四五快读 (Si Wu Kuai Du / 4, 5, fast read) is a popular learn-to-read Chinese series that lived up to the hype for my family. This is a very belated review of 四五快读, which my daughter began in November 2017 (age 4 years 1 month) and completed in January 2018 (age 4 years 3 months). I credit the series for building my daughter’s reading stamina and fluency.
The title 快读 suggests that kids will learn how to read Chinese quickly, but of course the pace of study will vary from student to student. Despite the suggested age range of 4-5 years, 四五快读 also helped me learn how to read Chinese without pinyin!!! Therefore, I believe the series may help older children and parents learn Chinese.
Here is a close-up look at 四五快读 and how my daughter and I used it!
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Title: 四五快读 (Sìwǔ kuài dú / 4, 5, fast read)
Publisher: Hunan Science Technology Publisher; 2nd edition (2010)
Age level: 3-7 years
Language: Simplified Chinese with some Hanyu Pinyin
Where to buy:
What is 四五快读?
四五快读 is a Chinese Learning Curriculum that consists of 8 books that teaches 825 simplified Chinese characters and >4000 words (including ~130 idioms and sayings). The 四五快读 curriculum includes:
- Parent Guide:
- Very detailed 30-pages!
- The guide is entirely in simplified Chinese, but part of the guide has been translated in English on the Kiasu Parents forum.
- Author’s suggestions:
- Native Chinese children can learn up to 8-10 characters a day
- Review new characters for 6-8 consecutive days for better long-term retention
- Child should be able to read ~80% words in children’s books after completing this series.
- Included with books 1-6 only
- Each square card has one Simplified Chinese character and Pinyin on the other side
- Books 1-6 teach 552 simplified Chinese characters
- First book introduces simple sentences with lots of pictures
- Each book increases incrementally in difficulty and provides new characters in large font
- Stories increase in length (2-3 pages max) with decreasing pictorial clues
- Various reading exercises are provided which include the following:
- Picture matching (first 2 books only)
- Word recognition games
- Practice reading characters in random order
- Comprehension questions
- Book 7 reviews the 552 characters
- Book 8 is a short story collection that adds another 273 simplified Chinese characters
Chinese proficiency is a prerequisite for this series. Parents who are not fully literate in Chinese will be unable to read the parent guide and complete the exercises provided in the books. However, parents who can read a few hundred characters can read the main passages and learn more characters with their child.
- Cheap!!! At $25-60 per set, this is by far the least expensive “Learn To Read Chinese” Curriculum that I have seen!
- Stories are mostly anthropomorphic with some people-based stories; most have a short plot and a moral that you can discuss
- No Hanyu Pinyin to distract from the Chinese characters
- Ready-to-use flashcards
- Parent guide can help for those who have no teaching experience or are struggling with home learning.
- Flashcards have characters in large black font. Pinyin is on the opposite side, so you can’t “cheat” when looking at the character side. Since we did not use them, I cannot comment on durability, but they are thick and not flimsy.
- No audio available
- Typographical errors in each book
How we used 四五快读 as a non-fluent family
When my daughter started 四五快读, she had been learning how to read and speak Chinese for a little over a 1 year. At age 3, she learned to read Chinese through various hands-on activities, Sagebooks and Greenfield I Can Read learning series.
Prior to starting 四五快读, she knew about 600-700 simplified Chinese characters comfortably and was able to read easy Chinese bridge books, such as the Little Bear series. At the time, she was intimidated by the long passages and put off by the relatively few images. Therefore, we used 四五快读 primarily to increase confidence and build reading stamina.
Since my Chinese speaking skills are limited, we would not have been able to start our language journey with 四五快读 due to the lack of English and audio. Also, the stories did not have enough pictures, which we rely on for clues as non-native speakers. In addition, I could not read the teacher guide and many of the reading exercises.
Although I learned Sagebooks and Greenfield with my daughter, I was over-reliant on Pinyin and could only remember ~200 characters at that time. So my daughter had to take the lead on the reading practice! Despite skipping most of the reading exercises, we both learned new characters not covered by the other series. 四五快读 also introduces idioms that we had never heard before.
I wish that the book came with an audio CD or reading pen so that we could listen to professional narration by a native speaker. The lack of English translations required much effort on my part to look up translations and definitions of new words and idioms. This is why Sagebooks’ English translations made it the optimal beginner series for our family.
四五快读 study timeline
Many parents have joked with me that the series is more like “慢读” (slow reading) in their experience. Since this was my daughter’s third leveled reading series, she was able to finish it in about 2 months. We took a few breaks over the winter holidays, so perhaps we could have finished it more quickly. Please note that this is an abnormally short amount of time to complete a learning series, but my daughter had prior exposure to most characters.
Also, for me, 2 months was very rushed. I cannot remember characters as quickly as my daughter, so I should have studied and repeated more on my own. Spaced repetition is important for long-term retention! But I didn’t have time, so I just kept going with my daughter.
四五快读 reading schedule
If you’ve read about our trilingual family schedule, you know that I am flexible about our home learning routine. “Reading schedule” is a bit of a misnomer because other than bedtime stories, we read whenever we can. Some days we read for an hour, and other days we can barely squeeze in 5 minutes because my 1-year-old son was at an unpredictable age.
The only rule that I had was that we had to go in order – no skipping ahead to other books until we finished reading prior stories.
Normally I let my daughter choose whatever Chinese picture books that she wants to read, but she knows that leveled readers are different.
