Lucas’ desire to build his Pokeman card collection has inspired his interest to tutor in Mandarin! He came up with the idea himself and wrote the website himself!
Use Your Library for Free Language Resources
Right now, we use Rosetta Stone as our French curriculum (we once had Rosetta Stone for Greek, but that, along with my computer, got destroyed in a Rosetta Stone, both from a user’s perspective and as a parent. Its immersion-style of learning mimics the way we naturally learn languages, so you quickly gain a certain level of fluency. And for the kids, it’s nice to have a program that they can do entirely on their own. However, it is not cheap (although you can often find it up to 40% off, so make sure you price check before you buy), and if you want practice to grammar or writing, Rosetta Stone isn’t really structured to provide that kind of instruction.
For our other foreign languages (Spanish and Greek), we don’t have any “official” program. My intention was to wait and slowly add more languages to my Rosetta Stone collection, but I keep finding a lot of other uses for that money. I’m also just not convinced, given how many free resources are out there, that I have to pay for anything (at least not at this early level of instruction).
All you need is a library card and a dream!
I don’t go the the library as often as I should, given how much I love the library (and how often I am buying books that I should just go check out of the library). But I have a very bad habit of racking up late fees, and until recently, my 3 year old thought of the library as his own personal playground, with books instead of balls to throw. We didn’t make a lot of friends among the staff or other patrons.
We are, more or less, past all of that now, so I have begun to re-discover the library. Although I knew you could get more than books at the library, I had never investigated all of the free e-resources available through most public libraries. At libraries across the country, with nothing more than the account number on your library card, you can access, at home or anywhere else, a treasure trove of educational tools, from audiobooks, ebooks for kids and adults, test prep, magazines, (even Us Weekly, yay!), and online membership to language learning programs.
Muzzy and Mango
Through my library, there are two different language programs available: Mango Languages and Muzzy (both of which you would normally need to pay for.) By logging on to my library’s website using my library card and a pin # they gave me, I can use these two programs on my home computer (or any computer), as though I was a paying customer.
Mango is not designed specifically for kids, but as long as they can read at a mid-Elementary level (a strong first grade reader, or average 2nd grader), they will be fine. The program is offered in 63 languages, although some languages have a lot more lessons than others. Unlike many programs, Mango doesn’t focus on teaching you the foundations of the language, but rather getting you to a point where you could function if you were dropped off in the middle of the country on your own.
Each lesson starts with a list of conversation and grammar goals, which l like; there are also cultural notes interspersed throughout the lesson. As a starting point for language learning, I like Mango (especially if you get it for free). I could definitely see us using it as a replacement for Rosetta Stone, at least for the first level or so. On the negative side, it’s not very interactive, which could cause some kids to lose interest, but luckily the lessons are short and sweet.
Muzzy, produced by the BBC, is one of the oldest, and best-known language learning programs for children. I was very excited to find this program offered through my library, because I have wanted to try it out for years, but didn’t want to buy it. It offers 8 languages, including Spanish, French and Mandarin (but not Greek, sadly!). It uses cute animation, videos and games, implementing a “see and say, listen and learn” method which mimics native language learning. And they have recently redone their animation and music, so it doesn’t look as horribly dated anymore, although its still far from glamorous (you can see a clip of their updated look here). Given that we can access it for free, I am happy to have my kids use it to complement their work on Mango.
So that’s what I’ve found at my library. How about you? I’m curious if other libraries offer different, or more, selections. In a future post, I’ll share some other great, free, language learning resources from the interest and YouTube that we’ve enjoyed. Stay tuned!
Thank you for reading!
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Lisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger
This may come as a shock, but my 7-year-old son’s attitude to learning a foreign language has been a bit less than absolutely enthusiastic. On a good day, we could, perhaps, describe his mindset as indifferent. I see now that he thought the bulk of the work was him choosing which language he wanted to learn, and now would I please let him get back to watching that super interesting youtube video featuring a 35-year-old man playing Minecraft in his mother’s basement.
I’m going to have to be sneaky, because few things are sustainable in a house with young kids if it causes lots of drama. Kids are drama enough. So, while my son isn’t exactly passionate about Spanish (the language he picked), he is passionate about soccer. And there are LOTS of ways to link Spanish and soccer.
