Jacqueline is the mom of 7-year-old Isaac. I spoke to her and this is her genuine feedback about the difference Dim Sum Warriors has made to Isaac’s attitude towards learning Mandarin.

Our relationship with Chinese is not great

Jacqueline: My 7-year-old, Isaac, loves to draw. He loves sea animals and anything to do with sea life. Oh and dinosaurs too.

Jacqueline: But he hasn’t had a great relationship with Chinese. We live in Singapore, where Mandarin is spoken in many contexts, but because our family communicates mainly in English, he tries his best not to speak in Mandarin and one day, he told me, “Mommy, I’m an English boy.”

We are Chinese! What is he talking about?

Yen Yen: I have seen this phenomenon quite a bit in kids growing up in places where the dominant culture doesn’t speak the second language very much.  Our kids are smart—they know that English, in this context, will get them further because it is the language of power.  It’s the same for Chinese kids growing up in the US. It’s a real struggle trying to maintain the heritage language.

I started looking for a Chinese-learning solution that’s fun and open-ended

Yen Yen: What are your beliefs and values as a parent-educator?

Jacqueline: Because of my background as a pre-school teacher, I firmly believe that learning should be fun and open-ended. It should give the child the confidence to create. And to give the child a platform to speak up, to express their own ideas.

There are a ton of enrichment courses that attract parents with traditional learning outcomes that are academically oriented. But very few that really inspire kids to express their own ideas.

This is why I found Dim Sum Warriors attractive.

When my son told me that “I’m a English boy”, my goal was not to get him a “proper academic syllabus”, but to get him interested and see himself as bilingual.

If I wanted a proper academic syllabus, there are many programs that I can choose from. But I didn’t choose those because they don’t fit my style as a parent. Dim Sum Warriors is aligned with my educational beliefs and my goal of helping my child.

And then we stumbled upon these really funny bilingual books

Yen Yen: How did you come across the Dim Sum Warriors?

Jacqueline: We stumbled upon the Dim Sum Warriors books by chance! We went to the library and saw a whole stack of them. The cover caught my eye. I was looking at the book and kept thinking… why is this book so funny? And the book is actually bilingual! Bilingual suits me because I want my child who is not good in Chinese to want to pick it up.

Isaac liked the first book, “Papa I’m Still Not Sleepy” so much that he kept asking me to buy “面膜”(mud mask) because Mama Bao puts on a mud mask before she goes to sleep.

And the funny thing is, he says it in Chinese!  He’s been saying more and more things in Chinese too.

Recently, he saw a Dim Sum Warriors picture with an angry Shaomai and he said, “火冒三丈“ – which is a 成语 (Chinese idiom) he learned from a Dim Sum Warriors Doodle Date.

He didn’t know many of the words and you would think that he should be learning basics like shapes and colors, but he is getting exposure to these ideas that he can relate to, and he’s enjoying it, and every now and then, this “English boy” starts using the words quite naturally and really surprises me. The stories really speak to the child. I don’t have to force them down his throat, and then he starts using what he reads in real life.

We read the stories in the Dim Sum Warriors App and now have the print books that we keep re-reading and he’s laughing and laughing at the stories every time.

Yen Yen: Many educators and scholars are now quite keen on comics for literacy development, particularly for learners of a second language. Because while traditional texts come across as intimidating and just tiring to get through, comics are welcoming — they invite kids into the texts through pictures, sound effects, expressions and actions, and are just a far less stressful mode of reading.

And the interesting thing is, because they are inviting, we are actually able to get to more difficult content and vocabulary with these funny comics. This is why we are able to learn difficult Chinese idioms in a casual and relaxed way.

I thought it’s too hard for him… but he loves It!

Yen Yen: The stories aren’t separated by levels and we are tackling even Chinese idioms in the Dim Sum Warriors draw along sessions. Are they too hard for Isaac?

Jacqueline: It’s been surprising because a lot of the content …. for example,  成语 (Chinese idioms) … I thought would be too hard for him. But Isaac likes watching the 成语 Doodle Date videos and drawing along. Many of them are just 10-minutes long. Sometimes I get busy and I just leave him to watch and draw, and he comes out with a great picture in 10 minutes and he asks me to help him write some words in the word balloons.

Every day he follows the broadcast and after drawing, I help him write the 成语 in pencil and he traces the words, for example, for 苦口婆心 (to painstakingly counsel someone), he explained to me that the bitter gourd is very bitter.

The Dim Sum Warriors Club has really helped Isaac enhance his drawing. Now he is able to combine different actions with different ideas.

Jacqueline: Isaac will use the App for voice practice. He is always very happy if he can get 3 hearts. He jumps for joy! It really encourages him to dare to speak up. The hearts encourage him to try again. The app is very good; like the games where he has to search for the words. He may not know the words yet, but it forces him to identify and look for the words.

The Dim Sum Warriors App gives plenty of freedom for practice: It’s easy to toggle from one language to another, limitless possibilities to listen and re-listen to the stories / words, possibility to look into a keyword more closely, a chance to record and listen to your own reading, with good feedback from the solution about the pronunciation.

A lot of the drawing and the vocabulary are all very hard for him, and sometimes he just listens to the stories. I can easily leave my iPad with him if I know he’s on the Dim Sum Warriors App.

I can see how important it is for him to be able to relate to what he’s reading. Only when he is able to relate can he expand his reading.

And I’m really happy that this “English Boy” now uses Chinese words in his everyday interactions and is no longer avoiding the use of Chinese!

Further Reading

Here are a few other resources on using comics for teaching and learning:

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Dr. Yen Yen Woo is the co-creator of the Dim Sum Warriors app, characters and stories for Bilingual Learning. She has a Doctorate in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. 

You can reach out to her at:
yenyen@dimsumwarriors.com.

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