TV as a Tool

Cool New Mandarin DVDs for Kids

New DVDs for kids in Mandarin
New DVDs for kids in Mandarin

The top items on my daughter’s Christmas list this year are new Mandarin DVDs! We go on a lot of long car rides all over California and the new DVDs that the elf brought last year are just not cutting it this year! Newly released DVDs in Mandarin are coming out much sooner than in previous years.  In the past, we would have to wait YEARS for a Western DVD movie to be released with Mandarin subtitles, but now, the wait is over! (Well… not totally over, but much better than before!)

How do you play the Mandarin DVDs? Unfortunately, most of the DVDs in Mandarin need to a region-free DVD player to play them — that said — region-free DVD players are NOT expensive and well worth the cost ! We have converted all of the DVD players in our house to region-free because, for us, the kids get SO much benefit from them. Check out my post here about how we use TV to augment their language acquisition. Just imagine all of the Mandarin words they pick up from just watching Minions!

 Did you know that you can install a region-free DVD player in your car? Check out our post here for details about how we did it. Not willing to fork over the cashola just yet for a DVD player in your car? Get a region-free portable DVD player that you can take with you anywhere — your hotel room, your car or even your couch at home!

Check out these new releases for your Christmas stocking!

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Filed Under: Homeschooling, Product Reviews, TV as a Tool, Uncategorized

My kids won’t watch TV in their second language

I have lots of parents ask me how I get my kids to watch TV in Chinese. The answer is uncomplicated. They either get TV in Chinese or no TV at all. They know the rules. They never ask to watch TV in English simply because they know that it is not an option. They would rather have TV than no TV at all. Simple.

If you are starting out on this second language journey and up until now, your kids have only know TV in English — of course — it will be challenging. AT THE BEGINNING! But if you are firm with your rules and stick with it, I guarantee you that your kids will pick TV over no TV every time.

Now, I am not saying that Mandarin TV takes over ALL TV in our house. For us, TV comes in English on family movies nights on Fridays and when we have non-Chinese speakers over the house for a sleepover. But other than that, it is in Mandarin!

TV is a wonderful tool to introduce new vocabulary that may not come up in ordinary conversation.

“To infinity, and beyond!” — Buzz Lightyear

It is fun! And, gives you a bit of time to tackle those dishes without distractions.

Try it out with your kids, regardless of how many years of English TV they have had prior to this decision! If you are unyielding in your decision, your kiddos will get it and soon happily watch Zootopia in whatever language you choose!

Filed Under: TV as a Tool

Using Soccer to Teach Spanish

lisa SarafidisLisa 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)

Soccer to Teach Spanish
Photo credit: Steven Depolo

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

World Cup Brazil - Learn Spanish through Soccer
Photo Credit: Thomas

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:

Argentinian Soccer
Colombian Soccer
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!


Filed Under: Cultural Experiences, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Music to Learn a Second Language, Spanish, TV as a Tool

Did you know that you can get region free dvd player in your car?

region free dvd playerOur beat-up red minivan was on its last legs (or wheels) and it was time to get a new car. I found the minivan of my dreams (I think I am official middle-aged with that phrase) and my husband, the master negotiator, was sent in to close the deal. The minivan was perfect — sliding doors, keyless entry system, eight seats  – but it lacked a DVD player.

As a final point of negotiation, I sent my husband in with a mission. Get a region-free DVD player installed. In order to play most DVDs from China in Mandarin, one needs a region free DVD player. Regular DVD players that you find in the United States are not able to play most DVDs from China. Toyota is a Japanese car maker, right? They should have those! Sure enough – -region-free DVD systems for cars exist! You just need to ask!

Region Free Built In DVD Players for the Car! 

We installed a built-in unit that came with two headsets (you can buy more if you need them) and the unit plays all of our DVDs from China. I buy a ton ofRegion free dvd players 1 newly-released DVDs from Amazon in Mandarin, but before our swanky updated system, we could not play any of them. As a family we do not watch much TV, however I certainly use this kind of entertainment for long car rides.

