Spanish

Explore Cultural Events in Your Target Language

Explore Chinese Language Through ExperiencesOne 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? 

Learn Chinese by exploring another culture

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! 

Chinese Ribbon DanceHow often should I go to these kind of events?

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! 

Michelle

michellegannon

 

Filed Under: Chinese, Cultural Experiences, French, Spanish, Uncategorized

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

This page contains affiliate links.

michelle

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. 

Check out these games: 

 

 

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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: 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

Book Review: Kaleidoscope Kids Books

Kaleidoscope Kids Book ChinaTitle: A Kaleidoscope Kids’ Book: China

Author: Debbi Michiko Florence

Where can I get it: 

Kaleidoscope Kids via Amazon (click on the link)

Playground Rating: 

StarStarStarStarStar

 

 

My family just LOVES this adorable and inexpensive book series by Kaleidoscope Kids to learn about different cultures and countries!  We have the China version of the series and so this review will mainly cover this book, but I have perused the others countries available and they are similar in style.

This book is wonderful for folks teaching their children about cultures in general. It is not meant for just the Chinese language student. Author Debbi Michiko Florence touches on various aspects of Chinese life in the 12 illustrated chapters such as the country’s landscape, daily life of children in China, popular inventions, history, cuisine, and more — but all in a very approachable and creative way! The illustrator, Jim Caputo, wraps the tidbits of information within cute illustrations and call out boxes making it very digestible. While the book is filled with lots of details about Chinese culture, it never feels overwhelming. 

Lucas Reading Kaleidoscope Kids China

What I love about this book: 

  • Graphics: The delightfully whimsical artwork truly make this book! I can’t put it down! 
  • Pictures: in addition to illustrations, the book includes many actual pictures of the items and places discussed. 
  • Approachable:  The author describes each item, cultural element and location in a way to give the reader a good overview, but not so much as to turn away the reader. 
  • Relevant to Children: The author often invites children to compare their lives/country’s customs with that of China. 
  • Activities: Instead of just a guidebook about China, this Kaleidoscope Kids China book invites children to explore some of the concepts on their own. The step-by-step instructions with illustrations are easy to follow and fun to do! My favorites are the paper making craft and dumpling recipe. 
  • Variety: The activities are not just limited to cooking or craft ideas. The author of this creative Kaleidoscope Kids China book also includes active ideas for the kinesthetic learner, such as a chasing game, tea tasting party and juggling skills. 
  • Try It Sections: In addition to the larger activities such as moon cake making, the author peppers the book with lots of “Try It” ideas to further explore the ideas she mentions in the book in simple ways. For example, in the food section, the author asks her readers to see how many different objects they can pick up with chopsticks. 
  • Introduction to Language: Sprinkled throughout the book are “Say It” boxes where the author invites children to pronounce some of the words she mentions in the text. She does not use Chinese characters, but instead uses both pinyin AND a pronuciation guide. What a great way for beginners to Mandarin to say the words without having to learn pinyin first!
  • Ponder This Sections: Kaleidoscope Kids Book  presents a few opportunities throughout to connect the text with children’s own lives and personalities and open up a dialogue for the parents to extend the learning outside of just the cultural components discussed. For example, she asks readers to think about some risks they have taken when she shares information about climbers of Mount Everest.  My son also loved discussing the debate over the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. 

What I am not crazy about: 

  • While most of the book is fantastic, my son found the first few pages dull. The author of this Kaleidoscope Kids Book about China starts off with a discussion about the government and cities in China. While it makes sense to start at this point, my son was initially turned off by the geographical topics. We jumped ahead to the cultural elements first and then went back to the first chapter after he got more interested in the book itself.
  • A few of the activities are relatively unrealistic. For example, in her description of the Great Wall of China, she wanted to convey the idea that it is a very long wall. She suggests having a grownup drive a mile in a car and make note of the starting and ending points, then walk that mile. If I did this activity with my son, I think the point would be lost by the time we reached the mile point — and then we would have to walk back another mile to get home!

All in all — a WONDERFUL book!  

Some other books to consider in this collection as a great introduction to different cultures: 

Kaleidoscope Kids Japan                   Kaleidoscope Kids Mexico

 

If you liked this review, please comment via facebook below or join our mailing list to find out more information!  I look forward to staying in touch! 

michelle

Filed Under: Chinese, Product Reviews, Spanish

Memory Game in a Second Language

Memory Game Melissa and DougTitle: Memory Game by Melissa and Doug

Where can I get it:

Memory Game by Melissa and Doug via Amazon

Playground Rating:

StarStarStarStarhalf star

 

It is easy to use games that you currently have in your house to teach your child your target second language. The games that you play do not have to be written in that second language in order for them to be effective as a teaching tool. Many games readily available in your local toy store are filled with great vocabulary opportunities. This Memory Game by Melissa and Doug is a wonderful tool to use both in English and your target language. 