El Mundial (aka The World Cup)
For those of you who don’t already know, World Cup soccer is upon us! Coming to us from host country Brazil, the World Cup will be broadcasted in the US in English on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and in Spanish on Univision (side note: Univision has the most extensive coverage of the World Cup, broadcasting 56 of all 64 games, compared to ESPN’s 43 matches). The first game is Thursday, June 12 at 4:00pm EST between Brazil and Croatia; the final is July 13th. That’s a whole month of soccer, for better or for worse.
My plan: have my family watch the games on Univision, where all of the commentary will be in Spanish. You would be surprised how little the kids care that they don’t understand the language…my husband, son and even neighborhood kids have gathered in our house to watch past soccer championships on Univision…many tournaments are only broadcast on Spanish-language channels in this country. And everyone loves hearing the commentators yell “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!”.
Get Ready with Some Simple Vocabulary Prep
The main goal of my “Spanish through soccer” plan is to just get my son familiar with the sound of the language, and maybe pique his interest when he hears the passion of the fans, players and commentators in Spanish. Plus, he’ll get to watch TV commercials in Spanish, which is actually a great way to get learn commonly-used phrases and vocabulary. (I don’t know if World Cup commercials are anything like Superbowl commercials, but I’m guessing we’ll find out). But, to maximize what he takes away from the experience, I am going to prep him with a bit of soccer vocabulary, so he’ll be able to keep an ear out for words he knows, and maybe pick up a few new ones.
If you type “soccer words in Spanish” into google, you will find many lists to choose from. I picked 20 of the most common terms, and made a Quizlet flashcard set. If you are not familiar with Quizlet, it is pretty awesome. You just make an account (free) and then you can turn any list into online flashcards. Here is the list I put together for my son: Soccer Vocabulary in Spanish
Shakira and Soccer
Music is another great way to introduce language to children, and, through the magic of youtube, we have access to a lot of songs and videos that combine both Spanish and soccer. This year, the official theme song of the World Cup is sung by Colombian singer Shakira; there are several versions- this is the one in Spanish that features more soccer (rather than just a typical music video). Shakira also sang the theme to the 2010 World Cup… her Waka Waka song was immensely popular: it features a lot of famous soccer players, and is really hard not to dance to.
There are also many compilations of soccer footage put together by fans (you can find this in any language you are looking for), and set to music. If you type el fútbol musica into youtube, you will get lots of options. And if your kids have a favorite player, there is a good chance someone has set up a tribute to that player (type players name and “espanol”). Here are a few I’ve found, but there are SO many out there:
Tribute to Lionel Messi (one of top players in this year’s World Cup, captain of Argentina team)
Tribute to Maradona (famous Argentinian soccer player, can find lots of vintage footage)
Hopefully, these ideas will inspire my son. Let me know how they work for you, or if you have any other tricks or tips to share. Please post your comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Yes! I let my kids talk to strangers… in Chinese. Of course, I am there watching from a safe distance, but I want my children to feel comfortable talking to folks who speak Mandarin outside of the little cozy circle that I have created for them.
They currently speak to their tutor, babysitter and swim teacher in Mandarin but I want them to be able to understand different accents and faster/slower voices. I want to see how they would do “in the real world” with their Mandarin. Granted, speaking in Mandarin to random strangers in IKEA does not exactly mimic the “real world”, but it at least opens their ears to accents that they may not have heard before or a pace that they may never have encountered.
What can you do?
So the next time you hear someone speaking in your target second language, nudge your little ones to “speak to strangers”!
Struggling to find time to teach your kids a foreign language? Try something radical.
In my family, we believe that foreign language instruction and music training are extremely important, as artistic and practical pursuits, as well as for brain development. My children take violin and piano lessons, we use Rosetta stone for French, my husband speaks Greek to them, and we are planning on starting Spanish soon. My kids also watch a lot of TV, lest you think we are some sort of uber parents…it all balances out.
The difficulty with languages and music is that they are not disciplines you can easily fake- you get out what you put in. My 8 year old practices violin an hour a day, piano 15 minutes a day, and French 20 minutes a day. My 7 year old practices violin 30 minutes a day, piano 10 minutes a day and (inconsistently) French 20 minutes a day. The challenge, of course, is fitting this in either before or after school, in addition to their extracurricular interests (dance for my daughter and soccer for my son), homework, chores, time together as a family, hanging out with friends, and the ever-elusive “unstructured free play”. Exhausting- and we already set limits on how many activities our kids can do (they are actually less busy than a lot of their friends).
Not Enough Time!
When we added up all of the time requirements on our young kids (and on me, enforcing these schedules), we realized that mathematically, it just didn’t work. There truly aren’t enough hours in the day for the things we think are important. So, we are considering something many people would consider radical: homeschooling.
