Age: 7 & 10 (Suitable for 1st grade and up)

As we shift our focus onto English this semester, I’m finding myself encountering some typical issues with learning Chinese as a second language: no time and inability to move up a level.  

The children spend a lot of their free time listening to English audio books.  I’m not stopping them because that’s my focus this semester: upping both kids’ English comprehension to the next level.  But as a result, it feels like the Chinese is just keeping pace.

Though both Thumper and Astroboy continue reading Chinese books as assignments and bedtime reading, I know better.  English aural input has a huge impact.  I can see it in the books they choose to read.  Thumper can’t quite make that jump to higher level, more difficult Chinese.  When I ask her what certain words mean in the mid to upper elementary books she’s reading, she often doesn’t know.   Astroboy is reading higher level Chinese books, but only because he’s already listened to the English audiobooks.

In any case, since we have no time with all that focus on English curriculum during the work period, a new plan of attack is needed.  To that end, I’m having the children watch newscast after dinner every night, for about 30 minutes.

Tzu Chi puts out a children’s newscast called 小主播看天下, or Kids Newsroom.  Here’s the description on their website:

Kids’ Newsroom looks at things happening around the world through children’s point of view. The little anchors and reporters broadcast important news and events happening not only in Taiwan but also in many other countries across the globe, in hopes that children can become more concerned about the world as well as the land they live on.

Though Tzu Chi is a religious organization, the newscast itself doesn’t have a religious overtone.  Each news program has about 2-3 stories, some around the world, some focused on news from Taiwan.  If it’s Taiwanese news, very often they interview kids.  For example, the one we watched tonight, episode 444 (I didn’t deliberately pick the number!) talked about how people from different countries are trying to save the environment and a doggie school in Taiwan.

Topics covered in other episodes:

  • Australia’s kangeroo
  • Robots in England
  • Birds in swamps
  • Crossing a river in Ukraine

The newscast is always subtitled the Thumper practices reading subtitles when she watches.  There is often English since they interview people from around the world.  And as you can, the topics are all over the place.  But I love that there is an emphasis on environmental stewardship.  

What I hope is, with a nightly 30 minute newscast, they start gaining more non-fiction vocabulary, in a way they would not be getting if they had to go read encyclopedias, wait till we encounter it in our study, or read fiction.  In addition, this would be spoken in an advanced way.  The newscast is a bit more formal Chinese, a lot more vocabulary they aren’t exposed to just talking to me, plus higher level vocabulary.  If understanding newscast is the highest level on Mandarin Mama’s Chinese Action List, then we can practice by watching children’s newscast.

As I’ve mentioned before, 6 years of French did not result in conversational or useful French for me.  That made a lasting impression.  This time around, I’m trying to keep in mind that speaking and listening must come before reading and writing.  Especially when time is limited, a better use of our time would be to improve comprehension, reading and writing will follow much easier and with less effort.

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