Monday, July 18, 2011

Ni-Hao Kai Lan

Today we're going to check out "Ni-Hao, Kai Lan!", or as I like to call it, Chinese Dora. Kai Lan is another animated young girl, this time of Asian decent, who has anthropomorphic animal friends: Rintoo the tiger, Hoho the little white monkey, Tolee the panda-obsessed koala, and Lulu the rhino who flies around by a balloon tied to her horn (not pictured). Kai Lan lives with her grandfather, Yeye (which I'm guessing means Grandpa in Chinese). There is no mention of her parents. Kai Lan's format is similar to that of Dora the Explorer in that it has the character pause and ask your child for a response several times throughout the program, as well as repetitive catchy songs.

Kai Lan has a focus on Chinese language lessons. I'm not a huge fan of how they teach the Chinese. As an adult, it's hard for me to figure out what they're actually even trying to say. Dora at least says "(Spanish word) means (English equivalent)" or "the Spanish word for (thing) is (word)", so you at least have a chance to figure out some equivalencies. Kai Lan doesn't offer quite the same courtesy. There are sometimes whole sentences spoken in Chinese, and we the viewer are left to guess what was said. I've learned quite a bit of Spanish from the likes of Dora and Handy Manny, but as far as Chinese goes from Kai Lan, all I've picked up really is how to say hi ("ni-hao", it's in the title), the color red (sounds like "hong-suh"), how to say thank you (sounds like "shay shay"), how to say listen ("ting"), and numbers 1-3 ("Ee", "are", "sun"). If that's all a college-educated adult can pick up, I can only imagine how confusing the show is to someone who is still trying to get his head around saying words that start with S in his own native language.

There is also a big focus on emotions in this program. Kai Lan's friends tend to have problems dealing with their emotions, and usually it's a lesson from either Yeye or their little ant friends that helps them figure out (clap clap clap) what to do. (It's a song in the show, in case you were wondering.) Now this part, I like. Toddlers and preschoolers, heck, even adults, all have hard times realizing what their emotions are and how to deal with them. Sadness, anger, jealousy, etc. are all dealt with in easy to understand ways. They also focus on teaching about helping, sharing, and cleaning up after yourself.

Ni-Hao Kai Lan is shown on Nick and Nick Jr. channels, which are cable and satellite subscription channels only. Check your local listings for times and channels. There are also lots of Kai Lan DVDs, toys, and books available for purchase.

Kai Lan's appeal may be rather limited to toddlers and preschoolers. The animation is bright and happy, so easy for the younger crowd to be interested in, and there are catchy tunes to sing and clap along with. I think Kindergarteners may enjoy the program for the Chinese lessons, but only minimally for the actual story lines.

What your child learns:
  • Cultural Education: Chinese language and culture, including festivals and celebrations.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends, dealing with emotions, empathy, taking care of your planet and toys, sharing, helping.
  • Mathematics: Counting in both English and Chinese, putting things in order, patterns, shapes, colors.
  • Music: Singing, clapping, rhythm games.
  • Pre-Reading Skills: Rhyming, remembering story details. 
As a parent watching, there's not going to be much that is enjoyable for you. The characters are kind of shrill and "yell-y", similar to Dora. The Chinese is hard to catch on to. There is no parental role model other than Yeye, and even he is only present sparingly. The language is simplistic, and the stories are clearly aimed at the youngest viewers. You're going to be bored and probably annoyed with this program. I know I am. Of course, that usually means my son adores the program, and Kai Lan is no exception to this rule. He loves shouting answers at the television when they're requested of him, and clapping along to the songs. Plus, I think he's starting to develop a thing for foreign chicks. At least it has some educational value, otherwise I'd probably not let him watch it. It's up there on the "hokey, fake" scale. Good luck.

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