Create Your Own Schedule through Homeschooling
Our goal is not to make UN translators or professional musicians out of our children, but to instill in them the disciplines of hard work, determination and mastery, qualities often hard to develop in a traditional school environment, where much of the focus is on acquiring superficial knowledge, with the primary goal of succeeding on standardized tests.
Having time for music and languages is only a part of our rationale for considering homeschooling. Taking my children’s individual learning styles into account, as well as our wish for them to discover early on what they are passionate about, what they are good at, and what gives them fulfillment, educating them at home, as well as with the help of mentors we find along the way, is an extremely intriguing option.
Without the requirements of a traditional school day, and all of the externalities that go along with it (getting to and from school, the never-ending after-school snack, and homework) here is a sample schedule of what my rising 4th grader’s day could look like next year :
8:00am-9:45am music practice
9:45am-10:00am mini-recess break (yoga, go for a quick run, look at the birds out the window, whatever)
11:15am-12:30pm Language Arts (reading, writing, grammar, spelling)
12:30pm-1:30pm Lunch and play break (my daughter can make her own lunch and even have time to go for a swim at the YMCA across the street)
1:30pm-2:15pm Foreign language instruction
2:30pm-3:30pm SPECIALS (rotating through Art, History, Geography and Science, with one free day)
From what I hear, this is a really packed schedule (apparently, kids only spend about 3 and a half hours learning on any given day at traditional school, so I may be aiming way too high here). But built into this sample schedule is time for a weekly field trip to a museum, musical, play, different town, you name it. Wherever my kids interests take us. And then we can build on those interests in following weeks, or veer in a different direction entirely.
Given that so many programs have been reduced or eliminated in traditional schools to make room for testing and teaching to the test, such as recess, PE, music, arts, even class birthday celebrations, I love the idea of adding fun and creativity back into my kids schedules. And after 3:30, they are free to play, help around the house (because I’m sure they can’t wait to do more of that), and further pursue the activities they are interested in.
Think we’re crazy? Curious about how it will go? I’ll be updating you all on a weekly basis about how we are incorporating foreign language into our homeschooling adventure on The Language Playground, so make sure to come back and check us out!
One of the best ways to explore the second language that you study with your children is by experiencing cultural events in your target language. It may take some time to hunt down those events, but once you do, they can become a part of your annual traditions that help boost your child’s interest and ability in your second language choice!
Enhance your child’s excitement about learning a second language by immersing him/her in fun cultural events!
How do we find out about events in our target second language?
I am a participant in many free yahoo groups, Facebook groups and mommy meetup groups that focus on Chinese learning with children. People in those groups are always posting wonderful events in Chinese for my family to check out! Often times, the events that get shared are for adventures that I would never have found otherwise. For example, one of my Mandarin-speaking mommy yahoo groups posts about Chinese book-fairs at local bilingual schools. The money helps out the school, but I can also buy and check out new Mandarin products for my kids! Win win!
10 Ways to Find Out About Cultural Events in Your Area:
1. Join yahoo groups in your area focusing on your target second language (or start your own!)
2. Join meetup groups in your area focusing on your target second language (or start your own!)
3. Join Facebook groups in your area focusing on your target second language (or start your own!)
4. Sign up for a class in your target second language to make friends who speak that language.
5. Call libraries in the area where there is a large population of folks who speak your target second language. See if they offer a reading hour in your target second language. See if they have a bulletin board where folks might post events that might focus on your target second language.
6. Check out book stores where they have a large collection of books in your target second language. Post up a sign or look for events posted on bulletin boards there.
7. Post an ad on craigslist looking for friends who speak that second language choice or search for events there.
8. Go to grocery stores that focus on foods culturally from your target second language and see if anyone has posted events up on the bulletin boards there.
9. Check out your local newspaper that focuses on your target language choice and see if they list some fun events.
10. Look online at local museums that have collections of art that focus on your target language to get on their lists to see when events might come up that might focus on the language of your choice.
How can you get the most from your event?
Encourage your child to jump right into the event and start speaking your target second language! If there is an activity – get your kid to join! If there are restaurants nearby with staff that can speak your target second language, have your kids order the meal! If there is a special activity, make sure that you get there on time to enjoy it!
For us, my children were delighted to find out that people actually speak Chinese outside of our house! When we first started exploring Chinese, my kids must have thought that it was this language that only existed in our home and with our babysitter! Now they know that there is a large community right in our neighborhood that speaks Mandarin just like they do!
