Product Reviews

Headbands for Second Language Learning

Headbands is probably my favorite game in our house. Everyone can play it and everyone enjoys it! The concept is simple. Someone picks a card for you that has an image on it (cat, spoon, rake, etc.) and you need to figure out using yes/no questions the object that is on your head.

How is this a language game?

You can play this game in any language! The object is simply to guess what the object is on the top of your head and just THINK about all of the vocabulary needed to figure it out! We play this game with our Chinese-speaking babysitter because she is able to provide the kids with a ton of vocabulary of objects (like hammer, fire hydrant, etc.) that the kids might not know.

Some Tips:

  • Make it more challenging by using  a timer with the game. The student needs to guess the answer in the set time (2 minutes or so). This way the guesser and the other players don’t get frustrated as it can take a long time to figure it out.
  • If your child gets stressed out with a timer (as one of my kids does) don’t use it! Just let the child guess the object in his/her own time. This version may work better if there is an adult giving the answers as children might lose patience if the guessing lasts too long.
  • Instruct your kids to ask big questions. I have to remind my little one, Hudson, of this idea every time because otherwise she will just start guessing random words and you can imagine how long that game might take (yikes!) Some questions that you can give them as starters are the following:
    • Does it fly?
    • Does it live in the ocean?
    • Would you see it in a farm?
    • Do we have one in our bathroom? Kitchen? Garage?
    • Is it a food?

Have fun! Let us know how it went in the comments section of this post!



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Filed Under: Chinese, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

Your Library’s Free Language Resources

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 rosetta-stonebuy), 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

Independently Schooled

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Filed Under: Chinese, Cool Websites, Cultural Experiences, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Lisa Sarafidis - Guest Blogger, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

Best French Word Learning Material

First Thousand Words in FrenchIf you’re looking for a fun and easy way to teach your kid French, Usborne has some of the best books and products. All of their books are filled with colorful ways to teach your kid the French Language. The best part about their French language books for kids is that they are themed — instead of just showing you a word and its definition, these books associate the French words with interesting activities kids can relate to in everyday life. Many of the French books also include pronunciation links online spoken by a native speaker. What a wonderful French learning resource to make sure that you are saying all of the words correctly! 

 We have personally reviewed each of these books and DVDs so check out our reviews here: BEST FRENCH WORD LEARNING MATERIALS

Happy Learning! 

 

The Folks at The Language Playground 

 

Filed Under: French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Product Reviews

Best Spanish Word Learning Materials for Kids

First Thousand Words in Spanish for KidsWe just love these books to explore vocabulary in Spanish! The clear illustrations and creative scenes of these books make learning Spanish vocabulary with your children fun and educational. Many parents may be familiar with the Usborne Book Company but perhaps you did not know that they offer a wonderful selection of Spanish learning material for kids! 

We have been using their First Thousand Word Series books for years and now they are available in multiple languages. 

Check out our list of our favorite Spanish books personally reviewed by the folks at the Language Playground. 

 

Have fun! 

Filed Under: Games to Learn a Second Language, Product Reviews, Spanish

Making Flashcards More Fun with Games

making flashcards funHow can you make flashcards more fun? We use games in our house and add a “flashcard component”! Everyone is happy!

The whole family has recently fallen in love with this creative strategy game called Blokus. The goal of this game is for players to fit all of their pieces (each player gets 21) onto the board. When placing a piece it may not lie adjacent to the player’s other pieces, but must be placed touching at least one corner of the player’s pieces already on the board. The player who gets rid of all of his tiles first is the winner. You have to think ahead in order to find the best path for your pieces and to block your opponent.  It is an fantasticblokus-chinese game to build your child’s spatial thinking!

How do we use Blokus to make flashcards more fun?

Each player in Blokus is given 21 pieces and so for each piece a child puts down, he needs to answer one flashcard. Each person in the family needs to answer his flashcard before he can play so by the end we have gone through a ton of cards! There are 84 pieces in the game but not all of them will be used. Usually, there is a winner by the time 60 pieces have been put down — that’s a lot of flashcards!

