四五快读 Review: How We Used Si Wu Kuai Du as Non-Native Chinese Speakers
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, an affordable series that I credit for building my 4-year-old daughter’s reading stamina and fluency.
Despite the suggested age range of 4-5 years, 四五快读 also helped me learn how to read Chinese without pinyin. Therefore, the series can help older children and parents learn Chinese. Although the title 快读 implies that this book will quickly teach kids to read, we all know that every kid learns at a different pace. So please ignore any tiger parent pressure to force your toddler to read!
Here is a close-up look at 四五快读 and how my daughter and I used it!
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四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du Review
- Title: 四五快读 (Sìwǔ kuài dú / 4, 5, fast read)
- Author: 杨其铎
- Publisher: Hunan Science Technology Publisher; 2nd edition (2010)
- Age level: 3-7 years
- Language: Simplified Chinese with some Hanyu Pinyin
- Where to buy: Amazon
What is 四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du?
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:
- 30-page parent guide:
- The guide is entirely in simplified Chinese, but to summarize, the author suggests that:
- 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.
- The guide is entirely in simplified Chinese, but to summarize, the author suggests that:
- Included with books 1-6 only
- Each square flashcard 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 Chinese characters can read the main passages and learn more characters with their child.
Related: When and How to Teach Chinese Characters to Kids?
- Price!!! This is the least expensive Chinese leveled reader series that we have.
- Stories are mostly anthropomorphic with some people-based stories; most have a short plot and a moral that you can discuss. (This could be a con if your family prefers reality-based stories.)
- No Hanyu Pinyin to distract from the Chinese characters
- Tear-out flashcards with characters in large black font. Pinyin is on the opposite side, so you can’t “cheat” when looking at the character side.
Read this: When Should My Child Learn Hanyu Pinyin?
- No audio available
- Typographical errors in each book
- Old-fashioned, negative comments that don’t fit our positive parenting philosophy (eg, you’re a “good kid” because you not crying; good kids do a lot of homework; “stupid bird”). While this might be a dealbreaker for many families, I decided to use those demoralizing phrases as teaching examples for our children. We talked about how those are common things that some people say, but our family believes in praising effort, validating emotions, and prioritizing kindness.
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.
All of the details are in this post: How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker, and I’ll focus on 四五快读 specifics here.
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. The lack of English translations required much effort on my part to look up translations and definitions of new words and idioms.
When we reached the higher levels, we needed to ask our Chinese tutor for help to read stories and clarify typos and unfamiliar idioms. So if you’re not fluent, please see Chinese Leveled Readers: Comparison of Graded Books for Kids for other options to guide your kids.
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.
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 2 months, so please don’t compare your timeline with others. 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.
Also, 2 months was very rushed for me. I cannot memorize Chinese 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. (Obviously our kids choose whatever Chinese picture books they want to read during other times!)
Despite skipping most of the reading exercises, we both learned new characters not covered by the other series. 四五快读 also introduced idioms that we had never heard before.
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.
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.
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. We also enjoyed exploring the illustrations before, during, and after each story.
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.
Related: 30 Chinese Dot Sticker Learning Activities for Kids
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.
Photos inside 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.
Instead, take note of the difficult characters, and find opportunities to highlight it in other stories and/or literacy games and activities.
四五快讀 Traditional Chinese translation
Since there is no traditional Chinese version of the series, my friend Sin-Yee Tan translated part of 四五快讀 and has generously agreed to share them here! I’m very thankful for her passion for helping other families!
Please respect that the traditional Chinese translation of 四五快讀 is for personal, non-commercial use only. Also, purchasing the original simplified Chinese books is still recommended for the illustrations and other exercises!
Final thoughts about 四五快读!
四五快读 is a really great bargain for a comprehensive and effective teaching of Chinese characters. I love that the series forces you to learn how to read Chinese without relying on Pinyin!
四五快读’s main shortcoming would be the lack of audio narration which most other programs provides. Non-fluent families would likely have to first start with other Chinese leveled readers for kids.
Did your family use 四五快读 or another Chinese leveled reader?
If you end up reading this book, let me know what you think in the comments below! We’d love to hear about your learning experience with the books you choose! What other books do you recommend we check out?
Hi! Thanks for your brilliant review! I just got this set, to teach myself Chinese. I’m a native (at home) speaker but I forgot or didn’t ever learn reading/writing most characters, so now it’s memorization central basically. Plus, dialect vs proper Mandarin (Beijing) sounds for words.
My question is, is there a list of the typos anywhere? You mentioned every book has typos. I’m afraid I’ll learn the wrong thing. And I won’t even know, cause I have no teacher to tell me.
Thanks! I love you’re reviews of the different sets. Yes, I did get this set because of the cost, lol.
I am an adult learner. Do you think these books would be helpful for me?
Your daughter is amazing! Please tell me she was 4 almost 5 in that video so I feel better about my almost 4 yr old 😛 No, seriously, good job on teaching and learning with your child. Definitely an inspiration!
Haha thanks, Sharon!
Thanks for the mention! Haha I like the joke on 四五慢读! It is for my case because we go so slowly for each word with our illustrations.. Now finally into book5! For your girl it is indeed 快读! She’s really such a darling and can read superbly under your patient guidance. Great review as usual.
Thank you for your wonderful 四五慢读 resources! I wish the title of this series didn’t include age or speed, as I think that could be a discouraging factor for some families! Congratulations on reaching book 5!! Hard work and perseverance for the win!
Wow my son is almost 4 yrs old and he is not able to read or recognize that many Chinese words though his exposure to the language is there and he attends Chinese enrichment class. Shall be diligent in using this curriculum. But first I need to read the parent’s guide
Hi Serene, thank you for sharing! No worries about age – each child learn various skills at their own pace. I do think that full language immersion at home may accelerate language potential compared to the classroom setting, at least in the United States. What are Chinese enrichment classes like in your area? Are they full immersion?