It is really up to you and how much free time you have with your family. We try to attend something in Chinese once a month. We have explored all of Chinatown, purchased books at fairs, listened to library book readings in Mandarin, gone to museum gallery events that focus on Chinese culture or history and attended many playdates hosted in Mandarin.
Where are we in these pictures?
The pictures of my family in this post are of us enjoying Chinese New Year in San Francisco. My kids loved munching on Chinese snacks at the stands, “dancing” in a Chinese Ribbon Dance, watching Chinese drummers perform and testing out their Mandarin with everyone they met!
Enjoy your adventures!
Do you speak a second language at home with your children, but there are no parameters around when it is spoken and as a result the kids don’t speak it? I have had multiple requests from nervous parents worried that their children will never speak their native language with them. It can get complicated when life gets busy or when one parent does not speak that language. The default always becomes English and then the child never truly becomes fluent because English is there as a handy little default language.
Because of the nature of my website, I also get a lot of suggestions about how many families have set specific parameters around when/how they speak the language that I want to share with you.
Family Tricks That Work:
Family A’s Situation: The mom speaks Mandarin and Cantonese and the dad speaks Spanish.
Their solution: Mom speaks Mandarin in the morning, Cantonese after lunch, English during dinner so that they can have a conversation together and Spanish after dinner with Daddy!
Family B’s Situation: The mom speaks French and Spanish.
Their solution: In the kitchen everyone speaks French. In every other room in the house, they speak Spanish.
Family C’s Situation: The parents don’t speak any second language, but want their children to learn Mandarin.
Their Solution: They hire a babysitter who only speaks to the children in Mandarin and never allows English to be spoken with her even though she can speak perfect English
Family D’s Situation: The parents speak German, but not as fluently as they would like and are nervous about teaching their children incorrectly.
Their Solution: Everyone speaks German when they visit the grandparents (which is often — once a week) and the parents struggle a little, but improve their language skills!
Family E’s Situation: The mom speaks Mandarin, but dad only speaks English and does not like getting left out of the conversation.
Their solution: Cartime after school with mom is always in Mandarin. All other times are in English.
Perhaps one of these tips can work for your family! If you have another solution that works for your family (maybe you can be Family F? :), please email me or post on our Facebook page and let me know. I’d love to hear about your ideas!
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What delicious giggles I heard from my two little girls Hudson (2) and Lousha (6) while watching Bin Bin’s Magical Bubble Adventure! Perhaps it was because the show incorporates the two things my girls love best — flying and bubbles! Bin bin travels by bubble and flies to his magical adventures — you can’t get better than that!
In Bin Bin’s Magical Bubble Adventures, Bin Bin and his friends teach children about colors, foods and sleepy time through fully animated stories, catchy songs and fun “lessons” at the end of each show. The characters explore Mandarin vocabulary through three engaging stories, Where Did All the Colors Go?, Magical Land of Food, and Sleepy Time Adventure.
STORY 1: Where Did All the Colors Go?
In the first story, Where Did All the Colors Go?, Bin Bin rides a magical bubble to Color Land! A storm has washed away all of Color Land’s colors. At first, the characters only want to add their favorite color to the landscape, but then they realize that a world with all of the colors is more beautiful.
ASPECTS I LOVE ABOUT THIS STORY:
- The main colors red, blue and yellow are clearly reinforced during the beginning of the story when each character only wants their color used. My two year old knew those three colors down pat by the midpoint of the story.
- I love bigger message about difference and acceptance — that the characters realize that a world with only one color is no fun at all.
- The creators of this DVD incorporated a bit of science into this story by showing how two colors can mix together to form another color. While this element would probably go over the head of a younger viewer, the older child would find this idea appealing.
STORY 2: Magical Land of Food
In the second story, Magical Land of Food, the Bin Bin’s friends are unable to find any food to eat so they go on a journey to the Magical Land of Food where funny food items grow on trees (hamburgers) and on the tops of flowers. My children loved the magical component of this story — hot dogs that you could grab on a bush.
- Many of the food items chosen were very “American” (hot dogs, pizza and hamburgers.) I am sure those food items appeal to children, but I want my kids to learn about food items that they would encounter if they went to China as well as foods that they see here. While I know that China has these food items, I would prefer it if my children learned the names for other foods that might appear in Chinese dishes.
STORY 3: Sleepy Time Adventure
The little bunny Max can’t wait to say good-night to his favorite things: stars. But when he looks up in the sky, Max is unable to find any!