No Guilt!

With DVDs in a second language, I do not feel guilty letting my kids watch TV. Think about all of the vocabulary they pick up in popular new movies like Turbo, Despicable Me 2,  and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  And… they are engaged the whole time!

Other Options

So let’s say you already have a DVD player installed in your car. You do not have to put in a whole new one in order to play DVDs from other regions. There are lots of other options for playing region free DVDs in a car. You can get these handy DVD players that fit right in your headrest! Or you can get a portable unit that you can then take with you into hotel rooms. There are lots of options for watching region free DVDs in the car (see the carousel from Amazon below)!

My kiddos are just thrilled to have all sorts of fun DVDs at their fingertips and I love hearing the giggles coming from the back of the car!

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Filed Under: Chinese, TV as a Tool, 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.


  • 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! 


  • 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:

Have fun! 




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

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

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

Article: Top 10 Reasons Your Kids Aren't Speaking Your Language

Lisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

Why aren’t your kids speaking your language? Check out Lisa’s story and an interesting article about this topic: 

Lisa’s Story

My family and I just got back from a trip to Greece for my sister-in-law’s wedding. We had an absolutely fabulous time, with the exception of the airplane travel (note to self: if I am ever tempted to have a fourth child, remember the DC to Frankfurt flight…I’m sure all the other passengers will.)

While we were there, my seven-year old daughter, Grace, was very comfortable speaking in Greek to our family and friends. However, Billy, my five-year old, was having none of it. Yianis, my husband, has always spoken to the kids exclusively in Greek, but Billy has resisted responding in Greek, and sometimes acts like he doesn’t understand what Yianis is saying (this might have nothing to do with the Greek, and all to do with the fact that he is 5). 

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One of my take-aways from our trip is that I need to get involved in our kids’ Greek learning. While I am far from fluent, there are many ways I can help our kids improve their Greek (check out our Get Started page for suggestions). I happened to find a really pertinent article written by Corey Heller of Multilingual Living, entitled “Top 10 Reasons Your Children Aren’t Speaking Your Language“.  While all of the ideas in the article were interesting, there were a few that were really relevant to my life:

1. Not Enough Exposure: Some researchers have suggested that children need to be exposed to the minority language a minimum of 30% of the time (on average), to achieve a basic level of multilingualism.  If the parent speaking the minority language is working 40 plus hours a week outside of the home (which is the case in our family), a child might not be getting enough exposure to the language to reach fluency.  This might partly explain why Grace is more comfortable with Greek than Billy, even though they are growing up in the same home: Yianis was working as a professor when Grace was born, so he had a much more flexible schedule for the first year or so of her life. Also, a large part of the kids’ fluency in Greek has been our summers in Greece. We were unable to go to Greece for the last two years, depriving Billy of the opportunity for complete immersion that Grace had at the same age.  Long story short, I need to find a way to provide the exposure myself, since I am the one who is around the kids the most.

2. Need: This is an interesting one. Why SHOULD your child use his second language? If your child can get everything he needs via the mother tongue, then there is really no NEED to use the minority language. So Corey suggests that you can CREATE a need: to play a game, to speak with others who only speak the minority language (family, travel to another country), to understand a book or DVD in the minority language, to get something that he wants. For Billy, going to Greece in the summers will help, but for a more immediate impact, I can see that having the kids watch Greek cartoons after school (which we can easily find on YouTube), could require him to use the Greek he does know, giving him practice in a fun way. Check out this post for other ways to use television for language learning.

