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Learning Chinese is a marathon: Parent Story Eve

Eve’s insight: learning Chinese is a marathon, not a sprint

“Learning Chinese is a marathon…”

So many times, we think that bloggers or experts have some super power that the rest of us don’t. That’s why we started this new feature of the Parent Spotlight. We highlight regular parents who use Basic Chinese 500 and have either finished with at least one child, or are a bit further along the series so they have had enough time to make some helpful conclusions.

This week’s parent spotlight is Eve and her experience teaching Basic Chinese 500 to her first child. As you’ll soon see, Eve is amazing and yet, what she chose to do is totally attainable.

Family Background (In her own words)

I was born in Taiwan and completed first grade there. My family then moved around in non-Chinese speaking countries, although I did attend a Chinese immersion school for fourth grade. I went back to Taiwan for fifth grade. By sixth grade I moved to USA and have lived there since then. Luckily I was an early reader and while I only had two years of formal education in Taiwan, I was already able to read novels when I moved to US, so I maintained my Chinese after the move.

My husband is a native English speaker and we agreed from day one that we would raise our children with the One-Parent-One-Language approach. Since I am the primary caregiver to my daughter, she was exposed to more Chinese than English until elementary. I’d read to her in Chinese at least 30 minutes to two hours every single day.

Before age 5, my daughter’s Chinese was significantly stronger than her English. She entered Kindergarten without needing English-as-Second-Language services, and her report cards so far all say her English reading is on the grade level. Currently her Chinese comprehension is still better than her English level, although the gap is narrowing.


– 6-year-old daughter (started: 4.5 years old; finished: 6 years old)
– 2-year-old son (not applicable)

In her own words

Why did you choose Sagebooks?

I actually started my child on another preschool-level Chinese curriculum first and had success with it. However, the other program only had a little over 100 characters and I needed something that covered more characters. Based on the reviews on Guavarama and Mandarin Mama’s blogs, I decided Sagebooks would be a good next step.

What was your experience with going through Sagebooks?

I started Sagebooks when my daughter was 4.5 years old. At the time, she had already learned about 100 Chinese characters, and her English-only preschool had just introduced daily lessons on the alphabet. I told my daughter that we will match her school and do a short daily Chinese lesson at home as well. She was very excited about being able to pick out Chinese characters in her picture books, and she flew through the first set of Sagebooks since she already knew half of the content. The lessons were easy for her and the experience built up her confidence tremendously.

My daughter’s progress began to slow on the second set of Sagebooks, but as we’ve already established the routine of doing daily Chinese lessons by then, she didn’t complain about the work getting harder. We used games and exercises to help her review characters as well.

We hit a snag on the third set. At this point it was much harder to review all the characters in games and exercises, but reading actual sentences was still difficult for my daughter. Without sufficient review, her retention rate was significantly lower. Due to circumstances, we also had a month where we didn’t review characters or do lessons every day. After the break, I found my daughter barely remembered half of the characters in second and third set. We went back to the beginning of the second set and started over. While the reboot pushed us back by two months, it helped to solidify my daughter’s knowledge of the characters.

The beginning of the fourth set corresponded with my daughter’s entrance into Kindergarten. Our Kindergarten teacher assigned homework as 10 minutes of daily English reading. Once again we matched school and started doing 10 minutes of daily Chinese reading practice as well. During our Chinese reading practice, my daughter had to actively read aloud characters she knew while I read out the rest.*

The reading practice helped a lot with character retention. I’ve become more consistent about reviewing characters and doing lessons every single day. We may take an occasional break for illnesses or trips, but we won’t go more than three days without reviewing characters. The consistency helped us keep our momentum and my daughter remembered characters much better. My daughter has now finished Sagebooks after 21 months of studying.

*Note: we have a separate Chinese reading time where I read to my daughter in Chinese for at least 30 minutes to an hour every day. She was not required to read out characters then.

What did your typical lesson look like? Did you do additional activities?

We did lessons as part of our bedtime routine. After teeth brushing, we would snuggle up in bed with Sagebooks. I would flip through five of our last ten lessons randomly and review those characters, then we would do one new lesson for the evening. During the day, we do additional activities to review.

During the first and second sets, I made flash cards, Chinese Bingo, and word scramble as review exercises. During the third and fourth set, I would write a short sentences on a white board every day. My daughter would read it aloud and draw a picture to accompany the sentence. Example: 草地上有很多鴨子. Starting with the fourth set, we also started doing 10 minutes of Chinese reading practice every day.

What did you like about Sagebooks? Was there anything you didn't?

I like Sagebooks’ curriculum design, where each lesson builds upon the next. Since we speak Mandarin instead of Cantonese, the books do have some Hong Kong style phrases that I wish could be more Mandarin-friendly (一張刀,班房,拾起). Some books in the treasure boxes have black text on dark backgrounds, which make them hard to read for kids.

Editor’s comment:

Please refer to this post for the explanation of 一張刀。

As a key part of the Sage Formula method is repetition and the using of only the characters within the curriculum. As such, there are situations in which we have to settle with a second-best word choice.

If you have more than one child, would you do it again?
Yes, I plan on going through Sagebooks again with my next child.
Any advice for parents who are just starting?

Learning Chinese is a marathon, not a sprint. The important point is to maintain the child’s interest so that he/she would still want to learn more characters after Sagebooks, not whether the child can learn 100 or 500 characters by age 4. Don’t be afraid to step back and adjust your pace as necessary.

Pay attention to your child’s development and maturity level too. At age 4.5, my daughter couldn’t remember abstract characters such as 很 no matter how many times we reviewed, but the moment after her fifth birthday, the concepts clicked and we didn’t have any more trouble. If you are starting Sagebooks with a young child, be prepared that there may be some characters that you have to skip until the child is developmentally ready to tackle the more abstract concepts.

Thanks so much for your candid responses, Eve! Your activities and dedication is so admirable!

If you would like to be a featured parent, please let us know.


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Sagebooks Hongkong promotes independent reading and life-long learning by nurturing the child’s confidence, autonomy and self-teaching abilities. Since 2006. Find out more About Us.

© 2020 Sagebooks Hongkong. All rights reserved.

Sagebooks Hongkong promotes independent reading and life-long learning by nurturing the child’s confidence, autonomy and self-teaching abilities. Since 2006. Find out more About Us.

© 2020 Sagebooks Hongkong. All rights reserved.