Review : 四五快读 Chinese Literacy Programme

I have already introduced this programme in Chinese for a Preschooler.

I have been using the 1st book for almost 1 year now and I am pleased to tell you that it has worked very well for us. It took me so long before I write a proper review because I want to really make sure that the programme works.  I am also keen to share the materials that I have created to use in conjunction with this programme, and I wanted to only share them when I have them all done so that you won’t get them in bits and pieces.

To recap, this programme is a literacy programme from China whose focus is to teach the child to start recognising words at a very young age.  The programme is designed in such a way that the child can start reading simple sentences after learning about 40-50 characters.  The name of the programme sums it all up – 四五 (four, five) 快(fast)读(read).  Hence, the child does not necessarily start from very simple characters and progress to very complicated ones.  The progression is based on how the characters can be put together to form vocabularies, phrases and sentences.
Why this works is because children are very visual people.  They are very fast at recognising pictures and patterns.  Since Chinese characters are essentially very pictorial, even a very young child can learn to recognise and remember very complicated looking characters.

Because the programme is designed such that the very first few words the child learns in Lesson 1 can already form meaningful vocabulary, it puts characters into context and makes them meaningful to the child.  This, I feel, is very important because if the child does not get the meaning and context of what he is learning, he quickly loses interest and will forget them very quickly.  I once read a book on how our brain works and this resonates with the brain research results that show that our brains connect information to help retention.

This programme is not just one book but a series of 7 volumes.  I tested my P1 boy and based on what he learned from preschool in the conventional manner, he could recognise most of the words in the first 2 volumes. He is sufficiently prepared for P1 level of work (not Higher Chinese).  Each volume covers 88 characters, so by Volume 2, the child would have learned over 160 characters and many more vocabulary.  He definitely will be able to read simple sentences.  (Note : In case you are unaware, even though each and every Chinese character has its own meaning, they are seldom used singly, but usually in pairs or 3-4 to form meaningful vocabulary.  Hence, 176 characters put together in various combinations will form a lot of phrases and what we call in English, ‘words’.)

At the time of writing this article, we have completed Volume 1 of the series. Volumes 2 to 6 are similar, introducing 88 characters in each volume and in each lesson, new vocabulary and sentences are introduced.  Every volume, except for Volume 7, comes with attached character cards for you to cut out and use.  I especially love this because unlike other programmes or cards set, this one gives you more than one of each character so that you can actually form vocabulary and sentences that have more than one of a particular character, e.g. mama (mother), using the cards.  Actually, I prefer to refer to them as ’tiles’ due to their size.  I use them to play games with my child and get him to form words and sentences with them.  This is very good because you don’t have to wait until the child can write before doing this exercise.  A young child may be able to learn the characters but in terms of motor skill, still not ready to write yet. The actual application of the characters learned can be done immediately with these tiles.  Once again, for any learning, to be able to apply what you learn is a great reinforcement.

Volume 7 is a different thing altogether, and I feel that it is not absolutely necessary to buy it, especially if Chinese is not your forte.  It involves classification of all the characters learned in Volume 1 to 6 based on sound and radicals and learning of various idioms. It is probably useful for learning Chinese spelling (tingxie).

This programme is sold in Maha Yuyi at Level 3, Bras Basah Complex.  They sell the volumes separately.  However, if you have a friend or relative working or living in China, try getting them to purchase directly from China for you.  The prices are much cheaper and if you don’t mind buying Volume 7 as well, buying in a set is even cheaper.  You can also try to order directly from but their shipping is quite hefty.  Incidentally, Dangdang and Maha Yuyi are excellent places to buy good quality Chinese children picture books.

How I use this programme

I don’t think I did justice to this programme because I am not very consistent with the teaching.  Nevertheless, if you take into consideration that in a period of about 10 months of very inconsistent work, we managed to cover so many characters to the extent that my son can read simple sentences from real storybooks already, this must mean something.

