"When I first started teaching Chinese to children (some native while others non-native speakers) nearly 30 years ago, I was highly disappointed to find that they were unable to read any story books on their own even after having spent so much time and effort in learning to recognize and write individual Chinese characters.
While learning Chinese at school on a daily basis for about an year, most children are able to achieve the target of recognizing and writing about 200-300 characters. Despite this, they are not equipped with enough basic amount of characters knowledge to enjoy reading some very simple story books on their own. After much reflection, I came to the conclusion that the method being used for teaching Chinese so far was not a very effective one. Therefore, I decided to take this in my own hands and write picture story books for children who are beginners at learning Chinese.
I believe that a separation between the ability to recognize and write Chinese is an essential first step for anyone beginning to learn Chinese. This doesn't mean character writing is less important. It just implies that writing and practicing to retain the characters is very time consuming.
This time consumption competes with the reading time, their interest in learning Chinese characters as well as a big chunk of their precious "play time". This is especially true given their still developing hand-eye coordination at this tender age. I suggest instead we focus on their recognition to enable them to develop the reading skills to enjoy the books and leave the character writing practice for a more mature stage when they are ready to learn writing. (The introduction to the characters can “start” at a very early age too because of using my method. – my thought)
My inspiration to write the Chinese beginner’s picture story books came about when I was unable to find any appropriate picture story books emphasising mainly on reading, for my students. Although there is a huge variety of colourful, local and translated Chinese picture story books in the market, I found that children had to depend on adults to read it to them and would not have much clue about the Chinese characters appearing in the story books. I considered the effectiveness of writing some Chinese picture story books using the age appropriate vocabulary so that children could read on their own.
I’ve always believed in "literacy through literature". My reflections on the teaching method and my endeavour to write picture story books for children cumulated into the creation of this unique reading system to learn Chinese. My intention was to help the children learn Chinese in a more relaxed, comfortable and an interesting way.
The purpose of my method is to attract the child's attention by looking at the relevant colorful illustrations and using our audio pen to hear the individual characters and the entire text on a given page, making them have a proper association to the Chinese characters a natural process. Then intending to "immerse" them in this Chinese language picture books’ environment.
My motive of this is to get their attention to the written text to acquire the vocabulary of 1000 most commonly used characters with great pleasure and ease. I made sure my reading system is progressive to establish their basic reading skills. That's the birth of this 300 leveled story booklets, the Le Le Chinese Reading System.
By Cathy Ju Yao,
Author of Le Le Reading System