Archive for the Category »Kids Learn Chinese «

A little hard work can produce huge strides and improvements! In just one week, after much practice and studying, my baby came home with an “A” in the 2nd grade Chinese “spelling” test.

My 7-year-old came home beaming with pride, and has already been approaching me proactively with the little Chinese workbook to initiate practice sessions. The child is eager to earn an “A” every week now. “A” feels good and is achievable.

I am happy to have more solid evidence to impress upon my children that hard work yields handsome rewards…most of the time.

Here is A New Low – Part I.

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Both of my children attend a large Chinese school in the area with a well deserved reputation for being ferocious. The school packs in a rigorous weekly lesson all in 2 hours every Friday night and then the students are sent home to digest the lesson with a week’s worth of intense daily homework. Three times a year, the students endure a painful final exam to gauge how well they absorbed the curriculum.

Unbeknownst to me, my baby’s 2nd grade Chinese class started a weekly “spelling” test since the beginning of this school year. Since I didn’t know about it, practicing for a “spelling” test didn’t make it into our daily homework routine. If you know a thing or two about taking a Chinese character test, you can image what the test results would look like if a student is caught unprepared–especially if the student is a little kid.

Both of my children have been spoiling me with good grades, and we are unaccustomed to such utter defeat on a piece of paper! Yikes!!

When this was finally brought to my attention, I kept quiet and did not make it into a big fuss, but took immediate actions to correct this unfortunate little embarrassment. Everyday of last week, I had my baby practice all of the Chinese characters a whole bunch of times, then we took practice tests, then more writing, more practice tests, more writing… By Friday, we were confident that the baby knew all the characters by heart, and would pass this test with flying colors.

So, last night, as I was walking my kids to their Chinese school, I happily put my arm around my baby, and said proudly, “Tasterbach, your Chinese teacher will be so surprised! You are going to get an A+ on this test.”

“Yeah. She will be so surprised. Because I did really badly on my tests before.” The baby agreed happily.

“What’s really bad? Like an F?” said my 10 year old.

“No. Not a F. My children would never bring home a F.” I covered for the baby.

“No! I did worse than an F!” Tasterbach boldly exclaimed.

“What’s worse than F?!” asked my 10-year-old.


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My friend and I dropped off our three kids to their first day of a week-long camp somewhere in the middle of Taipei earlier today. We got to stay and observe the opening ceremony. From the back, I was anxious to see if my children were happy and can keep up with the rest of the local campers.

The opening ceremony was high energy and awfully loud thanks to their exceptionally powerful microphones. It was fun to see most of the kids going alone with decent enthusiasm while learning their camp song. My children’s participation was more guarded and hesitant.

Taipei Summer Camp Opening Ceremony

At the end of the opening ceremony, the children were called into their groups and formed a line to go to their individual classrooms. My children and their young friend just sat there, until my friend charged down to where they were, and instructed them to follow one of the groups.

As they slowly walked at the end of the line to their classroom, I walked up next to my baby, and explained some of the camp rules I overheard during the opening ceremony in English. My friend and I lingered outside of their classroom as long as we could until we had to leave. I left un-assured that they are excited to be left there, but hopeful that they will be as their day unfolds.

I have always entertained the idea of sending them to a Chinese camp in Taiwan or China as a way to force my children to speak Chinese. Both of my kids have attended Chinese school since Kindergarten. To their Chinese school’s credit, the kids were able to master their challenging Chinese curriculum during their class, do their 30 minute long daily Chinese homework during the week without much drama, and even earn A or B grades on their intimidating Chinese tests. However, all of these only amount to a shocking mockery that my children completely lack rudimentary conversational skills in Chinese.

I am finally putting my theory to the test, that the ability to speak perfect and natural Chinese is in fact locked somewhere inside my kids, and it only needs a little help–such as pushing them into a group of kids who won’t speak English to them–to unleash the Chinese verbal skills out of them like flood waters. My theory also demands quick results. So, they are in this camp for one week. When I go pick them up on Friday, they will be politely asking for water or ice cream in complete sentence in Chinese.