Before I go on to tell you how I use this programme, I must emphasize here the importance of constant reading to the child.  If you don’t speak the language at home, reading books is the least you can do to provide the exposure.  Through listening and looking at the printed words, the grammatical structure of the language is imprinted into the brain of the child unconsciously, just like how we learn our mother tongue from the moment we were born.  This is what I recommend my own friends to do : if they are unable to speak the language themselves, and hence unable to read to their children, then spend some money to engage a tutor to read to the kids.  If their children already have tutors at home, then out of, say, a one-hour lesson, take 15 minutes to read a good book.  For young children, especially, reading storybooks is definitely more fun than doing boring worksheets.

If you are thinking of getting this programme, I assume that you at least have a basic competency in the language, or have in mind someone else who can use this programme for you on your child (e.g. a tutor).  This will be my assumption for the rest of the article.

Ok, back to how I use this programme.  The following are just some of the things I do and you don’t have to do the same to use the programme.

1. When I first started using this programme, my son was only 3.5 yrs old.  Thinking that teaching one whole lesson in one go would be too much for his “English” little brain, I only taught him 4 characters at one go.  Usually, 4 characters in one week, but of course, as I have already said earlier, I wasn’t even consistent in the teaching.  Lesson 1 of each Volume consists of 16 characters, and for the rest of the book, each lesson consists of 8 characters.  Therefore, with the exception of Lesson 1, each lesson takes about 2 weeks to complete based on a very inconsistent, snail-pace kind of teaching.

As we progressed, I realised that his speed of learning became faster and faster and I could teach him all 8 characters at one go.  My recommendation for anyone who wants to try this programme is : go at a pace suitable for your child.  If your child can only manage 2 characters at one go, don’t try to teach him more.  It will only frustrate the both of you.  This is not a race. On the other hand, if your child can learn very quickly, then by all means teach more!

2. I try to use a multi-sensory approach to learning.  The main feature is the tactile cards I made.  If you know Montessori’s sandpaper letters, then you can understand what I mean by tactile characters.  Basically, I made flash cards of every character using other materials to form the characters instead of just relying on print.  This is so that my son can use his finger to trace the letters, feel what the characters feel like, and at the same time, learn the correct writing strokes!  I have created templates for making these tactile cards and you can get them here.  If you don’t know how to make them, refer to the instructions.

3. I also created Playdoh Mat for each characters.  This is another aspect of multisensory learning.  The child creates the character using Playdoh.  The Playdoh Mats are really versatile and not confined to Playdoh.  I sometimes let him use little pom poms instead of Playdoh.  Finally, they also double up as writing templates.  My son trace the characters using dry-erase markers and it can be erased and re-use over and over again.  Great for writing practices!

4. I use the Montessori method to teach the characters.  The same step as what you would do for sandpaper letters. First, you present each character and say what it is to your child.  Let your child feel the tactile characters.  Ok, against the grain of Montessori philosophy, I do guide my son in the tracing of the strokes because for Chinese writing, correct stroke sequence is very important so I figure we might as well start right from the very beginning.  After teaching him how to pronounce the character, I will also explain to him what it means.  To help him remember, I sometimes draw pictures that looks like the characters, or use visual image, e.g. telling him that the character “yu” (rain) looks like a window and you see drops of rain outside.

Secondly, you place all the cards on the table (or tray if you are die-hard Montessori purist) and ask the child “where is XXX” and get the child to point to the correct card.  Third step, you place the cards on the table/tray, point to each one and ask “what is this?”  Your child should be able to tell you what each character is.  These 3 steps may not be done all in one go.  It all depends on the progress you can make with your child.

5. Whenever I read storybooks to my son, which is everyday, I will ask him to find the characters that he has learned.  If I know he can read a particular phrase or sentence, I will ask him to try reading.

6. The tactile cards are stuck on a cabinet door for frequent, easy revision.  This is important because, you know for young children, out of sight is out of mind.

I target to finish Volume 2 by end of next year.  We can, in fact, starting Volume 2 now, so finishing the whole volume by the end of next year is a very liberal target.  If I am more consistent and hardworking, finishing Volume 2 by the end of THIS year and doing Volume 3, even 4, next year is highly possible.  Next year, technically, he will be K1.  If I can teach him minimally 176 characters (2 volumes) by the end of K1, I think that is not bad really. : )

I hope you will find the templates useful.  Do let me know how this programme works for you if you decide to give it a go.