Member post: Amazing Twin Boys Who Are Reading Chinese and English At Least Two Years Above Grade Level (Sin Yee T.)


Hi Members of Motherly Notes! 

Once in a while I find a gem in the group and I pester invite them to share their teaching methods with us because I find it truly valuable to the community to know how miracles happen. Actually, miracles don’t just “happen”… they were created by mothers who put in an arm and a leg. Hm… both arms and both legs and maybe dunked their heads in as well just to a point where they couldn’t breathe and then take their heads out for a small breath of air and then continue the process again. From going through this process, we’ve seen crazy moms, crazier moms, and absolute lunatics and I’d like to introduce Sin Yee T. ,

an absolute maniac, BUT I LOVE HER. 

She and I share the same philosophies and has proven that it WORKS. Her boys are true examples of her making a slave of herself for the last four years, hard work. 

Sin Yee T’s Post:

Hi everyone, it’s my honor to guest write for Motherly Notes.

A little background about me: I grew up in Singapore and am bilingual in English and Chinese.

In English-dominated Singapore, I was that uncool kid who would read dusty copies of Chinese martial arts novels by Jin Yong for fun. I moved to California 13 years ago and have lived here ever since. My husband grew up in Hong Kong, did middle/high school in Singapore before moving to the US. We have 3 year-old twin boys who are turning 4 next month. My husband and I have decided even before we had kids that we would do our best to bring our kids up bilingual in English and Chinese.

0-3 years old: Building the foundation

We loosely followed the One Parent One Language method when my kids were babies, with me in English and my husband in Mandarin, although I still sing/ read to them in Mandarin and family time is always in Mandarin. I slowly ramped up my Mandarin ever since they started (English only) preschool and meeting more people outside of home. Now English is spoken mostly when we are in the company of others who only speak English, during English story time, and in school.

I trained as a speech-language pathologist and believe firmly in the benefits of reading with your children. Like many others in the Motherly Notes (MN) group, I am an avid book buyer and would frequently read children’s book reviews to scout for books. I did my research and bought stacks of books in both English and Chinese when I was pregnant with the twins. Within days of them being born, I would read them black-and-white board books (since newborns could only see black, white and gray) when they were awake. I read to them every day in both languages, with the reading time getting progressively longer as my kids’ attention spans increased. As they grew older and more mobile, they would bring me book after book in our little reading nook, and it was not uncommon for us to read together for more than an hour at a time.

I make use of every opportunity to acquire new books, e.g., preparing the kids for new experiences such as traveling. Last year I bought/borrowed all the children’s books I could find on London, and read them with the kids before we went on our trip to London to enrich their experience. I would read animal books to them and talked about the animals we might see prior to a simple trip to the zoo. I read them books on potty training, starting school etc. No matter what the topic is, there is always a book (or 20) for it!

When I read to my kids, I did not just read the words in a book or just label the pictures. I expanded on what I see with lots of animated details. E.g., instead of saying, “Ball” while pointing to a ball on a page, I would say, “Look, this is a big red ball with white and purple stripes. You have a similar looking red ball, but it’s smaller and has orange polka dots. It bounces when you throw it against the ground!” Therefore even short simple board books took me a long time to read, and while I’m not usually much of a chatterbox, I would talk my kids’ ears off throughout the day.

When my kids were close to 2, I noticed that they were beginning to recite pages from books from memory and they loved pretending to “read”.  It prompted me to start cooperative reading with them. As I read, I would bring their attention to simple characters in sentences like 人、大、小 etc; when the words reappear later, I would point them out and ask if they knew what they were. It didn’t matter whether they were right or not, and it’s important to keep things very casual instead of making it into a “lesson” or “teaching”.

For English, my kids loved the book “Dr. Seuss’s ABC” and would ask me to read it to them multiple times a day. I read it using letter sounds instead of letter names, and they learned all their letter sounds from that book. As I read books, I would pick a few simple consonant-vowel-consonant words (e.g., “bat”), break them up into sounds, and blend them again (e.g., ‘b-a-t, baaat’). I also pointed out digraph sounds such as “ee”, “ea”, “sh”, “ch” etc. All these were done casually during story time and gave them a good foundation for phonics.

