Guest post by Priscilla Shih Cinque, a HapaMama
Over the last couple of weeks, my almost 8-year-old son has been learning the Mandarin names of 28 animals using the iPad app, Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin. With only a couple of years of weekly two-hour Mandarin lessons as a toddler, along with exposure to some Mandarin spoken by his American-born Chinese mom and her relatives, my son is nowhere near fluent in Mandarin. Thanks to Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin, my son now knows how to say the Mandarin names of his favorite animals. He’s still working on learning how to write the characters but nonetheless, he is impressing everyone, especially his grandparents with his “zhong wen”.
The characters Gordon & Li Li, aimed at preschool age kids, are very endearing. The animations and the screens are colorful and fun. The audio is clear and the Mandarin pronunciation is very accurate. The children’s voices used throughout the application are very endearing to young learners.
One of the more unique features of Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin is the interactive Trace feature, which enables its students to trace the Simplified Chinese characters that correspond to each animal. This feature not only teaches students how to write Chinese characters in the proper stroke order, but also reinforces character recognition by multi-sensory learning.
After my son had spent some time with Gordon & Li Li, I wanted him to review and test the Mandarin words he had learned. Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin offers various Options to turn sounds, languages, and features on and off. This is helpful in customizing the app to a student’s abilities. In an attempt to prevent the app from automatically saying the animal names in English and in Mandarin when an animal screen first appears, I turned off the english and mandarin options. We dismissed the Options panel and we tapped the Get Started button in the Home screen. The first animal “alligator” appeared, and my son pronounced alligator in Mandarin… “uh yew”. To verify that he said it correctly, he tapped the Pin Yin and the phonetic English words onscreen to hear the proper Mandarin pronunciation. No voice or pronunciation was heard. It turns out turning off the english and mandarin options turns off all of audio corresponding to those languages, including when the user taps the words (English or Pin Yin) onscreen. At this point, he turned to me and asked if he got it right. It would be nice to have the “tap the word to hear it” feature available all of the time. That was really our only “hiccup” with the app.
In the last few years, thanks to my parents, we have built quite a collection of Mandarin flash cards. Compared to those traditional flash cards, Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin has been much more effective, engaging — and most importantly for my son — way more fun.
Editor’s Note: And in case your family prefers to learn Chinese the traditional way, there are also three Gordon and Li Li board books written by Michele Wong McSween: Gordon & Li Li Words for Everyday, Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin, and Gordon & Li Li Count in Mandarin.
Since they are board books, they aimed at the toddler to preschool set, but even my elementary school aged kids were interested in thumbing through them. The letters and characters are bold and easy-to-read, and the graphics are adorable. Each page features a picture, the word in English, and also the word in Chinese characters and in Pin Yin romanization. However, you need to know how to pronounce Pin Yin, which is not intuitive for English speakers. That’s where the app might come in handy, since you can hear the correct pronunciation instead of guessing it.
My boys were chuckling while reading Words for Everyday, and when I asked what was so funny, they answered, “It says ‘toilet’ in here!”
Well, try traveling in Taiwan or China. Knowing how to say the word toilet might come in handy!
Gordon and Li Li Giveaway
And just for HapaMama readers, leave a comment below telling us your biggest challenge in raising bilingual children for a chance to win a set of Gordon and Li Li board books. For an extra entry,
- “Like” HapaMama on Facebook, or
- Sign up for to have HapaMama delivered to your email
and leave a comment to let us know you have done so. I’ll be picking a winner on Thursday, July 5!
HapaMama was given an iPad app and a set of books to review, but all the opinions expressed are our own.