,Chú (除了,除非,除法,除此以外,排除,清除,除草,开除)

We read too, mostly I read to her, knowing 1200 characters is not enough to read her own grade level book.

I also try talking with her in Chinese.

 

 

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I'm unsure about learning characters in isolation of a total approach in a Chinese class... All my Chinese was learned later (and, honestly, my reading and writing skills have been the first thing to go, so I'm hardly an expert)... but anyone going into it as a beginner should just realize a few things to inform how they approach it. Like, the baby words you learn to speak aren't the same baby words you'd necessarily learn to write first. So there's a disconnect between learning your ni hao level of speaking and your first characters. There are these two different systems of writing (simplified and traditional... this is really more of a point of information, but many Americans don't know this... people in the PRC only really know simplified, people in Taiwan and Hong Kong mostly use traditional, though if you're a native, literate speaker then reading both isn't hard, though writing can be tricker if you're trying to go simplified to traditional). Stroke order matters, just like how you don't write letters all wonky (yes, there's some variation, but mostly people start letters at the top and write them in a certain fashion) - characters that are carefully copied without understanding stroke order don't look right, even to my mostly-illiterate Western eyes. Words can be one or many characters... and the characters can take on some really different meanings depending on their words. So, just because you know all the characters on a sign doesn't mean you can necessarily understand the sign.

Just go into it knowing all that, I guess. Memorizing interesting stuff that later gets tied into a matrix of useful knowledge is okay, after all. I mean, many of us have our kids memorize these little things that they don't fully get at age 6 but can later use and apply when they have more knowledge.

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