Amidst all the debate over Tiger Moms, I found this third episode in Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: Kai-Lan’s Carnival amusing and illuminating. In it, Rintoo the Tiger wants to be the “best skater in the world” but then realizes “It’s too hard” and gives up. Like a miniature Amy Chua, Kai-Lan comes to the rescue with this ancient wisdom: “When you try something new / and it’s really hard to do / Just take it slow!”
There’s only two words that this episode features: kuài (fast) and Jiā yóu (Olé, ¡olé olé olé!). Thus, the show basically takes a position pretty much the opposite of the Tiger Mom: your kids shouldn’t be challenged too much and need constant entertainment.
All together now: “Just take… it… slow!”
I don’t think I’m going to review every single one of these, but Lulu Day was a slight improvement on Kai-Lan’s Carnival because both Ye-Ye and Lulu threw in a few Chinese phrases. Each phrase was a one-off and went by without explanation and minimal contextual explanation, though if kids watch the episode enough times, the phrases will rub off. (The only catchphrase Kai-Lan seems to use is “Gēn wǒ lái!”). There was a “repeat after me” moment at the end of this episode which was wasted on saying “Aaaar” like a pirate – which was doubly wasted because at least Kai-Lan could have said, “Now you know how to say ‘two’ in Chinese!”
I suppose Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is the 800 pound gorilla in the English-Chinese bilingual space, but put me down for unimpressed after watching the first episode of this DVD, the titular “Kai-Lan’s Carnival.” The entire episode makes a serious effort to teach only one Chinese word, “lā” (拉), and a half-hearted run at teaching Chinese numbers. There’s also some fuzzy message about apologizing or something like that, which represents the biggest lost opportunity: the singing is all-English. Nothing helps stick words in your head like a good song, so why they didn’t even try to throw some Chinese in there baffles me. (They didn’t try teaching the Chinese equivalent of “I’m sorry,” either).
The one thing I am impressed with so far about Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is that it’s relatively calm and evenly paced (in sharp contrast to the seizure-inducing Yo Gabba Gabba). Kai Lan often pauses to ask the viewer what she thinks, and based on watching friends’ kids reactions, it’s a technique that works. Too bad most of the questions she asks in this episode have nothing to do with Chinese.