Book+CD Review: Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes

We’ve shared our enthusiasm for Speak and Sing Chinese with Mei Mei, but while Mei Mei wins top points for enthusiasm, her production values leave a bit to be desired. Also, CD liner notes just don’t cut it for toddlers to read. So we were excited to receive this book-and-CD set as a gift for Jacob from Gene’s sister.

Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes: Share and Sing in Two Languages is a nice hardcover with colorful illustrations, and the music on the CD sounds professional and clear. You get a lot of content for your dollar: 20 songs in English and 20 in Chinese. The price is worth it for the CD alone! And you’ve heard many of these songs before, so it’s easy to sing along.

I find the pages just a little too crammed and the typeface too small. This allows more songs to fit into the pages, creating good value, but that makes it hard for Jacob to ask for one particular song (or for me to read the lyrics when the lights are dim). The pictures are vivid and interesting, though that can make the text even harder to read (for example, when printed black-on-blue).

The songs are organized thematically (Outside, Inside, Party, Play, Night), but I think there could have been even closer alignment among them. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Happy Birthday to You,” and “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” are matched with their Chinese translations, but more pairings would have been nicer for purposes of language acquisition of parent as well as child. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why there are English songs in here that aren’t translations of the Chinese. If I wanted music in English, I’d go buy that separately – as nice as these songs are, there are better from American artists.

Overall, this book-CD combination is well worth its value – I recommend it, despite the criticisms above. So far, Jacob has not been smitten with this book, but he’s still at the stage where a single-song book, or just humming a tune, is his best way of asking for music. Maybe as he gets older this book will become more fun for him.

Babies “neurologically commit” to language as early as 10 months

Yesterday’s New York Times summarized the latest research in babies’ acquisition of more than one language:

[T]he researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.

Contrary to earlier beliefs, babies seem to distinguish between different languages handily. The article reiterates earlier findings that “bilingual” exposure means face-to-face speech, NOT audio or video recordings.

For anyone wondering, Jacob’s most consistent Chinese word is huā (“flower”) and Wáwá (“doll”), although we use Wáwá as a proper noun.

Tiger Moms vs. Rintoo the Tiger

Amidst all the debate over Tiger Moms, I found this third episode in Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: Kai-Lan’s Carnival amusing and illuminating. In it, Rintoo the Tiger wants to be the “best skater in the world” but then realizes “It’s too hard” and gives up. Like a miniature Amy Chua, Kai-Lan comes to the rescue with this ancient wisdom: “When you try something new / and it’s really hard to do / Just take it slow!”

There’s only two words that this episode features: kuài (fast) and Jiā yóu (Olé, ¡olé olé olé!). Thus, the show basically takes a position pretty much the opposite of the Tiger Mom: your kids shouldn’t be challenged too much and need constant entertainment.

All together now: “Just take… it… slow!”

More Mandarin classes in public schools

Chinese-language instruction is becoming more popular in urban schools across the country where educators hope to offer a global perspective to students in low-income areas and students who sti may be learning English. In Boston, Mandarin classes are seen as a way for students to compete with peers outside the district, who may have greater access to such courses. “We want to expand their life experiences outside of Boston, and one way to do it is for them to study international cultures,” said Yu-Lan Lin, director of the city schools’ world-language program.