Category: Zhuyin

Using Free Chinese Math Workbooks to Practice zhuyin

math book

Our homeschool has been going really really well the last two weeks with my revamp of the kids’ work plan.  (Well, we’ll pretend that Astroboy didn’t cry big fat tears about not wanting to go to school the other day.)   One of the new items on their work plan is working with the free Chinese math workbooks put out by the National Academy of Educational Research.

I really like these books because from the quick flip throughs up to 6th grade, they seem a bit Montessori-esque.  Or maybe if I say Singapore Math-esque, that sounds better (even though Singapore Math also took it from Montessori).  For example, in Book 1, they introduce place values with very Montessori like materials (thousand cube, hundred squares, ten bars, and unit beads).  They’re just not in Montessori colors and it’s on paper.


Zhuyin Class Week 9

Ahhh,  Week 9, or more aptly, lesson 9.   In the Kang Xuan textbook, week 9 introduces the last of the compound zhuyins.  I can’t believe we’re almost done after 6 months.  At this point, I’m actually thinking of just letting Astroboy not practice anymore after this semester, unless he picks it up himself.   He has this tendency, even when a page has only 1 character he doesn’t recognize, to read the zhuyin.  I know this because he takes so long at reading each character (since he’s slowly sounding out the zhuyin), but if I block out the zhuyin of the character he knows, he reads them faster.

The only reason we started zhuyin for Astroboy was because his sister was in the class.  Before then, I had the thought that kids don’t really need to start till after learning the 500 Sagebook characters.  Seeing Astroboy reading like this, I’m inclined to go with my original idea.  I know that an older kid won’t necessarily do this.  But in a way, Astroboy got introduced to zhuyin even before we really focused on Sagebooks and I need to switch his comfort level to the other way around.


Zhuyin Week 4, 5

We’ve had 8 weeks of class.  But we only officially finished week 5 of the Kang Xuan zhuyin textbook.  It kind of evened out to 3 “classes” per chapter.

I recently realized, Taiwan spents 10 weeks, 5 days a week on zhuyin (國文課), this means children are expected to know zhuyin after about 50 classes.  I calculated that Astroboy will have had 51 classes by mid December.   He’s not at the level that first graders are doing, at least from the samples I see.  It’s hard for him because he can’t hold a pencil to write for long.  But he’s so close to reading better.  So it sounds about right to me.


Zhuyin Class Week 3

The zhuyin class is starting to flow by.

Week 3 seems to be a magical week, just like our summer zhuyin class, where the beginning sounds, the blending, are all starting to gel.  I think I was just slightly worried by the end of week 2, feeling like I’m not teaching well.  But seeing Astroboy is blending like mad reminds me I need to be patient when it comes to phonics.  It really doesn’t happen overnight.

For Astroboy, he’s reached a new stage where he’s compulsively spelling everything during the day.  “Mama, 請你給我 ㄉ ㄢ 蛋.” And he’s progressed to 3 zhuyin blends.   He’ll spend 30 minutes painstakingly reading through his favorite 小雞 books.  We finished Series 1 of Sagebooks two weeks ago and those extra characters are making it a bit easier for him to read through those books.  The same thing would not work on Thumper.  Or rather, she would get discouraged having to read that slowly and the general feeling of “not knowing”.   I’m not complaining about Thumper.  Just that it still manages to surprise me seeing how two kids could learn so different.

Anyways, this week we’re learning ㄌㄑㄗㄩㄜㄢㄤㄥ.

I’m changing our lesson focus a bit and teaching stroke order of the zhuyin characters, in addition to constantly popping up with “I know! 報紙 starts with ㄅ!”  Like the last zhuyin class, after a few times of this the kids really caught up to beginning sound idea and had a lot of fun randomly coming up with words.

 zhuyin week 3

Anyways, we folded up a paper into 16 squares, for each one, we drew a picture, wrote down how to spell it in the next 2 squares, and then finished by re-writing that zhuyin one more time.  By doing this, Astroboy works on his spelling.  On a side note, I’ve noticed because he’s spelling (and therefore hearing individual sounds), he’s picking up learning English phonics fairly quickly.

Because we’re progressing a bit faster, I really wanted to make sure that the zhuyin symbol itself is remembered.  So we played zhuyin bingo.

