As more non-Chinese children join Chinese American peers in after-school Chinese language classes in Silicon Valley, a new series of learning materials promises to make learning Chinese more enjoyable than ever, says Simon Tseng, founder of the nonprofit Creative Education Foundation.
The series named Living Mandarin consists of 12 textbooks adapted from cartoons for first to sixth graders, two for each grade. The textbooks come with an audio CD and an interactive CD Rom which enables the user to play video games related to Chinese language learning on the computer.
Since the series was produced in Taiwan, the curriculum developers also made two additional serieses for the two major dialects in Taiwan, Taiwanese and Hakka.
The idea of Living Mandarin was initially conceived by a psychology professor in Taiwan, Bo-Chuan Yu, who had a passion for promoting Chinese language education internationally. Tseng met Yu when he visited the Bay Area in 2002. The two became friends and began working together on developing their ideal learning materials.
Tseng introduced Yu to Sing-Cin Liu, a retired artist living in the Bay Area. Liu generously gave written permission to Tseng and Yu to adapt his cartoon books, which had been extremely popular in Taiwan, into children's textbooks without charge.
Books 1 to 10 of the Living Mandarin series are all based on Liu's cartoons. Tseng provided ideas of how to use the cartoons for the curriculum development team in Taiwan to write the books. He also did calligraphy for the textbooks.
Books 11 and 12 of the series are based on cartoons for older kids by another Taiwanese artist, Chi-Chung Tsai, who is famous for creating cartoon stories about Chinese classics.
"Cartoon books were forbidden in school when I was a kid in Taiwan," said Tseng. "Cartoons were considered distractions by traditional educators. They didn't know cartoons could be incorporated into textbooks to make learning more interesting, but we are doing it now, and it really works!"
According to Tseng, some of the Bay Area Chinese schools, including Cupertino Chinese School, have been using the Living Mandarin series since he introduced it in 2008, and he has received positive feedback from the schools.
Tseng and his wife Maryanne also used the series to open after-school Chinese classes at Cupertino High School. They said the students reacted enthusiastically to the learning materials. Currently, the Tsengs are looking for a lower-priced venue to open new classes.
The Association of Northern California Chinese Schools has recognized the effectiveness of Living Mandarin, so the organization will let the Tsengs present the series at its teacher training camp this Wednesday and Thursday.
The Tsengs said they are excited about this opportunity, and they also hope a local government or another nonprofit organization will help them find a lower-cost or free new venue for their own Chinese language program, which differs from local Chinese schools by teaching the Taiwanese and Hakka dialects in addition to Mandarin and Cantonese.
Enthusiastic about preserving Chinese/Taiwanese culture, the Tsengs' Creative Education Foundation hold a summer camp every year to teach children about traditional Chinese arts and crafts. It took place from July 9 through 13 this year. Participants included Caucasian and Indian children, according to the Tsengs.
Tseng was an elementary school teacher in Taiwan. In 1982, he moved to Los Angeles for a graphic designer and lifestyle section editor's position with the International Daily, a Chinese newspaper based in the United States. Maryanne joined him in the following year to work in the sales and marketing for the same newspaper. The couple relocated to Silicon Valley in 1988 and raised their son here.
The Tsengs first became interested in Chinese language education for their own son. Now they say they see it as their mission.
For more information about the Tsengs' Creative Education Foundation or the Living Mandarin Series, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 408-255-5777.