Making Progress in Mandarin Chinese

How do I prepare for a trip to a foreign country? Learn to speak the local language. Before traveling to Russia 20 years ago, I used a Berlitz course to study while my babies napped. Since foreign languages fascinate me, it was a small sacrifice, which was richly rewarded during my overseas trip. When I introduced myself in floundering Russian to a camp full of kids, their enthusiastic cheers astonished me.

Ever since our family began considering a trip to Taiwan, the twins and I have been studying Chinese. We would love to communicate easily with the locals while visiting. As our departure date approaches, I’ve increased my language study time. Although my initial efforts focused on understanding spoken Mandarin, I’ve begun learning to read and write Chinese as well. It’s been an adventure.

In my quest for the best language study resources, I tried several promising apps and websites that were disappointments. Others have helped tremendously. Read on to find out which ones are keepers.

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Is it Really Just Like Riding a Bike?

Have you heard our big news? We’re planning to spend several weeks in Taiwan near the end of the year! After I informed my mother-in-law that we had tickets to visit her in Taiwan, her advice was unexpected: “Start practicing riding a bike!” Cycling is a favorite means of transportation in Taipei, and ‘Grammy’ often cycles with friends on Saturdays.

Although I loved riding a bike as a kid, I hadn’t straddled the saddle of a non-stationary cycle for years. For my entire adult life, I had avoided riding this two-wheeled contraption. After such a long hiatus, I was actually afraid of trying to ride it again. With Grammy’s advice echoing in my mind, I prayed that the statement “It’s just like riding a bike” was really true.

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How to Get an International Driving Permit

While researching places to visit in Taiwan, my husband suggested that we may want to drive while we are there. Unfortunately, we cannot merely use our US Driver’s Licenses. Imagine getting pulled over by a Chinese-speaking police officer. I could show him my License, but how could he know that it is legitimate?

To drive in Taiwan, we need International Driving Permits, which translate and validate our licenses in 11 languages. Although we don’t have concrete plans to drive anywhere while we are overseas, we want to keep our options open. Getting an International Driving Permit is surprisingly simple. Using a US license, apply at a AAA office.

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How I Found the Best Airfares for Our Taiwan Adventure

When purchasing overseas plane tickets for a family of five, sticker shock can be overwhelming. The price per ticket doesn’t seem exceptionally high until you calculate the final price. A difference of $200 per ticket instantly translates to $1,000. For our upcoming flight to Taiwan, we patiently sought the best possible deal within our travel window.

I initially tracked prices using the Kayak website. They emailed me when fares for my chosen dates changed. After a few weeks of fluctuating fares, I became restless and began seeking new strategies to find reasonably-priced tickets. Ultimately, I discovered Google Flight Search, which made it simple to determine the optimal travel dates. Figuring out how to purchase the inexpensive fare was challenging, but I finally succeeded. Read on to find out how we did it.

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How Will We Homeschool While Visiting Taiwan?

A few months ago, I informed my parents that we are planning to visit Taiwan for six weeks. My dad posed an important question: “What will the girls do for school while you’re in Taiwan?” When I went on a family vacation during the school year as a kid, I either had to take work along with me or make it up when we returned. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can incorporate a broad education wherever we go without relying solely on textbooks. With that being said, we are planning to leave our formal curriculum at home (or perhaps at Grandpa’s house).

Instead, we will focus on worldschooling—helping our kids to learn by experiencing the world around them in a different culture. As the girls are immersed in a foreign culture, I don’t want textbooks to keep us from experiencing all Taiwan has to offer. Our primary “curriculum” will be everyday life.

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Planning a Homeschool Family Expedition to Taiwan

While studying the Far East last February, the twins were captivated by Chinese culture. Finding an affordable week-long tour of China, I asked them if they’d like to go. “We’d rather visit Taiwan,” they replied. After all, that’s where their dad grew up, and their grandmother still lives there. Even their oldest sister has traveled to Taiwan three times.

Over the next several weeks, an idea grew in my mind. What if we went to Taiwan? To get a full sense of the culture, we would need to stay in Taiwan for several weeks. That would benefit the girls more significantly than the whirlwind week in China I had previously proposed. Would such a trip be feasible? I spent several days praying about the possibility.

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Review of Britfield & the Lost Crown

Because my twins appreciate novels full of adventure and suspense, we leaped at the chance to review Britfield & the Lost Crown. We could choose the ebook, audiobook, or traditional softcover edition. My daughters, who love the smell of new books and the feel of flipping actual pages, requested the paperback.

Britfield provided the perfect warm-up for our homeschool year. Set in present-day Britain, the fictional novel incorporates aspects of British culture and history. An 83-page study guide, available for free online, outlines eight weeks’ worth of literature lessons based on the story. Since we hadn’t yet started school, I read the book aloud so the twins and I could enjoy it together.

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Encountering the Arab World with Sonlight

Last year, the twins and I enjoyed using the first twenty-one weeks of Sonlight Eastern Hemisphere curriculum to explore the cultures of Asia. Since my husband grew up in Taiwan, and his mother still lives there, that area of the world fascinates us. We learned about the geography, history, and culture of countries like China, Japan, India, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Russia. In the final fifteen weeks, which we began this month, we will focus on the Middle East and Africa.

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Review of My School Year Homeschool Record Keeping

For ten years I relied on the same homeschool recordkeeping software. Then one day my computer died. Although my husband was able to rescue my files, the program couldn’t run on my new Chromebook. I created a temporary solution with an online database app. When I finally upgraded my computer, I reinstalled my favorite software. Using it once again felt like coming home.

Last month, I had the chance to review My School Year Homeschool Record Keeping, a website designed for planning and keeping homeschool records. Even though I was happy with our current solution, I decided to try out their Annual Membership Plan

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