What I love about Blokus:

  • Blokus is a challenging game, but a ton of fun! My daughter at 9 years old can play it, but my husband loves it too!
  • There are just enough pieces for us to get through a lot of flashcards without it feeling like the game gets interrupted too much.
  • The game also does not drag on forever as I have found with some other board games. Eventually, there are no more spaces left to put down your pieces and you need to figure out who has more area covering the board.
  • It is a great game for children to understand the concept of area.

Challenges:

If you play the game with only two people, you need to either make the board smaller by blocking off a few rows or you need to have both players play with two colors which can be confusing.

Buy it here on Amazon: 

 

What a wonderful game! We are just thrilled! I hope you are too!


 

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Happy playing!

Michelle

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Filed Under: Chinese, Flashcard Fun, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

How can I make flashcards more fun?

Lucas stacking chairsAhhh… the perennial question! How do I make flashcards fun for my kids? Most people simply hold up a card and see if the child knows the answer and move onto the next one in the stack. From experience, this type of “game” does not last very long. The “fun factor” is pretty much non-existent. However, it does not take much planning on your part to make flashcards more exciting. Trust me. It is easy. 

Here is how to make flashcards more fun:

All you need is a toy/game/tool that has multiple pieces and have your child “earn” a piece by answering one correct flashcard. The more cards he/she answers the more pieces he/she gets! It actually makes the game more exciting because the child does not just immediately get all of the pieces to it! This earning method slows the game down and makes the child really focus on the goal of the game. 

What are we playing right now?

My kids’ favorite is this Family stacking Chairs Game. The children get one chair for each correct flashcard. The object of the Chairs Game is to stack all of the chairs without them falling. If the chairs fall down, the children have to start over again. My children find this game incredibly compelling and love answering the flashcards to get chairs. stackingchairs

Factors for Success: 

1. Don’t let your child play this game outside of the flashcard time. It should be played ONLY with flashcards and put away all other times. 

2. Make sure that the game is something fun. It does not have to be the most expensive toy out there — but it needs to be compelling. 

3. The toy needs to have enough pieces for your child to be able to build/create/finish it within 10-40 flashcards. Don’t pick a game or toy with hundreds of pieces because then your child will lose interest in having to answer so many flashcards to get the pieces. 

4. Have a few of these games ready to go so that in case your children show the slightest sign of being bored with it, you can tuck that one away and bring out a new one. You can then break out that old game at a later point and it will keep its “game life” a bit longer. Never let your kids get bored with a game because then it will always be labeled as “boring” in their heads. 

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 Happy playing! 

Michelle Gannon

Founder of The Language Playground

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Filed Under: Chinese, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

PRODUCT REVIEW- Bin Bin's Magical Bubble Adventures: Learning Mandarin Through Stories

binbindvdWhat 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. 

binbinbubbleNOT CRAZY ABOUT: 

  • 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. 

binbinBIN BIN’S MAGICAL BUBBLE ADVENTURE PARTING THOUGHTS:

 OVERALL PRO:

  • 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. 

OVERALL CON:

  • 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

Have fun! 

Michelle

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Filed Under: Chinese, Cultural Experiences, Games to Learn a Second Language, Music to Learn a Second Language, Product Reviews, TV as a Tool

Resolution for 2014: Introduce my child to a second language

the slightest edgeI 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. 

But how

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!

Michelle

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Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Chinese, Classes, Cultural Experiences, Product Reviews

Product Review: Bear Hunt Game for Critical Thinking

Bear Hunt Game by Melissa and DougProduct Review: Bear Hunt Game by Melissa and Doug

Where can I get it: Bear Hunt by Melissa and Doug via Amazon

Playground Rating:

StarStarStarStarHalf Star

We just love this high-quality game by Melissa and Doug to build deductive reasoning skills in both English as well as in Mandarin. It is easy to turn games that are traditionally played in English into a fun activity in your target language. We use this Bear Hunt Game  with my 8 year old son and my 5 year old daughter to build their vocabulary and deduction skills in Chinese.

How to Play?

