How I fake storytime

children's books, kids books, books


Storytime has really highlighted how little Chinese I read and write.

For the past few years, I’ve mostly faked storytime. Every night. I take an English favorite, like Goodnight Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I translate as I go along, on the fly. There may be a word here or there that I can’t easily translate, but I just fake my way around it. I say things like “a little cake” instead of cupcake. Or I substitute something else entirely, like “Goodnight oatmeal” in Cantonese instead of “Goodnight mush”.


I’d love to use a book with actual Chinese characters, but there are two challenges. First, most of these are in written Chinese – not colloquial Cantonese. (For those who aren’t familiar with it, written Chinese is different from spoken Cantonese. Second, most pronunciation guides are for Mandarin (either pinyin or the Taiwan system), not for Cantonese. I’ve actually tried to read these books anyhow, but obviously, the combination of teaching myself to read in a different language (no matter how similar it is to Cantonese), becomes very time-consuming.


We’ve found a few books that have worked – such as Gordon and Lili and Mandy and Pandy. Some of the English favorites (Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Elmer) do have official Chinese translations, but since we already have the English versions (and the Chinese ones are very expensive), we haven’t tried these yet.


Though, obviously, as the stories get more complex, translating on the fly is getting increasingly impractical. I’m pretty sure the exposure to Cantonese is overall higher benefit, but I’m sure my son notices the translations are changing – ever so slightly – every time. Plus, it’s obviously going to make learning to read more challenging.


For those who can’t read or write Chinese, what do you do for storytime? What other resources do you use?

2 thoughts on “How I fake storytime”

  1. this is my challenge right now! and how i stumbled onto your website – i’ve been looking for chinese books to read that weren’t mandarin! but yes the translating is a challenge, especially since my vocabulary isn’t very good.

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