Congrats on starting Sage!

We're soo happy to see you embark on your Sagebooks (and Chinese literacy!) journey with your little one.

I was (technically, still am...? 😝) in your shoes.

I remember how Sagebooks felt like a BIGGGG step. It certainly felt like a big "investment" for me at the time. So I wanted to make sure you feel supported, and share a few things I wish I knew when I first started.

tl;dr — how I use it

Check out this Instagram Highlight to see Sagebooks in action (all the highs & lows 😅) in my family.

Common Questions

When do I start?!

This is probably the most common question I get about Sage.

This answer really varies as every child:

  • develops at different pace
  • has been exposed to different amounts of Chinese prior to Sage
  • has different learning styles
  • is simply interested in different things!

In general though, I look for:

1. Decent mastery of listening & speaking skills

The Sagebook curriculum is designed to teach character recognition (a necessary component to learning to read Chinese).

It is not great for teaching a learner how to listen to and speak Chinese. In fact, I'll even say it's a terrible tool for learning those skills 😅 Especially if you're a Cantonese-speaking family.

The natural progression of skills in any language learning journey (as we see in babies learning their first language) is listening → speaking → reading → writing.

So I recommend that the child has solid listening & speaking skills in either Cantonese or Mandarin, before venturing into using Sagebooks to learn to read.

2. Some understanding that the printed word convey sound + meaning

Though not a necessary condition per se—and I'm also speaking from experience with using Sagebooks on a very small sample size of two kids!—I started introducing Sagebooks when my kid began to show some understanding that the printed word represents sound & meaning!

They demonstrated this one day when they asked me why I "skipped" reading punctuation in books 😝 That showed me they understood that "symbols" on the page (often) meant sound, and had an associated meaning.

3. Some interest

They will never fully show interest in Sagebooks (because it's boring...) but it certainly helps if they show interest in learning about characters, because it will make working through the lessons less painful.

That said, this is a fine line. On one hand, you don't want to "force" them (and have them associate negative feelings with learning Chinese).

But also, some kids just aren't going to "jump" at the idea of reading Sagebooks, and may need a little nudge to get going.

How do I start?

This is the second most common question I get about Sage 😝

Which unfortunately also varies.

For an "older" child (say, 4-5yo and up)... can pretty much set aside time once a day and start doing a lesson together. It should take less than 10 minutes a lesson.

Start simple. Don't overcomplicate things.

You can read the new character introduced in the lesson, then have them read the 5 pages of sentences, and call it a day.

The most important thing is to get a routine going consistently. Which is why, simpler = better.

Once you get into a daily rhythm, you'll start to notice what things work, and what things don't. What things you both enjoy, and what things feel like a total drag.

When you feel comfortable, you can add things in your lessons. For example:

  • Some families trace the stroke order together at the beginning of the lesson
  • Some families review the previous 3-5 lessons for better retention, before tackling today's lesson
  • Some families start doing more than 1 lesson a day (if their child seems eager, and they appear to still retain it at the faster pace)
... just to name a few ideas!

    For a "younger" child (under 4yo)... may have to play around and experiment with things a little more, because younger child:

    • will not retain characters as well as an older child
    • may not be as motivated as an older child
    • often don't have the attention span to finish a full Sagebooks lesson (even when it's this short!)

    For both my kids, I introduced a lot of the early characters through passive exposure with tools like Chameleon Reader, and had to repeat many of the early lessons a lot of times before progressing to the next lesson.

    Ok, but like... how do I do it exactly?

    I know it is sometimes hard to translate words into action.

    I have captured snippets of our family's Sagebooks journey on Instagram, showing you how I run a "typical" lesson with both my kids. You can see the highlight here 👇

    Sagebooks Instagram Highlight

    It also includes answers to a lot of common questions followers had, on Sagebooks (and Chinese literacy) in general.

    Some other thoughts

    Social media (and the internet) will often make Sagebooks feel like the end all and be all when it comes to language learning in Chinese, so I want to leave you with a few thoughts...

    1. Read other Chinese books

    Make sure Sagebooks aren't the only Chinese books your child is reading regularly.

    Sagebooks are "leveled readers", designed to teach character recognition through spaced repetition, and are thus going to be... pretty boring. We want your children to be enjoying Chinese books and stories outside of Sagebooks.

    We want them to enjoy reading Chinese books with fun plots! And interesting characters! And opportunities to use their imagination! Books that they'll laugh at, and ask you to read again and again.

    We want to cultivate their intrinsic interest in the language, because that is ultimately the fuel that will keep them (and you) going on this marathon of a journey!

    Which leads us to...

    2. It is NOT a sprint

    Language learning is a looong journey, and sometimes you won't see "results" for months (or years!).

    A few things I wish I knew when I started:

    • It is normal for children to forget characters they have learned in previous Sagebooks lessons, even those that they've seen many, many times (and learned many months ago). Once I've internalized this, I was way more chill about it, and not left questioning myself "omg, is this not working?!"
    • There will be hard days — I will not sugarcoat it. Things are not suddenly rainbows and butterflies once you have Sagebooks. There is no "one weird trick" to language learning. And even if there is, Sagebooks is certainly not it 😅
    • It is difficult to see progress day-to-day, and it will feel like there's been so little improvement over time. But whenever I reflect on our journey at year-end, I always marvel at how far we've come. It helps to document your journey with photos or videos. There's no need to share those photos/videos with anyone but yourself, but I find that looking back on them helped remind me of the progress my children and I have made together ❤️

    Other useful links

    1. Audio files in Cantonese and Mandarin

    For those who may not be fluent readers, you can listen to the audio files in Cantonese and Mandarin for free on the publisher's website. You will first have to register for an account though.

    Make sure you register for the correct language, because a Cantonese account won't have access to Mandarin audio files, and vice versa!

    2. DIY Strip

    If your child is already reading English, and you find the pinyin and translated English sentence distracting, you can create a "DIY strip" to cover up the English parts. Here's how Mama Baby Mandarin created and used one for her family's Sagebook journey.

    3. Parent Spotlights

    Seeing other family's stories inspire me and keep me motivated, which is why I put together these Parent Spotlights. I encourage you to check it out on your own time!

    Many parents featured in these spotlights don't read Chinese themselves, are in mixed-race families, or are the only parent to speak Chinese (if at all). But a lot of them have had success with using Sagebooks to raise little readers!

    4. Learning to read Chinese (via Cantonese)

    I'm a Cantonese speaker, and I'm teaching my children to read via Cantonese.

    If you're also a Cantonese speaker, you probably intimately understand how the spoken language does not "match" the written language, and the difficulty it adds to learning how to read Chinese.

    This substack is my attempt at exploring and documenting all the little things that felt unique to learning to read in Chinese via Cantonese, in more depth! If you're a Cantonese family, I hope you find this helpful too!

    Other questions?

    Send me a message on Instagram, or email me at I'm always happy to chat! ☺️

    - Charing ♥