Each player gets a game board (there are two in a set) with a variety of bears under each flap. Some bears have hats, others have a mustache, some  have flowers in their hair, etc.  Players choose a bear on their wheel at the bottom of the board, and the other player asks yes/ no questions to try to guess which bear the other player has chosen. What a wonderful game for teaching process of elimination! It’s very durable, and its clever design has no pieces to lose! It is great for developing deduction skills.

How to play the game in your target language? 

We play the game exactly how one would in English, but in Mandarin. Children explore vocabulary such as color, hat shape, hair style, flowers, gender etc. while trying to figure out which bear you have hidden.

What I love about the game: 

  • Builds logical reasoning skills in an entertaining way
  • Highly entertaining — my children will play this game all day!
  • Children can win just as easily as an adult (parents don’t have to “try” to lose every once in awhile, you will probably lose a few times even when you try! )
  • Game pieces are all attached so you won’t lose any pieces
  • Very sturdy (we have had ours for years and it still looks brand-new)

What I am not so crazy about this game: 

  • As with many of the Melissa and Doug Games (see my review about the Memory Game) the game is a bit heavy for travel. However, if you are just traveling in your car, this game is perfect.
  • When a player turns down a window, it can be a bit loud (see the video below) which might wake up a sleeping baby if you are playing it in the car. However, the durability of the game makes it so that it won’t fall apart and so the pieces are on the board tightly, which makes for the loud sound when you close a window.

The following video demonstrates how we play this game as part of our morning routine with our Mandarin-speaking helper:

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! I’d love to hear from you! Please post at the bottom of this blog entry or email me! Let’s stay in touch. If you liked the ideas in this post, please sign up for our newsletter so that you can hear from us!

michelle

 

Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Chinese, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews, Spanish

Portable Region-Free DVD Players for Travel!

Portable Region Free DVD playerAre you going on a trip with your kids this summer?  After living in Japan and traveling back and forth to the United States, I very quickly learned the value of a portable DVD player. Why not use the travel time to expose your child to a second language? If you are exposing your child to French or Spanish, often you simply need to buy a “collector’s edition” version of the DVD in English and it will come with tracks in those languages. Check out our DVD recommendations and reviews for French and Spanish. However, if you are interested in Mandarin or Cantonese for your child, you need to make sure that the DVD player you have can play DVDs from that region. A region free DVD player can play ALL regions — meaning it can play DVDs from anywhere in the world. 

Often the seats are too low in the airplane for my children to see the TVs hanging from the ceilings of the aircraft and the shows that they have are often not appropriate for children (American Pie for a 4 year old, I don’t think so). While we no longer have to endure the long flights from Asia to the US, we still head to New Jersey every year and it is wonderful to have a little portable DVD player to keep my children entertained on the long flight.

My children only watch TV in Mandarin and so we are limited to the DVDs that are dubbed in Chinese. If you already have a portable DVD player that can only play US Region DVDs, I highly recommend checking out the website Asian Parent. This San Jose-based “mom and pop shop” has a wonderful selection of LEGAL children’s DVDs such as Toy Story III, Piglet’s Big Movie and Dora the Explorer, as well as some classics like Cinderella, all of which play on any DVD player you buy in the United States.

TV in your target language  is an outstanding and fun way to exposure your child to new vocabulary! See my previous post on TV as a Learning Tool for ways that we use TV to explore Mandarin.  I used to have a US region portable DVD player, which limited our viewing options to the older Disney films dubbed in Chinese.  However, a lot of my older DVDs are now scratched and skip. What a wonderful surprise to break out a newly released Mandarin DVD such as Wreck-it Ralph or Cars 2 on our next trip with our new region-free portable DVD player

Where can you get DVDs dubbed in Mandarin?

It takes a bit longer for the Mandarin version of a popular DVD to make it to the US — about 8-10 months later than the English versions. They often come with an English track as well so you can use the same DVD to play at playdates or sleepovers with friends who don’t speak Mandarin. 

Here are some fun new DVDs we just got for our trip: 

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michelleIf you have any questions or want to stay in touch, please email me at michelle@thelanguageplayground.com 

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Filed Under: Chinese, French, Product Reviews, Spanish, TV as a Tool