Chinese idioms, or 成语 (chéng yǔ), are short (generally) four-character Chinese phrases which offer gems of wisdom – usually accompanied by fascinating origin stories. They are really meaningful for children to learn, especially as can be common kinds of phrases which will sound strange, if one doesn’t know the real context behind them. In English, think of the equivalents like “letting the cat out of the bag” or “the elephant in the room”. They also give a great insight into Chinese history.
Most parents will tell that these Chinese phrases can be a challenge for a student to learn; I agree. Aside from needing to be able to recognise the individual characters, it goes beyond the literal translation to understand the full expression. Unlike English idioms and proverbs, what surprises me is how many idioms the Chinese language has which are ingrained into daily life! Apparently about 500 – 600 chengyu are commonly used in newspapers and magazines.
My daughter first started becoming interested in idioms through reading Mi Xiao Quan series, but I was at a loss to explain them further. A few weeks ago, we discovered that there are Luka compatible idiom cards, which can really bring these important phrases to life.
What are the Luka Idiom Cards?
Firstly, if you’re reading this, I assume you know what Luka the Chinese Reading Companion is. If not, you can refer to my earlier posts.
These Luka compatible idiom sets are designed to help a young learner understand some of the more common Chinese idioms. We have Set 1 and Set 2, each of which comes with 50 cards (so in total, 100 idioms). They are compatible with Original Luka, Luka Hero, and Luka Mini models.
The cards are good quality, large sized (about 4 times the size of a usual playing card), coloured cardboard, with the idiom and picture on one side, and further explanation on the alternate side, with some simple related activities/questions.
These compact, bite-sized stories are a great way to learn new phrases, and understand more about the history of the language. Many of the idioms are also based on specific episodes in China’s past, so they embody elements of history lessons too. I feel they also help a child to understand that abstract concepts can be used to describe situations.
Using these flashcards with Luka is like killing two birds with one stone: the child picks up new phrases and learns about ancient Chinese history! The cards are fully interactive with Luka, including the ability for the child to read the idiom and get a ‘score’ for their accuracy.
Pros of 哆学成语智慧卡
- The cards bring the idiom to life – with an audio and visual element, with one idiom per card. The cards break down the idiom explaining how to make sentences and simple word play (synonyms, antonym, etc).
- Uses the Luka Hero “Point and Read” function – click on the people/animals, and they speak; click on the words, and they’re read out; click on the card icons, and you’ll get explanation, background story, etc.
- Uses the Luka Hero “Read and Repeat” function: it asks the child to repeat the idiom, and then plays the child’s recording back to the child, and gives them an accuracy score. It’s a fun way to get the child speaking, not just listening.
- No screen time (although they do come with a QR code for further related videos … see here for an example).
- Contain followup activities and discussion point – The reverse side of the cards have an example of how to use the idiom our daily lives, for example (“Share with your mum and dad an example of something you do through ‘thick and thin’”)
- Many games could be played with the cards – once a child knows a good amount of the idioms, it would be possible to design card games using them (e.g. match together all the similar idioms; find the idiom the fastest, etc)
Cons of 哆学成语智慧卡
- Luka only will read one side of the card – the reverse cannot be read which is a shame, as it has some nice activities on there.
- The idioms can be quite complex and could need adult explanations – if being used in a household where the adult isn’t able to understand Chinese, it could be of less use.
- It’s a very mixed bag of idioms – These cards contains 100 idioms, Some chéng yǔ are more common in spoken language than others; some are more metaphorical than others. It would be helpful for the parent to look at the idiom first and decide whether it was likely to be understood by your child. Also, consider checking with for lists of common idiom on the internet, to see if the ones you’re using are actually likely to be encountered in your child’s reading or spoken exposure.
How do the idiom cards work with Luka?
These idiom cards can be read with Original Luka, Luka Hero or Luka Mini.