For the second class, for review I had Astroboy come up with a word and then try to spell it.  I was surprised that it adds a level of difficulty.  Sometimes I think Astroboy can spell something, but it turns out maybe he knows just how to spell one particular word, and not necessarily can hear the sound to spell every word.

 zhuyin week 3
Because he wanted to make the volcano in the classroom erupt this Friday, another exercise we did was to make a little recipe booklet.  We folded a piece of paper into 4.  For each square we drew the ingredient we needed to make a volcano erupt and then tried to spell it.  I worked on having him hear
the ending sound of the word instead of having them come up with just beginning sound and providing the ending sound.  It was heartingly to me that
he didn’t have too much trouble with it.

For the third class, we rewrote this recipe again and then Astroboy had a lot of fun pouring different colored vinegar volcano down the volcano and watching it erupt.

Eh?  Volcano?  In a Zhuyin class?

That was my response when I first saw this type of activity in summer zhuyin class.  After watching it a few times, I realized it works in a class format because

  • the kids need to learn vocabulary in Chinese.  They may know it in English, but not necessarily Chinese.
  • having concrete experience to tie with a zhuyin helps them remember it.  For sure the folding of airplanes a week ago was a hit and it is now something they tend to want to spell and do spell correctly.
  • a variety of experiences ala How We Learn makes learning more stimulating and fun.  I wish I’d known I could have done it other ways when I was teaching Thumper.

We’re now 1/3 way through the class.   Sometimes I get antsy and feel like we’re not progressing fast enough.  But looking back, we’ve only learned 1/3 of the 57 sounds in zhuyin, we’ve still got a ways to go…..

Zhuyin Week 2

Week 2  ㄈㄏㄓㄔㄨㄚㄜ is introduced.

When I was making my flashcards, I realized that 康軒 is introducing these zhuyin based on frequency.  For sure, ㄠ is actually one of the most occurring sounds.  I thought it would have been ㄚor ㄧ or ㄨ.  I guess because those are learned first in a way with family names like 爸爸 媽媽.

I would have thought reviewing 3 times each lesson is too much, but I’m finding that it’s actually a good number.  Because each time you can add something new to it, from remembering the symbols to beginning sounds to blending.  So, we’re actually progressing really fast with this class, with only 1.5-2.5 classes spent per 6 zhuyin. I may need to adjust the speed later on.   For Astroboy, it’s the ending sounds and tones I’m working on.

This week, we started by watching a tongue twister video.  We didn’t watch the whole thing, just the story part.  The second class, we watched this video again and reviewed it again.  The tongue twister was then assigned as homework, where Astroboy had to write down the tone himself.

媽媽騎馬, 馬慢, 媽媽罵馬。

Then we officially started the class with our zhuyin song, modified from the following video:

zhuyin blackboard
Zhuyin display to sing along to

Immediately after, I worked on tones, trying to add the tones to the tongue twisters video we watched. Sometimes Astroboy needed a reminder with the hand gestures.  The more we practice, the more he’s getting it.


Zhuyin Textbook: 小康軒 ㄅㄆㄇ大口袋 (Zhuyin Big Pocket)

I recently got my hands on a sample of 小康軒 ㄅㄆㄇ大口袋 (Zhuyin Big Pocket).

Kang Xuan is a textbook publisher in Taiwan.  They provide some of the textbooks children use in public schools.  What I didn’t know is that they also publish textbook and curriculum for preschools.

Background Info:

The pics below are of the 2014-2015 school year Zhuyin Big Pocket.    There are 4 “sets”, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.  Remember, these are textbooks for preschools.  Apparently, these are marketed as Spring/Summer for 4 year olds (中班) and Fall/Winter for 5 year olds (Kindergarten/大班).

In 2015-2016, they added 2 new books to the series.  They’re basically marketed for the 3 year olds (小班).  These 2 new books basically focuses more on introducing the symbols only.  Whereas the 2014-2015 version starts with introducing symbols and blending (the way I prefer anyway).

Just like other curriculum books that are only made available per semester, the 2015-2016 version only has sets 1, 3, 5 out right now and you have to wait for sets 2, 4, 6 next semester.  The 2014-2015 versions are all available now.

