I’ll admit, I might be a crazy parent. As you may know, I’m pretty adamant on my children learning Cantonese. So determined for my kids to learn that I purchased a set of books that I CANNOT read. But if I cannot read, what will I do with them? As the crazy parent that I am, I am trying my best to learn them despite them being WAY beyond my reading level.
Back story: Back in December, I found out that my local library carries two different Butt Detective picture books, not the bridge books. At this point, I didn’t realize there was a difference between picture and bridge book. I’ve seen pictures of these books come up A LOT on Facebook and Instagram. I never looked into it because, you know, his face is in the shape as a 🍑. Yes, I totally judged a book by its cover. I didn’t think we would get into it, but I did want to see what the hype was about. Once I brought these books home, the kids were captivated by all the puzzles. They were staring at the same page for ages and kept flipping through the book throughout the day. When I attempted to read it the first time, I just stared at the first sentence. To my horror, I would have had to search up the entire sentence! I gave up immediately but the kids did not. My library loan lasted 3 weeks. During those 3 weeks, my kids kept going back to these books. They kept bringing it to me. They wanted me to READ it. And so began my journey to reading Butt Detective 屁屁偵探 as a non native speaker and reader.
The first few times we opened the book to read it, I tried to read the Chinese on the fly with my little knowledge of characters. For reference, I know about 300 characters. You can imagine, it didn’t go well. I quickly switched to English, “reading” what I could see happening in the picture. There is a lot of details on each page in each picture. Just from the pictures, I could figure out what is going on and made up my own story in English. After a few reads in English, I started to scan each page before I read to determine what I knew in Chinese. Luckily, there is a lot going on that the kids were occupied for a bit while I quickly scanned the pages. If I knew the characters I would read it. If I knew most of the words but missed out on key ones, I looked for clues in the picture and said the English word. A lot of it was decoding the book and words from the pictures. When the kids kept bringing me the Butt Detective book to read throughout the day, I knew these books were a keeper and I decided I was going to purchase them and learn how to read them.
I spent three nights going through one entire book, searching for words and characters I did not know. I made it into a list on my phone. I use the handwriting feature which converts it to regular text. For unknown characters, I would write it down together with the preceding and following characters. Since characters are not always words, I wanted to make sure I would be able to get the correct word so I could make meaning of the sentences. I transferred the list to my computer. To my horror again, my list was 4 pages long even when I put them into two columns per page (about 240 words in total of unknown words). This was definitely discouraging. I have a few friends who continue to encourage me on and told me it would get easier. From there, I also plugged those words into Pleco (translating app). I wrote the jyutping and the definitions down. Then I found out, there was repetition of some key words. And since I wasn’t familiar with those characters, I thought they were new words each time. So after cutting out all the repeats on the list, my list became 2.5 pages. There’s still two column of words on each page (about 150 words total) but honestly, this made me feel so much better than the original 4 page list I had.
With my long list of words, I tried to read the story to the kids in written form. First time around, we got through the first 2 pages before I called a quits for the day. Second time, we added on another page or two. And with each read, we add on more pages and it does get better with each time. To be clear tho, I am still referring back to my list of words often. I have the memory of a goldfish. But, I am able to get through at least half the book in Cantonese before I switch to English. This amount of Cantonese is a big feat for me as a non native speaker. There is a lot of text in these books. A video of these books told by a native speaker are often at least 20 minutes, without kids interrupting and stopping to look through the puzzles and mazes. The time it would take me to read the entire book to my kids would probably be an hour or longer if I wanted to read in Cantonese the entire time. I do what’s best for us for that day. If the kids have patience, I will try to read as much of the book in Cantonese as possible. If the kids are restless, I do what I feel they can sit through for the page and switch back and forth between English and Cantonese.
This post was probably a little bit long winded than it had to. I applaud you if you read this far! My main point was that it does really get better the more you read. The second Butt Detective book I went to translate, my vocabulary list was 2 pages long (~120 words). And the third book was 1.5 pages (~100 words). A lot of words are repeated throughout the series such as maze, clue, suspicious, investigate, etc. Each book starts off with a phone call that prompts Butt Detective to leave. Then he starts with his introduction which is the SAME in every book (“我是屁屁偵探。我的工作就是解決各種各樣的難題，來者不拒。” – I am Butt Detective. My work is to solve all kinds of difficult cases, I refuse no one.) That one sentence is a mouthful, so once you get through it the first time, it gets easier for all the books. He also ends the second page with the same saying “嗯哼，有案件的氣味喔。” – Uh huh, it smells like a new case.)
In the printables section, I have made a vocabulary list and flashcards to hopefully get you started if you really want to read this series. I have included yale romanization with tonal numbers for the words (my preference over jyutping). Please note, I don’t use the flashcards or vocabulary list with my kids. I made these resources more for myself to learn. This book is way beyond their level to read independently. I am using it as an intrinsic motivation to learn more and exposing them to new language. They listen to me read it. It is possible there are errors in the vocabulary list. Remember I am not a native and I am enlisting the help of Pleco to the best of my ability. I welcome anyone to offer corrections. 😊 If you are looking for a Butt Detective audio, Cantonese Kids! on YouTube has uploaded the Bento Mystery one. Rhythm N Rhyme has uploaded the 2 Butt Detective one. I will not link the video directly because I fear of copyright issues and I don’t want the videos to be taken down. Cantonese Kids! should be easy to find. Rhythm N Rhyme video can be found in Little Kozzi Reading Club on Facebook.
Is this a good method for learning how to read? Maybe or maybe not. This method works if you are very interested in the book that you are motivated to learn to read it. I think ideally though, you want to be able to read a book naturally. If you need to stop to look up several words it does take away from the flow of the story. If there are more than 5 words per page that you need to look up, the book is probably too difficult. But who am I to stop anyone from reading? If you love it, go read it! If you’re kid is willing to sit for hours on the same book, find audio to listen to, find someone else who can read it or learn to read it at your own pace with or without your kids. As long as the journey is enjoyable for both parent and child, I don’t think it should stop anyone from reading a book.