 3. Resources: Making sure your child has a good supply of fun, educational activities and books in the second language is really important. If all you have are language-learning text books, many children may become resistant to using them. Board games, DVDs, video games and stories written exclusively in the minority language can be invaluable tools for stimulating your child’s interest.  At my home, we do have a few books and DVDs in Greek, but they are mostly geared towards my daughter’s interests, since the last time we bought Greek books and DVDs was when Billy was very little…and we have no games in Greek.  A definite area that we need to address! But before we go out and order a bunch of Greek board games, we can start by just playing a few card games we already know, but make everyone speak Greek while they are doing it.

I’m inspired to give some of these tips a try! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. Click here to read the rest of Corey’s article.

If you would like to buy some games, DVDs or books in your second language choice, check out our list of reviewed items here: 








Filed Under: Games to Learn a Second Language, Research and Trends, TV as a Tool

Video: How We Use TV to Teach a Second Language

Language Learning DVDs for kids are just fantastic these days! Many of them teach children basic expressions and concepts in fun and engaging ways!  However, it can be difficult to get your older child to watch one of these language learning DVDs more than one or two times – especially  if your child desperately wants to watch a Disney flick or a popular Nickelodeon TV show.

How can you turn Disney or Dora into a second language opportunity? Show them the movie in that second language! 

It sounds easy right? Just pop in a DVD that has a language track in your chosen second language and off you go! Your kid will be spouting off Chinese or Spanish by the time the credits roll at the end of the show. Not so. It may take a while for your child to “get it” — meaning get the idea that the show that they used to watch in your native language is now being dubbed in a different language. The Language Playground™ has developed a method for introducing content and language in a way that solidifies meaning behind the images that they see on the screen.

Don’t get us wrong – you don’t have to do this for every TV program that your kiddo watches in a second language — that can be exhausting! Just pick and choose the parts of this process that work for you and your family.

Here is our process: 

1. Reading in your native language: Read a book in your native language that is based on the film that you are about to show your children

2. Watching in your native language: Have your children watch the show in your native language

3. Reading in a Second Language: Have your children listen to the book being told in a second language

4. Watching in the Second Language: Have your child watch the show in your second language choice with the book on his lap so that he can follow along. Only allow your children to watch the movie in your second language choice going forward.

5. Testing: A great way to test your child’s knowledge of the program is to put on the subtitles (if you don’t speak the language yourself) and see if he knows what is being said in the film.

  • If your child can’t yet read: put on the subtitles and ask him to tell you what is said in each scene. You can pause it screen by screen to see if your child understood the dialogue. Don’t do this for the whole film as your child will get frustrated and won’t want to “play this game” but if you do it sporadically throughout the show, it can be fun for both of you!
  • If your child can read: put on the subtitles and make a little card that enables you to block out the words at the bottom of the screen. Position yourself next to the TV so that you can see the subtitles but your child cannot. Again, don’t do this for the whole film, but if you do it sporadically throughout the show, your child may enjoy this challenge!

How do I get movies that are dubbed in my second language choice? 

It is getting much easier to get DVDs in many languages. Many popular movies and TV shows are now offered in multiple languages — even recently released DVDs.

FOR CHINESE LEARNERS: Finding popular shows in Mandarin can be a bit more challenging than French or Spanish, but we found a fantastic website where we buy all of our DVDs! Check out for a HUGE selection of popular American and Chinese animated DVDs, books, workbooks and games! Check out additional DVD recommendations by clicking on the Chinese flag below. Aside from the DVDs sold on asianparent, most Mandarin DVDs that you purchase will need to be played on a region-free player. They are cheap! Invest in one today! See below for our recommendations.

FOR SPANISH LEARNERS: Spanish tracks are already built into many popular DVDs (especially the collectors’ editions). Click on the Spanish flag for our recommended list of Spanish DVDs for children.

FOR FRENCH LEARNERS: French tracks are already built into many popular DVDs (especially the collectors’ editions). Click on the French flag for our recommended list of French DVDs for children.

FOR ESL or EMERGING ENGLISH READERS:  Click on the English flag for our recommended list of English DVDs for children.

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Filed Under: Posts with Videos, TV as a Tool