Age: 7.75 & 4.75
The children and I have been immersed in the world of Chinese history the last 2 weeks. I finally managed to put it on my iPhone. We’ve been listening to them off and on, on our trips to the Books and Me Library in Los Altos. Thumper loves it, and Astroboy, though he cannot understand most of what he’s hearing, he’s picking up vocabulary and also loves singing the songs.
The set has 10 books and 30 CDs for a total of 60 stories on Chinese History. The books are more like background info that you could read. But the CDs are way more interesting. I’ve been growing to really love the series and plan to eventually get their World History and Famous People series as well. Let me count the ways of how I love them:
- Every CD starts with an intro which defines what history is, and introduces the guides of the stories. There is a little 8 year old girl, 姍姍, and a little boy, who is 5. They talk to an old man, 魔鏡公公, who tells them the stories. The two children bicker and talk before and after each story. They ask questions that children may have after a story, and in a way, summarize what you’re hearing into colloquial language so it’s easier to understand. The children and I also love it also because the characters are 3 years apart and they way they talk are sometimes just like how Astroboy and Thmper talk to each other.
- Each story also starts or ends with two theme songs. We’ve been singing them in the house. One is 朝代歌. The dynasties got turned into both a chant and a song.
It’s neat hearing the kids chant the dynasty names. I never really learned it as a child. The other is just a theme song that talks about how bees love honey and monkeys love to climb trees and kids love listening to Chinese History stories.
蜜蜂愛花朵 猴子愛爬樹 島嶼的孩子愛大海 山上的孩子愛森林 我家聰明的寶貝 愛聽~~~中國~~歷史~~~~故事
As usual, we change the lyrics up for fun, partly because I’m old and I cannot remember the lyrics. We keep thinking up other things that “like” other things, “xx 愛 放屁, yy 愛唱歌”, etc.
- The stories are interesting! History can often be presented as a bunch of dates and names to remember. Hard to remember 5000 years worth of names and dates. But really they are stories. In an audio format, there are song effects, hard vocabulary are explained, and most importantly, they can listen to it again and again. I remember watching Japanese historical drama as an adult and wanting to find out more about Japanese history because of it. I hope these series do the same thing for the children. Here is a sample from the publisher’s youtube channel.
- An additional reason is because they’re listening to history, Thumper is picking up words that are traditionally use more in historical settings rather than modern speech; words like 爹，娘 (old way of calling your parents)，敝上 (what a subject calls his emperor), etc.
Is there anything I don’t like? I would say more things to know going in. It’s obviously meant for Chinese children, so there is that culture pride kind of thing going on. There is also a lot built in Chinese morals and cultural thought when you talk about Chinese stories, like being filial to parents and kings (even when your parents mis-treat you). Babies and siblings get killed fairly often or mistreated in really cruel ways. There are a lot of myths, especially in the beginning of Chinese history, where gods and what not help the main characters overcome their struggles. Thankfully it’s going over Astroboy’s heads and Thumper isn’t ready to ask about them yet.
This series is more appropriate for age 6 and up. As I said, there are a lot of 打打殺殺 (fighting) and loud sound effects. Astroboy has covered his ears up during tense scenes and I had to just switch the audio to Thumper’s side of the car only.
I’ve been mulling over the importance of listening and speaking the last few days. When you learn English in another country, it is important academically because eventually you may study in the west. You need to be able to write academically well. Textbooks, even in college level in Taiwan, are sometimes in English. So kids spend years learning it and get good at writing and reading, but can be terrible in listening and speaking. My kids probably don’t need that level of Chinese. Even if they study in college in Taiwan, I know they can get by with just a little Chinese, if the textbooks are in English anyway.
But if the point of a language is for communication, then it is important that the 10 years we spend learning a language teach the kids that. I would much rather we spend 10 years learning and the kids can plop down in another country and use it. I don’t want to learn academic Chinese here and then have the kids go pick up spoken language in Taiwan or China when they grow up. To me, watching from afar, it is the pain of anybody who grows up learning English overseas and why there is this push to start younger and do English immersion. Of course we still need academic Chinese but I’m now figuring out ways to focus on the listening/speaking.
Speaking of iPhone, it is how we usually manage to get our listening in, driving in the car. I wish my phone had a bigger disk space as it would make the auto updating easier. Right now, I converted all of my CDs into MP3s. Then I just create a smart playlist which always pulls MPs from my “Children’s Fiction” group, the ones with a rating of 5 stars. This way, all I need to do is to tag the tracks we want to listen to in the car with 5 star rating and the phone auto-updates. An easier way is probably with iCloud but I don’t have that kind of bandwidth to be downloading songs. Plus it means we’re subject to data availability when we drive down Interstate 5.