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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our Language Stars* Adventures: How We Got Here

Even though I only speak a little Spanish, I have always had a great interest in languages.  Since before my husband and I were married, I had envisioned our children learning to speak Chinese (my husband is Chinese).  Yet, neither of us speaks Chinese. So, as you can well imagine, this presents a problem!  It's what prompted me to begin my quest to teach our 3 children Mandarin.
I have to admit that I was very discouraged, at first.  When we visited one of the local non-profit schools and talked to a few parents, we were told that what we wanted was impossible unless someone in our home spoke the language.  My daughter was too young to attend their classes, anyway, so I went home disappointed and thoroughly discouraged.
Now, it's 2 years later and we are slowly but surely finding our way.  We enrolled my oldest daughter (now 3 1/2) in one of the several not-for-profit, Mandarin instruction schools in the Chicago area.  They hold classes on the weekends from fall to spring, just like most public schools.  We just started last February, so it didn't take long for May to come around and . . . poof! . . . no classes!  My daughter and I were just getting started, so I was left looking for a class to keep her learning during the summer.
Again, we visited schools, spent several hours searching the internet, and called EVERYONE!  While there were more than a couple to choose from, one program didn't seem appropriate for her age, another would have caused us to rearrange our entire schedule, and yet another had to cancel the preschool class due to lack of interest!  "Here I am being interested!" I wanted to yell but, after all, I realized it WAS my fault because I should have been preparing for this in April and not in June (Yes, I am a procrastinator).
Anyway, I kept seeing all these ads about Language Stars*.  And, frankly, I didn't even call them because it seemed a little expensive.  Then, they offered a 4 class deal on Family Finds.  Like I have said before, I'm a couponer, so I absolutely cannot resist a good deal.  I signed up my daughter and my son (2 1/2).   Not only did I get a good deal (4 classes for each of them, a Language Stars CD, their FunImmersion curriculum book, AND a t-shirt for each kid), but I found what I had been looking for all along:  A school that would help me teach my children to speak Mandarin.    
Now, while I do not speak Mandarin, I do have 3 things going for me:  1) perseverance, 2) I'm an early childhood teacher, and 3) I have always been interested in language learning, especially by young children.  So, to tell you the truth, I was hooked when I walked in the door at Language Stars.  They have got it DOWN!  Nothing impresses a teacher more than to be handed the full curriculum when she walks in the door!  And, not just any curriculum, but one that includes on-line links that pronounce it for you, allow you to copy coloring sheets and other practice materials, and give you every possible adult language learner crutch so that you can help your child.  We can now follow along at home, singing the songs before and after class (they are all online and/or on the CD), learning the words after I have the computer pronounce them for me yet again!
So, we're all enjoying our time at Language Stars.  My daughter goes to the "Kids Only" class.  I go to the "Parent and Tot" class with my son.  The teacher is not only top notch, but she is always prepared and attentive to each child.  NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) would be proud of how "developmentally appropriate" their classes are. (Click here to read their Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice). The center is filled with bins, labeled and stuffed with teaching materials in preparation for each lesson topic.
 Sheets from the FunImmersion curriculum book are blown up and hung on the wall so students can see the words in Chinese characters and in Pinyin, the close-to-English pronunciation system (AND just so I can remember the words to the songs!).
 While my only complaint with LA is the price, there are discounts for siblings and for paying ahead-of-time that make it better, and you definitely get what you pay for.

Sometime this week, I plan to post a few Mandarin language links for materials that I have found useful. I also want to provide you with a list of Mandarin language resources in the Chicago area.  We plan to continue at Language Stars AND still attend the not-for-profit school on Sunday afternoons, so some of you might want to do the same.  I would love to receive some comments from other parents, language teachers, those who are bilingual, or other interested readers.  Any thoughts or advice for me?
Thanks for reading,
Teacher Tam :)

*I blog about my experience and get discounted tuition.  For a couponer like me, nothing could be better!
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  1. Hi! I just enrolled at Language Stars for Mandarin with my 2 year old. We had a Little Pim DVD -the counting one in Mandarin and she loves it. I'd recommend it. We bought 5 more dvds in the series but haven't watched them as much as the counting one. I'm really excited about this. I'd love to hear any recommendations on childrens books or cds with songs that we could use to reinforce what we're learning.

  2. That's awesome! I continue to be impressed with the progress my kids are making at Language Stars. As for more materials, check out my link on the right entitled "Links for Learning Mandarin." I have reviewed some of the materials we are using there. I noticed that I forgot to mention a great one we got from the library: "Sing and Learn Chinese." You can also buy it on Amazon. We started out with that one. It's great for kids and parents, too!