I’m honored to host an interview with Cathy Ju Yao, Chinese teacher and author of Le Le Chinese Readers and Greenfield I Can Read Series! If you are teaching Chinese to children, you will be delighted to know that her story books are available in simplified and traditional Chinese characters. Her books have been an important part of our family’s Chinese learning journey!
Cathy Ju Yao has over 20 years of experience teaching Chinese to children of various language backgrounds. She holds degrees from Taiwan Tunghai University, McMaster University in Canada, and the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.
With her extensive experience, she founded Le LE Culture Co. Ltd. She is passionate about sharing effective tips to help children to learn and enjoy Chinese reading!
In this post, she explains her inspiration for creating Chinese leveled readers that can be used to teach Chinese at home or at school.
Where are you from and what languages do you speak?
I was born and grew up in Taiwan until I was 23 to go abroad.
Mandarin is my mother tongue. I consider English my second language.
When you were teaching Chinese to children, what were the greatest challenges that students experienced?
Thirty years ago, when I first started teaching Chinese to children, I was highly disappointed to find that they were unable to read any story books on their own, even after having spent much time and effort in learning to recognize and write individual Chinese characters.
After learning Chinese at school on a daily basis for about a year, most children are able to achieve the target of recognizing and writing about 200-300 Chinese characters. Despite this, they are not equipped with enough knowledge of Chinese characters. They cannot enjoy reading simple story books on their own.
After much reflection, I came to the conclusion that the method for teaching Chinese so far was not very effective.
For anyone beginning to learn Chinese, an essential first step is separating the ability to recognize and write Chinese.
This doesn’t mean that Chinese character writing is less important. It just implies that writing and practicing to retain characters is very time consuming.
Time spent on writing competes with reading time, interest in learning Chinese characters, as well as a big chunk of their precious “play time.” This is especially true given as they are still developing hand-eye coordination.
I suggest that we instead focus on developing Chinese reading skills to enjoy books. We can leave Chinese character writing practice for a more mature stage.
What inspired you to become a children’s book author?
I’ve always believed in “literacy through literature.” My intention is to help children learn Chinese in a more relaxed, comfortable, and interesting way.
My inspiration to write Chinese beginner picture books came when I was unable to find appropriate story books emphasising reading.
Although there is a huge variety of colourful, local and translated Chinese picture story books on the market, children depended on adults to read them.
Tell us about Greenfield and Le Le Chinese Readers. What is the goal of each these series?
The goals of Greenfield and Le Le series are more or less the same. The purpose is to attract the child’s attention by looking at relevant colorful illustrations and having proper association with Chinese characters.
However, children tend to memorize the text on each page once they are familiar with “fewer” readers (such as Greenfield series) instead of “reading” the text.
Therefore, I thought more story books will make it difficult to remember each story’s text.
The 300 readers in the Le Le Reading system enabled me to put/apply more individual characters in different contexts to develop reading comprehension and reading skills.
Children can use our audio pen to hear individual characters and the entire text on a given page.
For parents and teachers who are only able to get one set of Chinese graded readers, which series do you recommend?
Le Le Reading System targets 1000 Chinese characters via 300 booklets versus several hundred characters via less amount of books.
The more Chinese characters children are equipped with, the easier it will be to advance their reading.
In addition, the more books children read, the better they will develop their reading skills.
I have to emphasize that reading is a psycholinguistic guessing game. The more books they read on their own, the more opportunities they contribute to their own literacy development.
What are your top tips for parents who are trying to raise bilingual and multilingual children?
Well, my personal experiences tell me that adults around the children, like parents, grandparents, nannies etc., should stick to one language only when they communicate with the children.
I prefer parents to set the top priority on developing reading ability. Relatively speaking, oral language is not so hard to learn.
Once you are in the targeted language environment, you will learn it. However, Chinese reading and writing is much harder.
With new technology, writing is becoming easier. Now we can write with a computer via pinyin input (or any other phonetic system) instead of handwriting. Nevertheless, reading is still a very demanding and challenging job.
Children need to devote a long time of nonstop effort (I would say about 10 years minimum) to develop and maintain their literacy.
To learn more about Le Le Chinese Readers and Greenfield I Can Read Series, please refer to our detailed comparison of popular Chinese graded readers for children.
Many thanks to Cathy Ju Yao for sharing her insights and motivation for teaching Chinese to children! You can connect with the Le Le Culture Co. Ltd team through the following links:
More Tips for Teaching Chinese to Children
- 10+ Ways to Find a Foreign Language Teacher for Your Child
- Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps
- How To Get Your Child To Speak the Minority Language
- 20+ Ways to Get Your Kids to Speak Chinese
- How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker
What challenges have you faced with teaching your child Chinese? What tips do you have to share?
Comment below this article and share a language teaching tip and/or challenge that you hope to overcome!