Memory games are a wonderful way to increase the concentration power of your child’s brain. Memory games can be used not only to help your child to improve her memory by concentrating and focusing, but can also be great for second language learning. We have had this high quality memory game by Melissa and Doug for years and the other day I broke it out with my Mandarin-speaking babysitter as a great way to have fun and explore vocabulary for zoo animals, fruits, colors, farm animals, shapes, numbers and vehicles in Chinese. The wooden game has 25 windows that are coved by wooden shutters that you turn over to find the hidden pictures underneath. A player get to turn over two hidden squares to try to find the pairing. If the player does not make a match, it is the next person’s turn. If the player does make a match, she gets to go again. 

Children can easily play this Memory Game by Melissa and Doug by themselves or with a friend. I often find my daughter, Lousha, playing the game by herself. It is easier to use this pre-set, immoveable game by herself rather than use the traditional memory games of this type where the cards are more like a deck of playing cards and she needs to find a space on the floor and lay them out in rows herself. Often, when we play the games where the game is more like a deck of cards, the rows get messed up and then it defeats the point of the game as the placement of the card moves if you accidentally brush against them.  Also, in our family, we have a very curious and engaged toddler running around who likes to cause mayhem! Cards neatly placed in rows on the floor would not last long in our house! 

Check out this video of my daughter and our helper playing this memory game in Mandarin: 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9aL8KfB9fg

How do you play the game in a second language?

Simple! Just ask your second language speaking caregiver to play the game in that second language. The game does not get played unless it is done in your target language! Don’t have a babysitter who speaks your target language? Look up the words for the game yourself and create a little cheat-sheet! Then you can learn vocabulary for your second language at the same time as your child! 

What I Love about this Memory Game

  • No Loose Pieces – everything is attached to the game itself and so there is no way to lose any of the pieces. 
  • Easy to Manipulate – it is easy for my children (even my baby) to turn over the windows to reveal the picture below. 
  • Mentally Demanding – the cards are double-sided and so your child will be challenged to try to find the matches if you switch around the cards each time you play. 
  • High Quality –  we have had this game for years and it still looks brand-new! It is made out of wood and elastic and so the game is built to last. The cards are made out of a hard tough-to-rip paper. 
  • Easy to Play without Adult Help – unlike the playing card versions of memory that are so prevalent, this game is much easier for a child to just jump in and play by herself. 
  • Competitive Option: If your child likes to keep score, there is a little score board at the bottom of the game to keep track of how many pairs each person has found. 

What I Don’t Like about this Game: 

  • Travel game? I don’t think so. It is too heavy to carry along with you on flights (along with all of the other stuff you have to lug along with you on trips with kids) 
  • I wish that they had included more cards or had different categories on the other side of the card. I would have loved to have vegetables or professions or clothing items included as categories. 

How You Can Improve the Game for More Second Language Learning: 

  • Trace the board game on card stock paper and create your own game to add vocabulary. Get stickers with various themes for vocabulary enhancement and you can use the same game, but for literally thousands of different vocabulary words! Here are some ideas: 
  • If you want your child to start recognizing words, cover up one of the pairs with the written word on a little piece of paper that you tape over the picture. Then your child will look for the written word in your target second language and match it with the picture. 

 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, Uncategorized

DVD Review: El Perro y El Gato

Lisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

Much to my dismay, but not to my surprise, my kids are pretty picky consumers of language learning products. Games, activities and tv shows that I thought would be a cute way to pick up some Spanish were quickly deemed “babyish”, “boring”, or “lame”. Ouch!

Now I’ll be honest. My kids have always been the type to prefer Phineas and Ferb to the Wonder Pets (if you are unfamiliar with these shows, you are a better parent that I), so I knew I needed to find something with a bit more bite, one might even say mayhem, in it. Enter El Perro y El Gato.

El Perro y El Gato are bilingual best friends. El Perro is a hyped-up chihuahua, and El Gato is a super-chill cat (he reminds me of a bit of Chef from South Park, minus the innuendos). They go on quirky adventures that seem to fit the absurdist humor most kids seem to have, all while communicating in mixture of Spanish and English that really works to impart an understanding of Spanish phrases and vocabulary. And the music is crazy catchy!  


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There are three different DVDs. Each DVD runs about 30 minutes, and is made up of 4 minutes episodes. I bought the DVDs for my car, but in the house, we often just watch them on YouTube, which is a great, free way to try out the DVDs to see if your kids like them. 

For other fun, language-learning tools, check out some of the tools and books that we have reviewed on our website to help you get started! 

   

   

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