The way I learned how to teach phonics is that there is a long period of preparation (for reading and writing) before you actually teach phonics. My confusion is how do I document that if my parents and their kids are all coming in at different levels? What I think I will do is talk a bit about what parents can do at home before they officially start teaching zhuyin (or having their kids take classes).
The goal of preparation is oral introduction to concepts of phonics. Separately, there’s also learning to recognize characters and their sounds.
Learning zhuyin characters and sounds
Here are some lazy ways you can introduce zhuyin characters using videos. This is the “associating sounds with zhuyin” step. It can just take a long time to remember all the characters so videos are such a great way to go to do that.
1. Watch 巧虎 Qiao Hu
巧虎 from age 4 onward teaches zhuyin. This is their 成長版/Growth version. You can search “成長版 巧虎” or “巧虎注音歌” on Youtube and get some videos. We ordered a year’s worth. It typically comes with hands on materials. Astroboy mostly watched videos this past year and I was amazed at how many characters he knew just from repeat watching.
2. Zhuyin Mnemonic
A new video that I came across which I’m loving. It basically associates zhuyin with a story so it’s easier to remember. The neat thing about this is that it’s not just associating one character with one story, but rather it connects several characters together to form a long story. My friend (adult) says she finds this even easier to remember due to this.
3. Zhuyin Songs
Also lots of online versions of zhuyin songs. Apparently there is no standard version. A trick I’ve seen from my Chinese tutor is to refer always back to the song when you are asking the child to find the printed zhuyin and they can’t remember it.
I like this version A LOT because it slows down during the vowels that kids have problems distinguishing. It’s also a super old song, created in 1923 and the song I learned as a child.
This is the more modern version which contains the 5 tones though they say, “5th, 2nd, 3rd, 4th” since first tone is just flat and has no symbol. I don’t like it as much because it rushes through the proper pronunciation of the vowels.
4. Other Zhuyin Videos
The world is not lacking in zhuyin videos. Just type 注音歌 or zhuyin song in Youtube and you’ll find a bunch. Here are 3-4 more for if you’re interested in proper pronunciation and combination of sounds. These are put out by the National Education Research Center or are official supplements to teachers. I found these to be super helpful because it’s coming from a how to teach perspective. It really helped me distinguish between ㄝㄟ and ㄣㄥ. And I can totally see how my knowledge of English and pinyin is making me not quite pronounce it the official way.
Just like learning your ABCs through songs does not mean you know how to spell or read, learning to recognize zhuyin characters doesn’t mean you can read zhuyin. When children learn English phonics, you will see them learning about beginning and ending sounds and rhymes, to name a few. You can do the same thing with zhuyin as oral preparation, as early as 2 years old. For me, the great thing about doing these preparations is that you don’t have to have a curriculum. You don’t have to do it every day. Just do it as you find time during your interactions with the children.
I think it is worth the time to spend doing oral preparation, because it is one less thing the kids need to learn when they’re learning how to recognize zhuyin characters. Since I’m kind of lazy, or don’t have time to sit down with them, I also feel like this is the least I could do: just giving them a variety of listening and speaking practices with zhuyin. It kind of drives me nuts at the same time because there doesn’t seem to be an order to it, or a set procedures to follow. But I try to remember that in variety is good in learning…
As I mentioned in How We’re Teaching Zhuyin post, for both kids I did oral preparation before introducing zhuyin characters. For Thumper, this meant that at age 4, we spent about 15 minutes talking about sounds. I think I said something like, 媽 is /m/ /a/, /ma/. What do you think 爸 is? And she was able to spell it out herself easy. I believe before that she learned her zhuyin song, watched some youtube videos and maybe watched some Chiao Hu but nothing formal was taught. This meant that once she learned her zhuyin she didn’t have to learn how to blend. But of course, I never formally taught her to drill in the sound/character association and that’s the problem we’re having now.
For Astroboy, I was a bit more old school Montessori. This past year, in addition to him just watching the 巧虎 Qiao Hu videos, we would work on beginning sounds and sounds in general. For example, while Thumper is swimming, we walk around the neighborhood and play the I Spy game. In the beginning, I would point out items we see and point out its beginning sounds. “樹 ㄕ ㄕ ㄕ 樹”.
Later on, knowing he’s been introduced to ㄅ /b/, I would say, “What do you see that starts with ㄅ?” And we find all the things he sees that starts with ㄅ. Near the end of our school year, I said, “樹， 樹是什麼注音開頭的呢？樹…(drag it out) ㄕ ㄕ 樹.” (樹…what sound does it start with?) Then it would be his turn to find an object and tell me what zhuyin it starts with. The idea that a sound is a combination of 2 sounds is really really hard for him to grasp. I think he looked at be blankly in the beginning or had a hard time coming up with the sound himself. But with the videos’ help, and age, it got easier.
Other posts in the series