Furry red Elmo teaches Mandarin to US children

Updated: 2013-03-08 12:30

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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The first Muppet to blaze a trail in China was Big Bird, with a 1983 television special there. In 2010 the 8-foot-tall, yellow-feathered animal's Mandarin-language version of Big Bird Looks at the World debuted in China.

Now another beloved member of "Sesame Street's" cast is serving up a series of language-learning dim sum.

Furry red monster Elmo is spreading Chinese language and culture to audiences outside of China. The animation series Fun Fun Elmo was developed by the nonprofit educational producer Sesame Workshop to encourage Mandarin-language immersion among children.

"Knowing how interested young children and their families are in learning Mandarin, we are incredibly excited to launch this new season of Fun Fun Elmo," said Maura Regan, Sesame Workshop's senior vice-president and general manager of global consumer products.

Fun Fun Elmo is now in its second season on SinoVision, the primary Chinese-language broadcaster for communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and sections of Pennsylvania.

The series will broadcast 13 new episodes over the air and on SinoVision.net. Families can also watch the first season of Fun Fun Elmo on Sesame Street's YouTube channel.

Already, the show has received nearly 1 million views on YouTube, according to Regan.

The program introduces the basics of Mandarin Chinese to American children. These include the tones, strokes and characters of the language.

The most common complaint among YouTube viewers is the lack of subtitles.

"I think adding good-quality English subtitles would go further to encourage Chinese cultural appreciation and exchange," one YouTube user by the name NovaStarr wrote in the comments section. "This could be a huge benefit to children (and adults, even) in the US as well."

The audience for Fun Fun Elmo "is really kids who may not have written-language skills", said Robyn Harvey, a teacher of Chinese and a master teacher of multilingual and multicultural studies at New York University.

She suggested that adult-language learners who are looking for entertaining videos with subtitles seek out the program Kuaile Hanyu, which translates as "Happy Chinese," on YouTube.

Harvey recalled with a laugh her own experience memorizing stiff Chinese sentences about China being a large country with a long history and a big population.

"I've been wishing for Chinese-language materials for small children to learn Chinese in a natural and fun way, much like Sesame Street does," Harvey said.

She believes Fun Fun Elmo is a "great learning tool" for any child in the Chinese-speaking community and non-heritage students of Chinese.

As an adviser for the Chinese version of Sesame Street, New York University professor Frank Lixing Tang has found the program's format aligns with recent brain research on language acquisition.

"Fun Fun Elmo debuts in the US just as we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Big Bird in China," Regan said. "Sesame Workshop is committed to helping children around the world reach their highest potential with engaging educational content."


(China Daily 03/08/2013 page10)