Le Le Chinese – a system purposefully designed for learning how to read Chinese characters – have recently added Le Le Character Review Cards 樂樂字詞複習卡 (aka flash cards) to their product range. This review is focused on what these Le Le flash cards are, and how they can be used for raising children who both love reading and love Chinese.
Firstly, what is the Le Le Chinese Character Learning System?
Le Le Chinese Learning System really is the ultimate system to self-learn to read Chinese (either Simplified or Traditional scripts) without the need for phonics (zhuyin or pinyin), nor a Chinese-speaking teacher. For our family, it’s been essential, as we’re teaching the children Chinese, without any parents or grandparents who can speak or read the language. Le Le can also be effective for native speakers too, however, it’s especially great for non-native speakers due to the reading pen accessory.
I’ve written previously about how GREAT the Le Le Chinese Reading Pen and Character Learning System 樂樂文化 is, and why it’s well worth the investment (especially for those in a situation with no adults to teach literacy to the children). The books are a leveled reading system that teach >1000 characters through simple stories, utilizing lots of repetition and a touch of humour… and importantly NO pinyin. These short books are meticulously designed to be an interesting read despite the limited character range, with hand-drawn pictures which add to the charm. The real clincher for our family has been the matching pen which can read character-by-character when pointed at the books, along with whole sentences.
We have used Le Le System get to reading fluency with both of my elder children, and are now well on the way with my youngest too. We’ve recommended it to many who have found the same as us. My kids learnt so much vocabulary effortlessly through these little books.
There are 300 booklets in total: 100 essential books of 8 pages each, 100 intermediate books of 8 pages each, and 100 advanced books of 12 pages each. If you are familiar with the famous “Bob Books” for English literacy, the Le Le books are similar in size, shape and concept but for Chinese. For more information on the Le Le Chinese books and reading pen themselves, please see my previous post. Whilst the original post is now 2.5 years old, it’s still all so relevant.
What are the Le Le Flashcards?
The catch phrases of Le Le is “Read more, study less” and also “Literacy through literature”, so the concept of flashcards isn’t an immediate fit when I think about Le Le’s philosophy. In fact, what stands out with Le Le is that children will learn to read without realizing they are learning. This is a stark contrast to other well-known reading systems which focus on introducing one character at a time, and may have somewhat stunted storylines because of it. However, once you see the Le Le Character Review cards, you’ll realise how they can be a good pair with the Le Le books, as they’re especially intended for review AFTER the story has been read.
The cards are designed such that one side has a character, and the opposite side has a simple phrase (consisting of 2 – 3 characters) encompassing that character. There are no pictures, English translation or phonics.
There are three different sets of cards, which accompany the vocabulary from the three sets of Le Le Levelled Readers. Within each set, there are about 12 ‘topics’ of cards, which align with the book themes. At the bottom of each card, there are some smaller characters as well as a number. This indicates which set and theme it belongs to. They can be directly matched and aligned to the index pages at the back of the individual Le Le books.
In general, revising through flash cards works because they can allow a learner to interact with new information in a way that is very tangible, and easier to retain than other methods. It allows fast access to words, which can be recalled, and this then reinforces the neural connection in the brain. A very targeted set of words can be used with the cards, and easily repeated until the muscle memory sets in.
How do we use the Le Le Flashcards?
Finding good Chinese flashcards is generally not so easy. I wrote a previous post about different types of Chinese flashcards – from those with only characters, to those fancier ones that contain pictures, definitions, stroke orders, etc. We mainly use such flashcards in our house for the playing of games (think of snap, memory matching, treasure hunts, etc). We do not use flash cards for rote learning, although I do recognize that many families do have success this way too. It’s also important to remember that just because a child can read a flashcard, it doesn’t mean they can actually read.
The Le Le cards are unique from any other flashcards we use, because they can be integrated directly into our nightly book reading schedule without feeling like a chore, and are a more like a natural way to learn reading.