Kang Xuan also sells another set call 歡樂 ㄅㄆㄇ (Happy bopomo).  Apparently, these are much like the new sets 1 and 2 in the Zhuyin Big Pocket series.  They only introduce the symbols.  I have not seen these, this is just what the distributor tells me.


Zhuyin Class Week 1

Astroboy started his second iteration of zhuyin class this past week, and this one it is me teaching it all the way.  I need to document what we’re doing.  I realized as I was prepping for week 1 that I already did not remember all the tips and tricks I learned in our summer zhuyin class in regards to teaching.  Obviously my brain doesn’t work without a lot of caffeine, which I’m weaning myself off of.

Since I’m the one teaching, I’m trying to add some Montessori-eqsue phonics exercise into the lessons. It’s really the way I’m most comfortable with teaching the children.   I’m going to bypass all the theory for now in this post…it’ll make it way too long.  I did do a bunch of research again last week on teaching phonics since I’m doing English phonics right now and it helped clarified some things and introduced new questions for me when it comes to teaching zhuyin.

Where we were at in regards to zhuyin

I feel like Astroboy’s zhuyin journey is kind of funky.  Even though he only learned his zhuyin through Ciqo Hu and me doing some classic Montessori presentations last year, this year he was able to pick up the zhuyin symbols pretty fast, and pick up the blending pretty fast.  Lots of kids can blend, but it’s the way he’s blending.  It’s clear that he’s on the younger side when he sounds things out, because he’s very slow and methodical.  Yet at the same time, he was able to sound out himself many of the words, even the ending sounds, after 6 weeks of zhuyin class.  Because ending sounds are hard for a lot of kids.  For me, either it means that the way I taught him to blend worked last year, or zhuyin class 3 days a week made the difference.

Anyways, after 6 weeks, that is where we’re at.  Writing-wise, Astroboy can sound things out pretty easy if it’s 2 zhuyin word, he has a harder time with 3 because we didn’t cover all of them.  And lastly he has problems with tones.  Reading-wise, at the end of our summer class, he was able to read words (2 Chinese characters) well, but got tired easily when he read sentences.

First week of Class

This session we’re going to cover the same textbook, at the rate of 1 chapter per week, same as before.    But since it will run for 15 weeks, we should be able to actually cover all 10 chapters.

The first week, ㄅㄆㄇㄉㄧㄠ are officially introduced.  This ㄈ is sometimes added by the tutor as well and she also likes to throw in other characters into the mix as they’re shown in the flashcards we use.  After the last class, one thing I thought I would try is to introduce the vowels first, then tones, then consonants.  Because the hardest part children have is always the tones, which is typically taught with the vowels.  Like, ㄠ, ㄠˇ, ㄅㄠˇ.  However, this is counter-intuitive when you’re teaching beginning sounds first as well.  So I’m not quite clear which way works better.

The first class is really about setting the tone of the class, the routines, the teacher expectations of behaviors such as raising your hand, sitting well, etc.  I forgot all about that until the zhuyin tutor showed me again.   After all of that is done, the 6 zhuyin characters are introduced.


How long does it take to learn zhuyin?

One of the things that annoys Baba is my insistence in reading a movie review before I watch a movie.  I like to at least get a general idea of what’s going to happen, rather than a surprise.  At home, watching a movie, I will fast forward to the end first to make sure the main character isn’t going to die, before going back to enjoy the rest of the movie.

When it comes to the kids, I’m often the same way.  “How long does it take to normalize a classroom?” “When do kids potty train?” “When do they how to walk/talk/run/tie shoelaces, etc etc etc”.  I really really hate it when people says, “it all depends on the child”, even though I know it’s true.  I just want a general time frame dag nabbit!

So I’ve been recently wondering, “How long does it take to learn zhuyin?”  I asked both friends and teacher friends I knew.  The answer is kind of obvious but I hadn’t thought of it.  However long it takes kids to learn to read in English, it probably takes just as long in Chinese.  Supposing a child comes into kindergarten and doesn’t know how to read.  I believe between K-2, it is expected they will be working on reading.  Of course if you learned to read in preschool, you would read much earlier.   I vaguely remember now someone mentioning that by the end of Kindergarten, the children have been introduced to all of the alphabet, and are working on sounding simple words out.  That’s not that fast at all.