Although the first few books had no new words, we started from the beginning since I was not sure when we would run into new characters.
Reading out loud
When we read, my daughter and I took turns reading out loud. Even though my reading is quite terrible compared to my daughter, she always wanted me to “try the best that I can.”
Like all kids, my daughter enjoys being read to. I think she also enjoys “teaching” me, so my reading turn resulted in her correcting me and often taking over.
Being flexible about reading
Although the author’s guide recommends re-reading the prior day’s material, I don’t require my daughter to re-read stories that she doesn’t care for because I know that she will be motivated to repeat a story if it genuinely captures her interest. W
We have learned the hard way from teachers who have tried to make her read passages that are either too easy, too hard, or too boring; it has backfired tremendously.
Therefore, for the first several books, we flew through the reading passages with no repetition. My daughter also enjoyed exploring the illustrations before, during, and after each story.
Starting around book 4, the stories became more interesting. Even though they were “easy” for my daughter, she was internally motivated to re-read them. She would usually discover something new with each read and come up with new questions about the stories, however simple they seemed.
When we reached book 8, we needed to ask our Chinese tutor for help to read a few stories with typos and unfamiliar idioms.
Reviewing Chinese characters without flashcards
Finally, we did not use the included Chinese flashcards since my daughter finds them boring. The thought of organizing and storing flashcards is also stressful for me, and I secretly like to keep books like new!
Instead, we use Post-It notes and dot stickers to highlight new characters and review them through games or activities.
If my daughter got stuck on a word, we moved on without hesitation, knowing that these are common Chinese characters that we will re–encounter in other children’s books.
四五快读 reading video
This video shows my daughter reading a story from 四五快读 Book 8 at age 4 years. Please pardon her voice – she was very tired from an upper respiratory infection during this reading!
You will notice that her reading level and fluency has improved considerably through our Chinese reading progress videos.
What’s inside the 四五快读 books?
Here’s a quick video overview followed by many photos!
四五快读 Book 1
四五快读 Book 1, lesson 1 introduces 16 simple Chinese characters with several reading exercises.
四五快读 Book 2
Students begin to read 2-3 line sentences.
四五快读 Book 4
Ready for 1-page stories!
四五快读 Book 5
Stories continue to lengthen, now at 2-3 pages.
四五快读 Book 6
Story length remains the same at 2-3 pages each.
四五快读 Book 7
Word list! We used mini red removable dot stickers to mark words that my daughter hesitated or forgot, and then replaced them with mini green dot stickers when she remembered them. Avery brand (available here) does not leave a sticky residue. A few red stickers remain in the word list, because we did not dwell on these words.
As mentioned previously, we moved on to focus on enjoying reading characters in context.
Here are more reading exercises which my daughter and I skipped. I am planning on trying some of these sections with her in the future.
四五快读 Book 8
Last but not least, book 8 focuses purely on stories! Each story has a lesson (eg, say sorry), and some are famous folktales, such as the 三只小猪 (Sān zhī xiǎo zhū / Three Little Pigs) and 司马光 (Sīmǎ guāng / SiMa Guang Breaks a Jar).
Since this book has no flashcards, new words are highlighted with Pinyin at the end of each story.
司马光 was one of the few stories that we read with my daughter’s Chinese tutor. My daughter and I read most of the stories independently, but we needed our Chinese tutor’s help for some of the stories in Book 8. I’m so glad that we read this with her since she caught a typo as shown in the red ink below.
Side note: if you are interested in the 司马光 story, the New York University website has a narrated version here.
四五快读 Book 8 concludes with the complete list of 825 words. This last video is my daughter reviewing part of the list. Notice that she has to pause to think of a couple words, and she seems to skip one unfamiliar word.
I hope you don’t mind if I repeat that it is okay if your child cannot remember every word! Parents ask this all the time, but when a child is first learning to read, she does not need to master every word out of context.
四五快读 Traditional Chinese translation
Since there is no traditional Chinese version of the series, my friend Sin-Yee Tan translated part of the book and has generously agreed to share them here! I’m very thankful for her passion for helping other families!
Please respect that this is for personal, non-commercial use only. Also, purchase of the simplified Chinese books is still highly recommended for the illustrations and other stories! Click on the links below to download the following:
- 四五快读 Books 1-6 Character list in traditional Chinese
- 四五快读 Book 8; stories 1-20 with flashcards in traditional Chinese
- 四五快读 Book 8; stories 21-50 with flashcards in traditional Chinese
In summary, I highly recommend 四五快读!
This series is an excellent bargain for a comprehensive and effective curriculum. I love that the series forces you to learn how to read Chinese without relying on Pinyin! However, non-fluent families would likely have to first invest in other leveled readers, such as Sagebooks and Greenfield prior to reading 四五快读. 四五快读’s main shortcoming would be the lack of audio narration which most other programs provide.
If you’re not sure whether your child is ready for 四五快读, I recommend buying the first book to try (rather than the whole set) since the cost is relatively low. Of course, it’s more cost effective to buy the full set, but it’s better than buying the complete series only to find out that it’s not the best fit for your child or student!
Other Chinese leveled readers for kids
Here are detailed reviews of other Chinese leveled readers that we have used.
- 基础汉字 Sagebooks 500
- 我自己会读 Greenfield
- 樂樂文化 Le Le Chinese Reading Pen
- Odonata Chinese Readers (1200 Simplified Chinese Characters)
For a head-to-head comparison of all of the options, please refer to this post: Chinese Leveled Readers: Comparison of Graded Books for Kids.
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