3 years old onwards: Teaching them to read

My kids don’t go to Chinese school and they only go to a play-based English preschool 3 times a week, so their learning mostly occurs at home.

Shortly after the kids turned 3, my husband and I decided to start formally teaching them to read in both Chinese and English. We bought the Sage 500 set in Traditional Chinese, aimed to teach 500 frequently used Chinese characters, as well as the book “ The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons”. We decided that my husband would teach the kids Sage and me The Reading Lesson. We would take one kid each before bedtime, do a few pages, and then switch kids. With the foundation we had laid down from cooperative reading, they quickly picked up pace, surprising us at how much they actually retained from all those hours of reading together.

Chinese reading

About a month or two into Sage, I discovered “四五快讀”, a set of 8 books that teaches 825 simplified Chinese characters via flash cards, phrases and passages. People from the MN group have generously shared the files in traditional Chinese for the first few books. I grew up learning simplified Chinese, and while my husband and I agreed that our focus would be on traditional Chinese given my husband’s heritage, I would like my kids to learn simplified as well. I decided to use 四五快讀 to supplement Sage and teach my kids both traditional and simplified Chinese at the same time.

This is what I did for 四五快讀:

  1. I went through all the characters in 四五快讀 and made flash cards in traditional Chinese characters. I then stuck the traditional Chinese cards to the back of the corresponding simplified Chinese cards. guestpost1
  2. For the first few books, I printed out the traditional ve
  3. rsion of 四五快讀 from the Files section of MN. I typed up Books 5, 6 and 8 in traditional Chinese when I couldn’t find any more traditional Chinese resources online. These were shared back to the MN group.
  4. I first went over the flashcards with the kids in traditional, and then flipped over the cards to teach them in simplified. I then let them read the phrases and passages first in traditional, and then in simplified.
  5. We did roughly a lesson a day and finished the books in about 4 months. After every book, I would do a big revision with all the words using games. We did lessons EVERYDAY; the books and flashcards came with us even when we went on vacations.

Reading a passage from 四五快讀 at 3.5 years old:


After my kids were done with Sage in 4 months, my husband taught them zhuyin while I continued working with them on 四五快讀. We also started letting them read picture books and simple chapter books for practice.

By the time we were done with Sage and 四五快讀, the kids had about 800+ words. We increased it to around 1000+ words by doing the following:

  1. Picking out books they love as teaching materials. We used a few books from the “幼童創意橋樑書 系列” such as “小雪人”、”波波的四十雙襪子” etc. My kids are also obsessed with the “我愛瑪婷” series, so I used a few of those too despite the small font, which my kids were fine with since they love 瑪婷 so much. Other books I used as materials include “亮亮”, the “小妖怪” series, and recently the “神奇書屋” series since my kids love the books in English.  I don’t obsess too much about the perceived difficulty/reading levels of the books; as long as they hold the interest of my kids, I would use them to teach.
  2. Picking out unfamiliar words and phrases from the books to make flash cards. I would also type out chapters in simplified Chinese to let them practice reading in simplified. I insert the flash cards into a big pocket chart for quick revisions.
  3. Going over the unfamiliar words/phrases with the kids before letting them read the books.
  4. After they have read the book/chapter, using the 5-finger retell method learned from Hands-on Chinese Fun to test their comprehension. I don’t do it all the time but it’s very useful for checking if they actually understood what they read.
  5. Apart from the guided reading above, I also ask my kids to read something of their choice for at least 15 minutes everyday; they usually read for much longer than that.




Reading “生病的時候 from the “我愛瑪婷series at 3y10mos:



Reading “神奇樹屋之恐龍谷大冒險” in simplified Chinese at 3y11mos:



English reading

We completed “The Reading Lesson” in about three months, as my kids already knew the letter and digraph sounds, and just needed practice with blending and reading sentences/passages. I printed Fry’s 1000 most common sight word list off the internet (there are also pricey flash cards available off Amazon)  and went over the first few hundred words with the kids. They already knew a lot of them from cooperative reading, so this phase didn’t take too long. I made up silly stories using about 10-20 words at a time, and also let the kids come up with phrases/sentences with the words.

I also let the kids pick out early reader books from local bookstores, and we struck gold with the Elephant and Piggie series, which my kids adored (and still do) and would read by themselves.