I somehow had it in my head that you can learn zhuyin in 3 months because I know teachers teach it the first few months of first grade and then the kids move on to learning characters and reading zhuyin.  I hadn’t realized that that’s just the teachers teaching zhuyin characters in 3 months.  The kids then need to practice reading.  And that’s probably daily zhuyin practice.  So it would take even longer in the US?

I had a long talk with a teacher friend tonight.  Now I’m thinking it’ll take me probably 3 months to introduce all of zhuyin to Astroboy, and then we’ll need to spend this upcoming year to learn to blend and read words and sentences.  I imagine it takes even longer in preschool since they’re just not as developmentally ready.  My friend told me that it doesn’t quite matter if the child knows English or not already.  Though of course it’ll help them learn to sound things out faster. Because the flip side of knowing English is that zhuyin is a foreign/second language to them.   So there’s the added learning curve of learning a second language.

To her, the important thing is the effort I spend reviewing with Astroboy outside of school time.  Totally true.  I see the progress he’s making with the homework he has to do.  Because our class is 3 days a week, we end up doing homework pretty much daily, on top of reviewing and relearning in class.   In a way, we’re doing about 2-2.5 hours of zhuyin-related work 3 times a week, and 0.5-1 hour the other 2 days.  I feel like the frequency is definitely making a difference.  Of course, Astroboy is only 5, so he is not getting it as fast as the older kids.

Still, thinking it may take 6 months to a year plus makes it feel soooooo long.  By then he’ll be 6!   Sigh.  Sometimes knowing doesn’t help me stop being impatient.

Zhuyin Bingo


On top of the zhuyin class, we’ve also been doing zhuyin activities at home.  I won’t document all of them because it always varies depending on where they’re at in the process.  Are they learning to:

  • recognize zhuyin characters
  • learning to blend and read
  • reading sentences
  • writing zhuyin

Here is one fun activity we did the other day.  It is specifically for learning to recognize zhuyin characters.  The zhuyin I used are specific to the first 4-5 chapters of the Kang Xuan 康軒 book we’re studying from.  I think the game is more fun when you already know most of the characters so it is best to play this after you’re past chapter 3.


Zhuyin Curriculum / Textbooks

Next week we will begin our third week of zhuyin class.  Nothing beats working on a subject daily, or Mon/Wed/Friday + homework.  I definitely see Astroboy progressing.

Last year, Astroboy spent it learning the idea of beginning sounds and also how to blend.  It’s definitely helping him in the class.  I see him being able to blend once he learns a new zhuyin character.  We’re still working on tones though.

We’re not following a Montessori curriculum for zhuyin.  We are doing hands on activities.  I haven’t reconciled what we’re doing with the way I learned to teach phonics.  But I did realize one thing.  English phonics isn’t the same as Chinese phonics.  In English, we start off with a bunch of 3 letter words, often just switching one alphabet to make new words.  A classic example is the work on beginning sound.  You can have a basket of letters and objects for bat, mat, cat, hat.  

It doesn’t work like this in Chinese.  Sure, most Chinese characters require just 2 zhuyin alphabet.  But a Chinese word requires 4-6.  And it is not a simple matter of switching one zhuyin character to make a whole new Chinese word.   So what this means is that you have to teach a bunch of zhuyin before you can spell.  And that teachers tend to teach one zhuyin alphabet but then show kids a Chinese word where the other zhuyin alphabet aren’t taught yet.  To me, it isn’t dividing the concept into really understandable chunks.  So exactly how to break it up still confounds me.  2040101000b

Here is the book we’re following for the zhuyin curriculum.  康軒一上自修 Kang Xuan’s first grade self-study book.  This first grade fall semester book is self-study version of their textbook and the first section is devoted to learning zhuyin.  You can buy this directly from Kang Xuan’s website and ship it to the US.

The book comes with a CD of mp3s.  There is also an online teacher’s version but you need to register as a member.  The online version doesn’t have all the exercises that are included in the book.

We chose this curriculum because it is entirely in zhuyin.  The teacher typically uses another book and makes materials with Chinese characters built in.  But since the two older girls in the class can read so much already, we wanted to focus on zhuyin and not let them cheat.

Lesson 1
Lesson 1

I want to note that we’re just using the textbook as a starting point, we’re not really doing the exercises included in the book.  We’re really making our own materials to supplement.