We have kept our Le Le Character Review cards in numerical order on the original keyrings they were designed to be attached to, and we bring them out each time we finish a Le Le book theme (eg animals, the body, school, etc). My daughters like to flip through them and read them aloud in sequence. I mark with a small post-it any of the cards which the child couldn’t recognize, which is an easier way than somehow trying to mark the Le Le readers themselves. Sometimes we even play a game using our Luka Reading Robot to see if child or machine can say the character/phrase faster.
This Review Card approach works for us, because we go through our Le Le books from 1 to 100 in order, and this allows us to easily pause and review words without repeating entire books at each stage (it’s especially great for my middle daughter who refuses to re-read any book after she’s read it once, even if she didn’t know all the vocabulary). It’s extra nice because the phrases on the reverse side of the cards align exactly with the books. This consolidates the learning, and lets us focus on the harder phrases, without feeling repetitive. I have met other parents who go through Le Le system thematically rather than numerically. The cards are designed to support this too.
Actually, when you think about the design of the Le Le book themselves, the pages especially in the beginning set are really like flash cards, with a simple noun or verb or short phrase. So using these cards is an extension of reading the books, but without the context of pictures to assist or prompt the child. So, it’s a true test of their character recognition.
The Le Le flashcards would also work great in a Leitner box approach. We don’t use them for this, as we use the MOE school cards for our Leitner box, and keep the Le Le flash cards squarely in the “reading for pleasure” category. My earlier post about how flashcards can be effective in learning Chinese outlines the Leitner box approach for those who want to know more on this (I realise many do, as it’s one of the highest Googled search phrases on my blog! It tells me there are a lot of REALLY organised an ambitious parents out there).
Example of the “Red / Essential” Le Le flash card sheets
Example of the “Yellow / Intermediate” Le Le flash card sheets
Example of the “Green / Advanced” Le Le flash card sheets
Pros of Le Le Flash Cards
- Aligned with renowned Le Le syllabus: Directly matches with the Le Le Chinese learning system books
- Simple to arrange and store: Can be kept on a key ring, so there is not a huge mess of 1000 flashcards to deal with and sort through
- Large and clear font
- No pinyin or English translations to distract the focus
Cons of Le Le Flash Cards
This looks like a long list …… actually the positives really do outweigh the negatives. I just wanted to explain a few things:
- Cost: They’re expensive – as with anything from Le Le. If you’re constrained for budget, just get books themselves not the cards The cards a purposefully designed to supplement the books. If you don’t have the books, then the cards aren’t a good idea. They’re not designed to be used alone.
- No reading pen: This is actually a positive in disguise. The Le Le flash cards are purposefully not readable with the Le Le audio pen, as this aligns with the Le Le philosophy. You read the books first using the pen with audio, and then these cards are for revision. The design team want the child to go back to the books if they are unsure with any characters. If the cards are readable, it will lose its meaning. [I get the intention here…. it’s about consolidating learning and not making children dependent on the audio pen with the cards, but if you do desperately want audio for the cards, do note the font is too big for an optical scanning pen, so Luka is the only option here]
- Not pre-made: The come in perforated cardboard sheets which need to be torn off and turned into flashcards – I found the process of doing this therapeutic, but it did take up nearly a week of evenings to complete.
- You could DIY if desperate: For a parent with a lot of time, you could actually just get the Le Le word list (available online to those who buy the system) and then enter them yourself into flashcard-making software. I’ve done this myself a few years ago, and we printed them out onto coloured paper. It was a HUGE effort, and honestly, the official Le Le cards are much more practically and robustly designed.
- All printed information is in Chinese: it’s actually all pretty easy to navigate, even for a non-Chinese reader like myself. The Le Le team speak good English if you do need any assistance.
How helpful are flashcards in learning Chinese?