ASPECTS I LOVED ABOUT THIS STORY:
- After bubbles and the concept of flying, stars are right up there with things my kids love. The notion of engaging with the stars in this story was enough to keep them enthralled even though it is the last story in the series.
- MAIN MENU SCREEN CHOICES: Parents have a variety of choices when they get to the opening screen — they can either pick to watch all of the stories, just the lessons, just the songs or the whole shebang. If the parent only has 10 minutes or so to kill and would love to pop in a video — this DVD enables parents to quickly and easily present just one small segment. Anyone who is a parent would know that you can’t pop in a full feature-lenght show for your kids and expect them to be totally OK with you shutting it off after just 10 minutes! Also, my children really love the songs and so often I will just choose the song options as that is what they want to hear and I don’t have to fast forward through the story to get to the song.
- ENGAGING TESTING COMPONENT: I love the “testing component” sections at the end of each story. The “lessons” offer an opportunity for viewers to engage with Bin bin and his friends and answer questions. My children (even the 2 year old) loved answering the questions. Perhaps they were also compelled to answer because after a short pause, the answers are given by a group of happy sounding kids. That audio choice made my children want to play along with “the other kids”.
- INVITING STORYLINE: Even though my children have watched this DVD many times, they are still riveted by the content. Hudson, the two year old, always says “ut oh” when the storm approaches in one of the stories.
- IMMERSION WITHOUT ENGLISH AUDIO: So many of the DVDs out there for Mandarin only incorporate a few words of Chinese and then the rest of the DVD is in English. If you want to get an immersive DVD experience, you typically need to buy a special region free DVD player to play the disks from China. This disk plays on US players.
- CLEAR WORDING: It was hard not to pick up some Chinese while listening to the story as the characters repeat vocabulary (but not in a boring way) and say them very clearly. I watch a lot of Mandarin Disney DVDs with my kids and often because the dialogue goes by so quickly, I can’t catch anything! The audio in Bin Bin’s Magical Bubble Adventures is clear and well-paced.
- MEMORABLE SONGS: My kids sang right along almost from the very start!
- A MOMPRENEUR CREATED IT: I love supporting the “little guy”and not let Disney have all of the fun. The visionary behind this series is a mom from the Bay Area in California. She had an idea and went for it.
- No subtitles. For a newbie to Chinese, I would love to have some help in figuring out the storyline.
- I could not get it to play in my car, but perhaps it is an issue with the kind of DVD player I have in my very swanky red Toyota minivan.
For more information about this DVD and the company check out their website at: http://www.kakekids.com
I can’t tell you how often people come up to me with wonder in their eyes asking how my children speak Mandarin when I don’t speak it at all. These parents think that accomplishing this goal was some sort of Herculean feat that took hours and hours of classes for my children and a huge change in our family lifestyle.
Not true. Here is a little secret….
I just finished reading The Slight Edge: Secrets to a Successful Life by Jeff Olson which suggests motivational tools to help you make small changes in your life toward success. The author’s main “secret” is to spend a little bit of time each day consistently on your goal. Every minute you spend on that dream moves you one step closer to making it a reality. The idea is that if you chip away at that plan each day it will add up to a lot even though day-by-day it does not appear as if you are making much of a dent.
I did not realize it, but I was actually applying the “slightest edge” techniques to my approach of teaching my children a second language. Every day my children get a little bit of Mandarin — sometimes it is two or three hours and other times it is just 20 minutes. They get a bit of Mandarin every day — without fail. There is not a day that goes by where they don’t get some exposure in Mandarin. The cumulative effects of that exposure has allowed my children to be fluent in Mandarin.
Is it hard work? No.
Have we dramatically altered the way our family works to incorporate Mandarin into our lives? No.
Do we spend hours and hours drilling Mandarin into our children’s brains? No.
Do my children speak Mandarin fluently? YES.
In our family, the kids might get to watch a TV show on the weekend in Mandarin. On a plane ride, we will bring the iPad and the kids play Mandarin games. When my husband, Jim, and I go out on a date night, we hire a Mandarin-speaking babysitter. If our children express an interest in a class, we look for a tutor or a class offered in Mandarin. Our bookshelves are filled in Mandarin books. The kids’ bedroom has posters in Mandarin. Check out my Top 10 Ways to Get Started to find what small changes to you can do that would work in your family.
Jeff Olsen’s Slight Edge theory is that if you do something that you want to accomplish a little bit each day consistently, you will reach your desired goal.
Start chipping away at your ideas today!
Happy New Year!