At almost 4 years old, I have always believed my daughter to be too old for flash cards. In fact, I had to endure a period of smug I-told-You-So looks from my techno-skeptic wife when my earlier investment in a full set of Tweedlewink DVDs went up in smoke because I could not even get my daughter to sit and watch the programme. When I tried to show it to her while she was strapped in the child seat in my car, she just pretended to fall asleep! Mind you, this young lady has no problems getting glued to the TV for hours when it comes to her favorite Disney, Numberjacks or The Word Machine programmes.
I don’t blame the Tweedlewink product as it was targeted at a younger audience, but as an educational medium, it had issues which I thought could have been better addressed, given the price we paid. In any case, this experience made me quite skeptical when I got my hands on a set of Wink To Learn Speak & Read Chinese DVDs. I wasn’t sure I can even run fast enough to catch my daughter to put her in front of the TV to sit through this new flash card DVD programme.
Yesterday marks a month after I started showing her the series. I’m pretty lazy and easily distracted myself, and I only managed to show her the contents of the 1st DVD for no more than 3 times in the first week. So it took me a while yesterday to understand what she meant when she asked if she could watch the 中国北京 "movie", instead of her usual Donald Duck requests. She could even remember most the animals depicted in the programmes in the given sequence while I could only recall seeing the 猫. I almost fell off my chair.
The product comprises 6 DVDs encased in an oversized DVD box. Each DVD has a standard structure. It contains a series of 6 lessons, followed by 4 different revision methods.
Each lesson is a 2 minute slide show of static flash cards catering to a specific theme, which includes Animals, My Body Parts, Fruits, Actions, Numbers, Nature, Personal Belongings, Even Numbers, Food, Things In The House, Colors, etc. There are about 10 items presented per theme. Each item is first displayed as a picture, followed by the Chinese character, with a voice-over accompanying both the picture and the character. The entire sequence is then repeated once.
At the end of the sequence of learning flashcards, the viewer is then treated to a montage of high resolution pictures of various cities, birds, culture, etc. This was where my daughter’s 中国北京 came from .
The revision lessons go through the entire 6 sets of flash cards on the DVD in various formats:
Pictures & Words. This is essentially the same as each individual lesson, except that all 6×10 picture and character flashcards are displayed in 1 sequence.
Picture Only. This is similar to Pictures & Words, except only the picture cards are displayed.
Words Only. This is similar to Pictures & Words, except only the character cards are displayed.
High Speed Right Brain Training. This is similar to Pictures & Words, except that the playback is at about twice the normal speed.
The product does pretty much what it promises, which is to captivate the child’s attention with beautifully taken high resolution photographs while reinforcing the learning with clearly articulated and proper Chinese narration. The sound quality is good, and the background music is soothing, not sleep-inducing, and caters to all ages.
A key differentiator in this product is the very high quality images. This is not some poorly rendered or copied-off-the-web production. You can easily watch this on your spanking new full-HD to enjoy the professionally taken close-ups of animals, birds, and nature which could well double up as a screen-saver too. The stunning images draw the viewer in, setting up the context for the lessons. The picture on the left of the closeup of a bird is captured off the screen and down sampled for web publishing. Yet, it is able to still retain its clarity.
There is really little to explain about the pedagogy. It’s about using flashcards to induce right-brain learning in children. If you subscribe to the Glen Doman, Shichida, Little Neuro Tree methods, which are all variations of the flashcard method, then you should have no problems accepting fundamental pedagogy espoused by the Wink To Learn DVD flashcard system.
Here are the key features offered by the product:
The Chinese characters are color coded to highlight the distinct components that make up the parts of the character. This is a good feature – it clearly shows the child how different symbols can be put together to form new characters in Chinese. As a lay person, however, I felt that the color coding is a little inconsistent, as there doesn’t appear to be any clear rules as to why certain parts are color coded in a certain way while others are not. It would be good for the publishers to provide the rules they used for coding.
The publisher took particular care with choosing the best font sizes and rendering to make character learning a lot easier on the eyes, and provide more impact to young viewers.
The speed of flashing is constrained under 3 seconds, the recommended speed by flashcard protagonists such as Glen Doman. Together with alternating between characters and pictures, it was able to engage my daughter effectively despite her short attention span.
The length of each lesson is also just right to maintain interest without making the process into a chore for the child. Each lesson is only about 2 minutes, and includes a "reward" of eye candy of pictures taken all around the world. The child gets to learn 10 Chinese characters or phrases within that time. The product actually removes the autoplay feature from the DVD, and it is necessary to manually go to the menu and start the next lesson. This is to prevent parents from using the product as an entertainment tool, where parents just put the child in front of the TV and run off to do other things. The publisher recommends showing only 2 lessons a day. Some parents, however, might find this troublesome, especially if the product is to be shown in the family car where it will be difficult to safely operate the player controls when the car is moving. The publisher is planning to put back the autoplay feature in future releases of the product.
The revision lessons are useful for reinforcing the learning. By flashing only character or picture cards in separate sessions, the child could be taught to associate sounds with characters only or pictures only. The Right-Brain training accelerates the flashing to about 2 cards per second to achieve high-speed learning. However as a result of this acceleration, the pitch and pronunciation of the narrative becomes distorted and cartoonish. The publisher is aware of this problem and will be enhancing the Right Brain flashing programme in its next release.
The Wink To Learn Speak & Read Chinese DVD is an effective tool for exposing young children below the age of 7 to Chinese characters and phrases. This augers well with the focus coming back on the use of Chinese characters in Primary schools, after decades of experimentation with Hanyu Pinyin as a replacement for written Chinese.
If you are looking for something to supplement what your child is getting from right-brain training programmes such as Little Neuro Tree, or Chinese enrichment courses such as Berries or Tien Hsia, then the Wink To Learn DVD series should be an easy buy decision for you. It is a very good first attempt by the publisher who has managed to put up a high quality product.
If you are looking to replace the right-brain training programme with this DVD series, then the product may not meet your expectations. It still lacks the animated interactivity that a live right-brain training session will provide, such as flashing with synchronized music.
However, the product has demonstrated its potential as an educational tool. Hopefully, we will continue to see even better products coming from our local publishers!
KiasuParents.com will be holding a special 1 hour online auction event for a set of Wink To Learn Read & Learn Chinese DVDs kindly sponsored by Wink 2 Learn from 9pm and closing at 10pm on 30 Apr 2009. The auction will be done using KiasuPoints, and not cash :). So go ahead and start collecting KiasuPoints today by rating services, inviting friends to KiasuParents.com, and getting Kudos from other people! You will need the points for the auction.