I credit the author Arnold Lobel for elevating my kids’ reading level as they discovered and started devouring all his books, such as the “Frog and Toad” series, “Mouse Tales”, “Grasshopper on the Road” etc. They found him absolutely hilarious and would read anything he wrote. I let them listen to the audiobooks first before letting them read the books, which successfully piqued their interest. We started off just reading 1 or 2 chapters everyday, and then slowly built up their stamina to read a whole book in one sitting.

guestpost4While we continued to read lots of picture books and short illustrated chapter books, I also wanted the kids to try chapter books with less illustrations. We dove into one of my kids’ current obsessions: The Magic Tree House series. They were hooked once I read them a few chapters from the first book, and wanted to read the rest to find out what happened next. Apart from that, the kids recently finished some books at the third grade level, such as “The Magic Finger” by Roald Dahl and “The Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner, which they picked out from the bookshelf. They also love non-fiction, especially books on animals, vehicles and countries around the world.

I think it’s important to stress that I did not stop reading to my kids even though they can now read; I love reading to them and see it as a form of bonding. I still try to read to them for an hour a day. Reading books to kids also exposes them to more sophisticated language, which helps them with reading comprehension.



guestpost5Writing had not been our emphasis when we started this journey, because I believe in the sequence “聽說讀寫”; I don’t believe in learning to write when you can’t comprehend, speak nor read properly. Late this summer, my kids started attempting to copy simple Chinese characters and English letters. One of them explicitly expressed his interest in writing to me, so I started letting them trace and write zhuyin characters and Chinese character strokes. We then progressed to simple Chinese characters from Sage, using the MN files that Julie had very generously shared. The beauty about writing Sage characters is that I can get them to write a sentence with the characters they learned, e.g., “一個大人在高山上。” They can write about 15-20 characters from memory now. I am fastidious about them writing characters in the correct stroke order; I don’t expect their writing to be pretty or neat, but I rather they don’t write at all than mess up the stroke order.

For English, we started “Handwriting Without Tears – Kindergarten”, which we have recently completed and moving on to the next level.

Final thoughts:

  1. Young children are sponges for languages; don’t be afraid to teach them a second or even third language. My kids often pick up new words and phrases by comparing the English and Chinese versions of the same books.guestpost6
  2. My kids have pretty good attention spans for their age (they can read for more than an hour at a time), and here’s what I did that I found useful:
    1. Being selective over the toys I buy ever since they were babies. Toys I don’t allow in my house: noisy electronic toys with numerous buttons and all the bells and whistles, and toys that passively entertain. I want my kids to be content with simple, open-ended toys and learn how to entertain themselves when they are bored.
    2. Lots of free play time, especially outdoors. I believe letting them expand their energy outside means they are more likely to be willing to switch it up for more sedentary activities like reading/writing.
    3. Eliminating/cutting down on screen time for young children. My kids have been screen free since birth because I wanted to follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and let them remain screen free until 2. When they turned 2, I discovered that there was no pressing need to introduce screen time when we were able to do 18-hour flights to and fro Singapore screen free. They never asked for screens, and we just continued keeping TV/ electronics out of their lives. I’m not anti-technology and we will introduce screens when the time is right. For now though, I much rather they pick up a book and read.
  3. I may sound like a broken record, but consistency really is key. Read with your kids everyday, even if it’s just for 10-20 minutes. We read every single day; when we travel internationally, when life gets busy, when we don’t feel like reading.  When something becomes a habit, it’s much easier to keep it going.
  4. Look out for activities that are held in Chinese. My kids go to Chinese story time at the library once a week, and would stay and chat in Chinese with the librarians and other kids for an hour afterwards.
  5. Have books with you at all times and let your kids read everywhere: in the car, while waiting at a restaurant etc.
  6. Buy books / borrow them from the library. Lots of them. In different genres. As you get a better idea of what your child likes, you can slowly curate your collection. Try not to apply your own presumptions of what’s too hard / dry / advanced. Read to them anyway; their reaction will tell you if it’s clicking, and be ready to be surprised.

To connect with other like minded crazy hard working moms, please join us in our Facebook Group: Motherly Notes. 


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