Book+CD Review: Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes

We’ve shared our enthusiasm for Speak and Sing Chinese with Mei Mei, but while Mei Mei wins top points for enthusiasm, her production values leave a bit to be desired. Also, CD liner notes just don’t cut it for toddlers to read. So we were excited to receive this book-and-CD set as a gift for Jacob from Gene’s sister.

Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes: Share and Sing in Two Languages is a nice hardcover with colorful illustrations, and the music on the CD sounds professional and clear. You get a lot of content for your dollar: 20 songs in English and 20 in Chinese. The price is worth it for the CD alone! And you’ve heard many of these songs before, so it’s easy to sing along.

I find the pages just a little too crammed and the typeface too small. This allows more songs to fit into the pages, creating good value, but that makes it hard for Jacob to ask for one particular song (or for me to read the lyrics when the lights are dim). The pictures are vivid and interesting, though that can make the text even harder to read (for example, when printed black-on-blue).

The songs are organized thematically (Outside, Inside, Party, Play, Night), but I think there could have been even closer alignment among them. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Happy Birthday to You,” and “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” are matched with their Chinese translations, but more pairings would have been nicer for purposes of language acquisition of parent as well as child. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why there are English songs in here that aren’t translations of the Chinese. If I wanted music in English, I’d go buy that separately – as nice as these songs are, there are better from American artists.

Overall, this book-CD combination is well worth its value – I recommend it, despite the criticisms above. So far, Jacob has not been smitten with this book, but he’s still at the stage where a single-song book, or just humming a tune, is his best way of asking for music. Maybe as he gets older this book will become more fun for him.

Tiger Moms vs. Rintoo the Tiger

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!”

Ni Hao Kai-Lan : Lulu Day

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!”

Kai-Lan’s Carnival light on Chinese, heavy on sap

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.