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After School Chinese: Mandarin Chinese Language Course Review by Dr. Heather W. Allen

Asia for Kids
Master Communications Inc.
P.O. Box 9096
Cincinnati, OH 45209

After School Chinese is a four-level curriculum, each level consisting of eight DVD lessons, two audio CDs, a student book, and an instructional guide. Each lesson begins with a dialog between the students and their teacher. Next, key words and phrases from the dialog are presented in Pinyin (phonetic spelling), Chinese characters, and English. Then the phonetic spelling is dropped, and students repeat the words and phrases aloud while looking at the Chinese characters and English translations. The original dialog is then shown again to give the students a chance to recognize the words or phrases they've been learning. The lesson ends with a final practice session before moving on. The DVD lessons are broken down into chapters (for example, vocabulary, dialogue, and sentence patterns) for easy access and repetition. Companion CDs allow for audio learning.

The material covers basic greetings and common phrases, geography, shopping, the weather, transportation, typical conversations, as well as Chinese customs and cultural issues. The teacher is Donald Holder, an American who lives in China. His easy going presentation of the material helps the viewer through the technical aspects of the language while making the material interesting.

Our family has committed to learning Mandarin Chinese for two primary reasons. First, 1.3 billion people worldwide speak Mandarin, making it the second most spoken language in the world (English being first). We believe it is a language worthy of study in our homeschool. Second, we are about to make another trip to China as a family to adopt a second child from that country. We feel that Mandarin, the native language of our youngest daughter and son, is one that we should know as a family. We have friends now in China, and we have a need to be able to converse reasonably well while there.

We have tried two Mandarin Chinese language courses. The first one we tried was extremely difficult to work through. It required students to complete the lessons individually, and we all became frustrated. After School Chinese, however, was fun to do as a family. We didn't get lost or confused, and it was designed to be fun and understandable.

Several evenings each week, we would all assemble in the family room and play the DVD. We never did more than one lesson at a time, and we often repeated the lesson over several evenings. We'd work our way through the lesson, listening to each other pronounce the words or phrases, not moving on until we felt comfortable We used the audio CDs primarily as review, usually in the car when driving between activities. Between the DVDs and CDs, we really had a good mix of the visual and auditory, which was good for our children, some of whom favor one modality over the other.

After School Chinese is designed for ages 8-13. Each lesson lasts about 15 minutes, for a total of 120 minutes of instruction in each of the four levels. Our whole family has participated in this language course--my husband and I and our four kids (ages 13, 12, 8, and 3). I have to admit the 3-year-old played during much of the lesson presentation, but she has had fun saying the words along with us. It'll be interesting to see if she uses what she's learned while in China.

Our only suggestion for improvement to the course, and this is with the caveat that we've only completed Level One, would be to add more conversational materials using the words and phrases being taught. This would give students an even better understanding of how to use the words and phrases in context.

Each level is priced at $199.95 (plus $10.00 shipping), and we felt it was worth the cost. I definitely recommend After School Chinese for any homeschool family interested in learning Mandarin Chinese. We're eager to order Level 2 and continue our study.

Product review by Dr. Heather W. Allen, Senior Analytical Consultant, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2006