You can click the idiom itself, and learn how it’s pronounced. You can click the individual characters, and learn their meaning, and other similar words. The cards have the ability to listen to your pronunciation, and grade what’s been said. At the bottom of the card, it recounts the story, the meaning, and additional background on how to use the idiom in different situations and contexts. All in all, it’s quite a neat way to dig deeper into an intangible idiom. My kids’ favourite aspect is clicking the illustrations and repeating what the protagonists say.
Here are some examples of what you can discover.
Idiom: 游刃有余 yóu rèn yǒu yú Handling a butcher’s cleaver with ease
Meaning: to do something skilfully and easily
Story: A chef slaughters his cattle for the King, and his technique in doing so was very skilled. He was able to move his sword blade skilfully through the crevices of the cow, without any obstacles. The King was dumbfounded and praised the chef.
Idiom: 黔驴技穷 qián lǘ jì qióng Donkey has exhausted its tricks
Meaning: Someone at their wits end / or If you have no strength, you’d better stay out of trouble
Story: In ancient times, Guizhou Province had no donkeys. One day, a man full of far-fetched ideas shipped a donkey to the region. But soon he soon discovered the donkey was no use, so he took it to a mountain and left it there.
A tiger saw the donkey and thought it was a mysterious beast, and hid in the forest. The donkey brayed, and the tiger thought the donkey was going to bite him. But the donkey did nothing more.
The tiger soon got used to the noise, and moved closer. At last, he decided to provoke the strange beast. The donkey couldn’t put up with this, and gave the tiger a kick. But the kick didn’t hurt very much. Finally, the tiger knew this donkey was weak. He sprang on the donkey and ate him up!
Idiom: 朝三暮四. zhāo sān mù sì. To say three in the morning and four in the evening
Meaning: Describes indecisiveness and fickleness (English equivalent is a bit like “to blow hot and cold”)
Story: During the Warring States period, there lived a man who loved taking care of his pet monkeys. He was thankful to have such animal, and we would feed them the food reserves meant for his family in order to keep his monkeys healthy, fat and happy.
However, this man’s family eventually began to lose money, meaning that there was less for the monkeys. One night, this man decided that he would discuss this matter with the monkeys, and he proposed that he give them three chestnuts in the morning and four chestnuts at night. Upon hearing that their food rations were decreasing through the day, the monkeys were angered.
The man then changed his proposal: the monkeys would receive four chestnuts in the morning and three chestnuts at night. Hearing that they would get to eat four chestnuts in the morning, the monkeys assumed that their food reserves increased and happily agreed to the man’s conditions.
Where to buy from?
In Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia & New Zealand: The cards are available through Luka Reads. Luka Reads is the official retailer of Luka the Reading Robot in these countries, and they also stock great books which are Luka compatible. If you use “LahLah20Off”, you’ll receive a $20 discount off Luka or Luka Hero orders too (except promotions).
In United Kingdom / Europe: De Ziremi is a new online bookstore for Chinese literature for children. Their collection is growing daily, and they stock the idiom cards are part of their collection. If you quote promo code LAHLAHSPECIAL at discount, you’ll receive 10% off any order (not just these cards).
In America: My readers have said that the best price option is likely through the online Chinese store JD.com. Alternatively, Taobao. If you really must do this option, look at the end of my Taobao post for recommended bookstores through Taobao’s TMall. JoJo Learning also import Luka into the USA.
Still wanting to know more?
If you still have questions, shoot me a message or leave a comment below and I might be able to help. Since you have read this far, you might also be interested in related blog posts I have such as:
- Other books which are compatible with Luka
- Difference between the Luka Hero and Original Luka
- Difference between Luka Mini and Original Luka
- Other technology and apps to make learning Chinese come alive for your children
DISCLOSURE: I am grateful to Luka Reads in Singapore for recommending the idiom cards, and providing them so I can write this review. Please know that I only recommend learning resources on this blog which our family believes are genuinely helpful….. there’s no affiliation, commissions, or money being made here at all! It’s simply the passion of sharing!