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My poor kids can finally breath easy today. They are done with their Chinese final exams! And preparing for these exams was quite a nightmare for the kids, and even took its toll on me. Personally, I think the test is too hard! And preparing for it just for a passing grade is taking all the little fun there is out of Chinese school. The kids call the Chinese exam week-Crazy Memorization Week.

For my 9-year-old’s 4th grade class the verbal test requires reading from a random section of any of the 8 lessons selected by the teacher at the time of the test. Plus a random selection of Chinese words from a list of over 200 words. The written test is much worse. There is a “spelling test” of a full list of 84 characters, and they are expected to write a whole paragraph from a random selection of 4 paragraphs.
Chinese School's Test Prep sheet
The school generously allows 2 weeks for the students to prepare for the test. So, for two weeks, the kids can’t have fun at all. They spent all their extra free time by their little table and chairs, practicing writing the Chinese characters over and over again. I help them by giving them a practice test, and they get most of the characters wrong, so they have to go back and write the incorrect characters a whole bunch more times. Then we will retake the practice test, and they write the incorrect ones even more times… In this two week process, disappointments, temper flares, whining, crying, and crying with real tears can be expected at all times. It triggers bad memories for me when I was a young school child. I feel bad for the kids, yet I still expect them to do their best. So the torture does not let up.

The truth is, I don’t even care if they can write in Chinese, I just want them to be able to speak, and perhaps to read a little. I wish the school would redirect all of their focus from writing to speaking. Kudos to the school, for in only 2 hours a week, my children are actually learning to read entire lessons in Chinese, and the lessons are often a short story or some type of Chinese essay for a 9 year old. Yet, I noticed that they can’t squeeze out a natural Chinese sentence to save their lives.

The kids are happy once again. They already recycled all their year’s worth of zip-lock bags of cut up flashcards for their weekly lessons, their test guides, homework booklets, and everything else in their Chinese school bag. This is how they celebrate the end of Crazy Memorization Week. Next year, maybe I will let them have a bonfire.

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I had a nightmare last night. I dreamed that my children and I desperately needed to use the potty and found ourselves inside an absolutely dreadful restroom. The restroom was small and dark, the floor was mostly wet, and the toilets had no cover and were of full of disgusting matter that was about to overflow. I wanted to turn around and leave, but the children needed to go. I was in great distress. Thank goodness dreams lack the sense of smell. So today as soon as the children got home from school, I had them both practicing squatting.

We are taking the kids to visit Taiwan and China this summer for the first time. We are very excited about our upcoming trip, except for the authentic Chinese restrooms. I know we are going to be safe in our hotels, the major cities, and probably top tourist attractions spots, but we have an ambitious itinerary that includes small towns and unbeaten paths. That is where the danger lurks.

I decided to prepare my two children for this uneasy part of their trip, starting with a painful description of a smelly restroom, with no toilets, but trenches that you have to squat over, and with no doors or no individual stalls.

“So, people can see your butt?” my baby asked, looking anxious.

“That’s right! And you better remember to bring your own toilet paper.” I gave it to them straight.

Then I had them both practice squatting. They each took turns squatting over an imaginary ditch I drew in the kitchen and competed to see who can hold their position the longest. Of course, this had the unintended side effect of becoming funny business in the comfort of our home, and they proceeded to do creative things as they tried to master this new concept of answering nature’s call. My children are very creative, so the three of us ended up laughing and giggling through this whole exercise.

The children have thoroughly enjoyed their squatting lesson, and promised to squat some more in their free time. They are now well prepared, and even looking forward to facing the real thing in China. I am so proud of my parenting skill…

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“Mom! I think Mrs. Caldwell would be horrified at what happened in our Chinese class tonight!” My nine-year-old shouted out as soon as we got into our car last Friday night.

“What happened in your class?” I asked rather calmly.

My nine-year-old leaned forward, and said, “Mom, last Friday, we had a VERY difficult test. And as it turned out lots of kids didn’t do well on that test. So, today, our teacher came in with a stack of the test papers, and she called all the kids that didn’t do well to stand up one by one, and showed the whole class their test papers!”


“A third of the students stood up! I was so scared that she would call my name. I didn’t want to stand up, and have the sitting-down-kids think I am a dumb kid!”

“Did you have to stand up?” I asked.


“Why do you think Mrs. Caldwell would be so horrified?” I asked.

