Friday, March 6, 2015

Using Board Books for Foreign Language Study, and other Adventures in Mandarin

For years, I had been looking forward to outsourcing the children's foreign language study. I'm confident at imparting a reading/translation knowledge of any of the languages that I, myself have a [very much lapsed] reading/translating knowledge of (Latin, Attic Greek, Spanish, Icelandic, Old Norse, Middle Welsh, Old English), but I'd rather that they learn pronunciation for extant languages from native speakers.

What I did not realize, however, and yet should have, I suppose, is that even with the children taking a foreign language class, as they are this semester--Mandarin Chinese, through a grant program at our local university--there would still be a lot of work for ME! This isn't just free time in my school schedule, alas. The kids have homework, and of course they must practice daily, and since they're crap at telling me what they did/learned/were assigned in class, of course I must look it up for myself, then find the resources to get them the pronunciation models that they need to accurately review their vocabulary each day.

So each weekend, part of my lesson planning for the coming week is to look up what the kids did in Mandarin class that Saturday, and find the resources to support that particular vocabulary review. The instructors provide excellent cultural enrichment during class, but if I find anything extra that fits with what they did, I also throw that in.

My absolute favorite resource is this YouTube channel, Learn Chinese with Emma. So far, I've managed to find a video from her that covers every single piece of new vocabulary that the children have studied.

There are the basic greetings:

The numbers:

Helpful vocabulary for the New Year celebration:

The seasons:

And new for this week, family members:

One thing that works GREAT for learning a foreign language is board books. You know board books--those laminated cardboard books that they give to babies so that their slobber doesn't dissolve them and they can't rip them up. They're short, because babies have short attention spans, and they have simple vocabulary, because babies don't know many words, and generally the vocabulary is pretty basic, because you want your baby to learn "blue" and "truck" before she learns "disestablishmentarianism" and "fuschia." We use the dual-language approach to reading that I learned from Miss Nancy in toddler Spanish playgroup many, many, many [10] years ago: you read what you can read in the target language, and read everything else in English. Here's Syd practicing her Mandarin vocabulary with a dual-language board book:


You can hear the very beginnings of the tones that she needs to use. Will is still very much "tone deaf," but I'm glad that they're getting the exposure to it. It'll be easier to hear when their study continues, whether that's next semester or in 20 years, you know?

Now that the kids have this much vocab under their belts, I think my lesson plans will begin to reflect an enrichment activity for Mandarin every week--this totally defeats any freedom in my schedule that outsourcing the language provided, but, eh. The kids need it for the reinforcement, and the immersion is fun!

One area that I still need help in supporting them is the written language. As far as I can tell, the class doesn't focus on it, but all the new vocabulary is also written down for the children, so they could certainly learn to read it. I'd like them to learn to write it, as well, but I do not have the first idea about how to start with that. Perhaps my research for these enrichment plans will lead me in the right direction...

So, knowing that we're still very much in the middle of this first Mandarin language class, here are some of the reading/viewing listening resources that we've been enjoying so far:

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