“乐乐 Elmo”: Can Sesame Street rescue your Mandarin tones?

Screen shot of intro to 乐乐Elmo

Screen shot of intro to 乐乐Elmo

Both of my kids study Mandarin at school or playgroup and I try to reinforce their Chinese language learning at home. One of my key methods is making very silly jokes about 屁股 “pigu” (“butts”) in Mandarin. A six-year-old can suddenly remember the Chinese names of many, many animals when she is talking about their butts.

I’ve just found another tool: “乐乐 Elmo” (“Fun Fun Elmo”), a Mandarin language program for young children made by Sesame Street Workshop.

The cool thing about this show is that it’s entirely in simple Mandarin Chinese, so it gives young children an immersion experience. Very unlike (and much more useful than) “Ni Hao Kai Lan” which, while cute, is almost entirely in English with a few Chinese words tossed in.

Each nine-minute-episode includes:

  • Welcome song.
  • Introduction to the character of the day using “Tone Cube Dim Sum,” color-coded tone markings to reinforce pronunciation. I plan to crib the method.
  • 神秘文字“ (”Mystery Character”) presented by Guy Smiley. Please watch one episode just to hear how endearing his name is in Mandarin.
  • A clip of children in China talking about where they live and other aspects of their life.
  • Goodbye song.
Screen shot of "Tone Cube Dim Sum" segment from 乐乐Elmo

Screen shot of “Tone Cube Dim Sum” segment from 乐乐Elmo

Interested? Here is a list of episodes with direct links to the videos on Sesame Street’s YouTube channel:

Episode 1 The character 一 (one).

Episode 2 The character 二 (two).

Episode 3 The character 三 (three).

Episode 4 The character 四 (four).

Episode 5 The character 五 (five).

Episode 6 The character 汤 (soup).

Episode 7 The character 饭 (food/rice).

Episode 8 The character 茶 (tea).

Episode 9 The character 水 (water).

Episode 10 The character 花 (flower).

Episode 11 The character 云 (cloud).

Episode 12 The character 河 (river).

Episode 13 The character 山 (mountain).

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13 responses to ““乐乐 Elmo”: Can Sesame Street rescue your Mandarin tones?

    • Ack, just scrolled through my spam box and realized that a couple of your comments had been sent over there by WP!

      Hopefully they will keep making more episodes of this program (and perhaps make a slightly less repetitive version for slightly older kids).

  1. Whoa! That’s a really good idea! I think that not only children, but first-level learners (le moi) could use it as well…! It took me like 5 lessons to understand the tones 😀

  2. There’s a lot of good about Sesame Street…and Electric Company and all those other shoes on PBS. And also Hawaii Five’ O, but that’s a subject for another post. That’s how I learned my English when I first arrived in North America. Now the videos seem a lot more “hip” and appealing to the younger kids. Do they show the videos in simplified Chinese in Hong Kong? Are the kids learning simplified characters there or the traditional Chinese characters?

    • I actually don’t think they broadcast that program in Hong Kong. I think it’s just shown on Sinovision and CCTV in the American broadcasts. My youngest doesn’t know a character from a letter or a squiggle, but my older daughter is learning simplified characters at school.

      Speaking of studying another language from TV, at our hotel here in Phuket I was watching some very dramatic Chinese show for 5 minutes last night. This is what I understood: This scarf is from Italy. ….gift…. But she is only 13!….. What does that mean?….. Airplane…. airplane….fly…. Italy. I need a program like “Plot made obvious by body language and reinforced by very slow spoken Chinese” maybe then I could understand everything.

  3. This is brilliant! Thanks for sharing this find. Hahahah, Sesame Street in Mandarin… Zhima Jie. Absolutely superior to Ni Hao Kai Lan. I’m definitely going to pass on the links to friends! I totally agree w/you, wish there was a Cantonese version of this, in which case I’d be watching it for myself!! 🙂

    • I stumbled across it when someone on FB (who posts rather obscure, but entertaining flotsam) posted a reference. It’s really cool and I’m surprised not better marketed.

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