“Mrs. Caldwell never shares our tests with the whole class. And she is not happy with you, if she finds out that you have been talking about test scores with other kids even during recess,” my nine-year-old replied.

I was mostly amused by my nine-year-olds’ shocking evening. I like Ms. Jiang. She has a kind face.

Ms. Jiang is actually a caring teacher, genuinely interested in seeing her kids learn Chinese, and learn it well. She often brings a bag of treats with her to her class. She uses these treats as rewards to encourage her class. Her treats aren’t the kinds that feature age old Halloween candies. Ms Jiang brings in those cute erasers, pens, pencils that are especially appealing to children. Usually, around 9:00PM on Friday nights, Ms. Jiang’s class would have the most wide-awake kids, with their hands high up in the air, some waving for a better chance to win a prize from her treat bag.

On the drive back home, I told my two children about the difference between their everyday school and their Chinese school. I told them that Chinese schools can be vicious, because they deem it okay to use humiliation, peer pressure, and fear as proper learning tools to motivate children. So, they should be careful, and always be well prepared for their Chinese tests.

Then I told my kids that here in America, privacy is highly regarded and requires our deepest respect, even the privacy of small children, and especially the small children’s test scores. So, the teachers like to keep these grades in secret and only share them with the people that matter, which would be the parents. And parents behave much worse than the classmates if they see their children with poor report cards. So they should be careful, and always come home with A+ grades.

“You know, I was a dumb kid…” with a smirk on my face, I was prepared to just ramble on and on until we got home, but then I was interrupted…

“What do you think Mrs. Caldwell will have to say?” My nine-year-old wanted to get back to the original question.

“Hum…..why don’t you just ask her on Monday and find out?” Realizing that no one asked for my opinion on the matter, I opted to support my child’s curiosity, and to seek the answer from the direct source.

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I am starting off this blog with a plug for one of my favorite summer camps in the Bay Area (Northern California). Because it rocks!

The camp is called the Chinese Cultural Camp. It is designed for children 5-12 to learn and experience Chinese culture. This camp is organized by the Wisdom Culture and Education Organization based in Fremont, CA. I believe they run a couple of fairly large Chinese schools during the regular school year.

I am so glad a friend from college had told me about this camp a few years back. Both of my kids have been going to this camp since their kindergarten year, and we have been back every year since. This summer camp is in six different locations throughout the South Bay area of Northern California.

Every summer, this camp brings much fun, much singing, dancing, and lots of Chinese traditional arts, crafts, and activities to hundreds of kids. They even provide delicious Chinese lunches to the kids that make my mouth water. The theme always surround the varies aspects of Chinese culture, but they mixed it up a bit every year, so the children are always treated to something new every summer. Last summer, my kids came home with Chinese kites, year of the Ox paper craft, and yummy looking rice and red bean desserts, all of which they made themselves. They even have Shaolin Temple monks there to teach the kids some marshal arts moves. We love to sit back at night and allow the kids entertain us with their newly acquired skills from the camp. It was quite a kick watching our 5 year old’s umbrella dance. And a real kick or two from our 8 year’s Lion Dance mixed with Chinese martial art movement.

Besides the varies programs this camp has to offer, they have amazing staffs working there. They are the nicest people, warm and genuinely happy to have our kids there to learn about traditional Chinese culture.

This camp isn’t for just any child, as the camp is in Mandarin Chinese, and all the programs are taught in Chinese, so the children need to at least understand the language in order to enjoy or just to keep up with the rest of the campers. There are also lots of big brothers and big sisters there assigned to each group to serve as teacher’s assistances. They typically speak in English to the kids. My kids just love their big brothers and sisters, as they are helpful, good to the little kids, and fun loving. I like these young teachers’ aides too, as they are good role models for those threaded teen years.

Every Friday, they put up quite a closing ceremony and show for the parents. And I have finally learned to go to this show way before the starting time of 2:30PM, as lots of parents show up for this event, and if you are right on time, you will have no good spot to sit. I video tape this one and half hour show every summer, it is amazing what these young kids can learn in just one week. Ah… then there is my biggest complain about this camp, it is only one week long.

For those of you live in South Bay, Nor Cal, here is the link to this camp:

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