I taught my daughter 500+ Chinese characters!

We did it! 🥳 Last month big sister and I finished Sagebooks Basic Chinese 500! It has been an amazing journey (2.5 years) learning to read Chinese together. I am not literate in Chinese and I am not a native speaker. There were definitely many challenges along the way. I wanted to just share a few things that has worked for us.

#1 Use the FREE audio! Download it! This saved us when the characters were getting harder. I recommend dividing the audio into chapters or pages and having it easily accessible on a device or c pen. I had each chapter sticker and my children are able to read them independently. This is empowering for my children! They can be in charged of their own learning, especially when I’m not around. Here’s a secret, I can add audio to my books much faster by splitting the audio file than reading it out loud and recording it. It’s also important for me for the kids to get native speaking audio (I am very tone deaf). It takes me less than 5 minutes to sticker one book. I have all the chapter audio for orange, pink and red. Send me a dm if you need this. 

#2 Read lots and lots of fun books! Level books should not be your child’s first books. These are NOT story books. Read fun picture books first. Let them love reading. Once they start or finish level books, continue to read those fun picture books. It will supplement what they have learned. I made the mistake of treating these like picture books at the beginning and after a year of reading them, they did not learn much and we had to start over again. We now have a Chinese home library and have access to books at our local library. It’s definitely a blessing and privilege to have all of these. These books really helped us connect the meaning of the words and helped us to remember them.

If you do not have access to books, there are many YouTube stories available that you can use for reading. Although since Cantonese is a complex language, there may be some disconnect. I recommend Cantonese Mommy and Rhythm ‘N’ Rhyme read alouds as they do read in written and spoken form.

#3 Go at a pace that suits your child. For our family, that was one chapter/character per day. No revision. My daughter had various strategies for reading each chapter. Read all on her own if she knew all the characters. Repeat after me (using the audio). Listen to the whole chapter (audio) and attempt to read it all on her own. I let her decide how she will attempt each chapter and how many she would do. Occasionally she will be up for 3 chapters. It was important for her to be in charged of her own learning and her own intrinsic motivation kept her going. 

#4 Start at a time when your child is ready. Most importantly, none of these will matter if your child is not developmentally ready. Every child is different. I started noticing my child could recognized characters at 2. We started at 3, but we were unsuccessful the first year. She may not have been fully ready and I didn’t approach these books correctly. We tried again at 4 and experienced much more success. We also took a 2.5 month break after half a year. We weren’t using the audio at the time and it became increasingly difficult by the orange (3rd set). When we started again, I introduced the audio and it was more manageable for us to follow along and get through. We read a lot of other books and my daughter is able to point out words she had learned through Sage. 

These were special moments between my child and I. After each set of books, we found ourselves becoming more confident in reading. We were able to point out characters that we learned together with Sage. My youngest who is now 4, started Sage at 2. She zoomed through the first two books so fast. She wanted to mimic her older sister. However, she was not ready to read. She has taken 1.5 year break from Sage. She is just starting to show signs she is ready to read again. It’s hard but you really got to follow the pace of your child. Let them show you when they are ready. And lots of encouragement and praises go along way.

Throughout our journey, we read a lot of books and we did a lot of activities. There really is no one way to learn a language. A good combination of things will really help a child to understand the language.

Here are more FREE resources.

  • Cantonese for Families has a word list printable with all the characters and its jyutping. I used these before I switched to audio. Audio is very important for the children to hear. I found the jyutping helpful as an adult.
  • Guavarama has a hundred chart, games and other resources on her page as well. We used her hundred chart to track the characters my girls had learned.
  • Mama Baby Mandarin has tracing sheets, character search and many more resources on her page. I did not do any Sagebook worksheets with my kids. My kids traced the main character each lesson with their finger or c pen.

I have CHALK Academy to thank for introducing these books to me. She’s also another mom who was illiterate and non native in Chinese, and she inspired me to do this. I also have to thank Eveline from Rhythm ‘N’ Rhyme for bringing these books to Canada, sharing tips with me and encouraging my family along the way. I love her.

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