As Chinese is a pictorial language (well technically it’s combination of pictographs, pictophonetic/ phonosemantic, ideograms and other compounds) memorising many thousands of characters is ultimately what is needed to be a successful reader (sorry to say). With this context, Chinese flashcards can effectively be relevant for a much longer period than English flashcards would typically be used use of flashcards to learn English generally stops at kindergarten level, whereas Chinese flashcards are part of the book lists in Singapore schools for even Primary 1 and 2 students). However, for beginners, I don’t think rote learning of characters is an especially helpful approach at all.
My suggestion is that since I assume you’re human and likely only have limited time and budget (and assuming your child already has working basic spoken Chinese vocabulary), then focus first on extensive reading as the goal for literacy. Lots and lots of it. Find books that are age-appropriate and level-appropriate, including something like the Le Le readers themselves. The greatest learning will come from reading, and any flashcards can be a helpful check or tangible reinforcement. In the case of the Le Le Learning System, the job has already been done for you, with a collection of 300 short books from beginners (~ Kindergarten level) to advanced (~Primary 2 level), and matching flashcards.
Our honest view
Le Le Chinese Learning System books and pen are hands-down one of the best purchases we have EVER made in our Chinese learning journey … that’s a big call, if you’ve read my blog you’ll see we’ve tried a tonne of things. Going through the Le Le books (now for a third time, with my third child) has been a wonderful introduction to reading, and I’ve enjoyed it every time and learnt a huge amount myself too.
The Le Le Character Review cards have been a nice addition, but I would not say they’re a totally essential part of the suite. They nicely fill that ‘urge’ to want to use flashcards and be a responsible fully-involved parent on the bilingual learning journey. The cards are also really easy to throw into a handbag and use on-the-go whilst waiting in a queue or commuting. If you’re not fully sure, it’s likely best to buy just the first set of Character Review Cards (which contains by far the largest amount of flashcards), and then if you find a good rhythm of using them, consider getting the rest of the sets.
My other suggestion would be that if you are in any way thinking of making a thousand of your own DIY flashcards to match Le Le Reading System, just save the effort and buy these ready-made ones. They’re durable and nicely arranged into labeled sets on key rings, and it would be hard to do any better than what Le Le already has designed.
Where can you buy the Le Le Character Review cards?
The Le Le Character Review flash cards are available in Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. They can be bought with each level separately or bundled together with all three. Like all Le Le products, they only retail through the official Le Le Chinese website in Taiwan.
Shipping is not cheap, but for non-Chinese speaking parents, this system can enable children to exponentially learn new characters and it truly is like no other that we’ve seen or tried. For my blog readers, I have a special 5% off discount for Le Le ……. enter code “LAHLAHBANANA” at checkout. This is a really special offer from the team at Le Le, as they don’t usually offer any discounts or sales. I’m so delighted I can share this with you.
Also THERE IS A GIVEAWAY / COMPETITION for astute blog readers who have made it to the end!!!! If you are based in Singapore, this is open to you. Le Le Chinese is kindly sharing a set of books and flashcards for one lucky family! To enter, simply COMMENT below on this post about why Chinese Literacy is important to your family. Thanks to the team at Le Le Chinese, the winner will receive
1 x Essential books (100 books)
1 x Review cards for Essential level
1 x Audio pen
If the lucky winner already owns Le Le Essential, you can choose the Intermediate level or Advanced level of your choice. (books+matching level review card). Closing date for submissions is September 15th 2022.
Other great resources for learning Chinese
If you have arrived at the end and found this helpful, maybe there are some other posts on my blog you might also enjoy. As a parent who doesn’t speak any Chinese, we’ve relied heavily on online tools, clever robots, and recommendations of others in our Chinese learning journey. Some of my earlier posts are:
- Comparison of characters lists in Chinese graded readers (Sage, Le Le, Odonata)
- Books to read when a child knows >1000 characters
- Helpful books for homeschooling in Chinese and English
- Comparison of Chinese dictionary pens for children
- Chinese eBook apps for preschoolers
- Best Youtube series for children learning Chinese – non animated & educational
- Simplified Chinese learning resources we couldn’t have done without