Independence day for Jacob

Rachel was wondering when we would consider Jacob to be properly walking, and my criteria was that he would stand up and walk in a direction where the nearest support was more than three steps away. Jacob definitely did that today at the Takoma Park Fourth of July Parade, where he also showed off his standing, his clapping, and his flag-waving skills. Now the scary part begins!

Ni Hao Kai-Lan : Lulu Day

I don’t think I’m going to review every single one of these, but Lulu Day was a slight improvement on Kai-Lan’s Carnival because both Ye-Ye and Lulu threw in a few Chinese phrases. Each phrase was a one-off and went by without explanation and minimal contextual explanation, though if kids watch the episode enough times, the phrases will rub off. (The only catchphrase Kai-Lan seems to use is “Gēn wǒ lái!”). There was a “repeat after me” moment at the end of this episode which was wasted on saying “Aaaar” like a pirate – which was doubly wasted because at least Kai-Lan could have said, “Now you know how to say ‘two’ in Chinese!”

Kai-Lan’s Carnival light on Chinese, heavy on sap

I suppose Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is the 800 pound gorilla in the English-Chinese bilingual space, but put me down for unimpressed after watching the first episode of this DVD, the titular “Kai-Lan’s Carnival.” The entire episode makes a serious effort to teach only one Chinese word, “lā” (拉), and a half-hearted run at teaching Chinese numbers. There’s also some fuzzy message about apologizing or something like that, which represents the biggest lost opportunity: the singing is all-English. Nothing helps stick words in your head like a good song, so why they didn’t even try to throw some Chinese in there baffles me. (They didn’t try teaching the Chinese equivalent of “I’m sorry,” either).

The one thing I am impressed with so far about Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is that it’s relatively calm and evenly paced (in sharp contrast to the seizure-inducing Yo Gabba Gabba). Kai Lan often pauses to ask the viewer what she thinks, and based on watching friends’ kids reactions, it’s a technique that works. Too bad most of the questions she asks in this episode have nothing to do with Chinese.

CD Review: Chinese Lullabies

Parents suffering from sleepless babies will pay anything for relief, and retailers make fortunes off pseudo-scientific quackery. Chinese Lullabies is the real deal: music that really can help a baby go to sleep. Or, at least, our little Jacob.

I’ll admit this CD won’t teach either you or your child much Chinese, except maybe “mā ma” (mother) and “bǎo bao” (precious one). It’s hard to glean Chinese out of singing, where tones are distorted; the Chinese in these songs are formally poetic (that is, not everyday language), and I find children’s voices (with lots of echo) hard to discern. Maybe if you really know your Chinese, you’ll do better than I.

What recommends this CD is the music, which is decidedly Chinese and not some Chinese translation of “Rock-a-bye-baby.” It’s uniformly soothing and peaceful – what you’d want from a lullaby album. The instrumentation seems to be a mix of authentic instruments and synthesizers, but it actually works. (I’ve got some other Chinese children’s CDs whose over-the-top synthetic sounds definitely do NOT work).

Jacob’s gone to sleep to this music for nearly nine months now – he doesn’t really need it anymore, so we occasionally skip it. We can’t really prove that this music soothes him because it’s good or because he’s so familiar with it after hearing it for most of his life, but really – isn’t the point of these lullaby CDs really to soothe the parents after a long day? I say yes. Buy this CD today.