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Parent Crap, Reviewed: Little Pim Videos

December 7th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Dad Video, Video, Video  |  7 Comments

The first thing you need to know is that my wife, my daughter and myself are assholes. Not the mean type, but the annoying type. The kind of horrible, disgusting yuppie parents you see in this wonderfully entertaining video:

The second thing you need to know is that that video, written in probably 30 minutes, is hundreds of times more interesting and informative than the Little Pim series of language education videos. That is, the Little Pim videos, which are intended to help small kids learn French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and half a dozen other tongues, are boring. Here’s how they go:

Picture 21The series stars an animated panda, Pim, who rolls around and doesn’t speak or really do much of anything. There is no story. Rather, things progress thematically, through subjects like food. There’s a video clip of an apple and someone speaks the word “apple” in whichever language you’re watching. Kids eat apples, the word is repeated a bunch, and then it’s on to the next fruit. Whee. Every time Sasha, who’s 2, saw this, she demanded I give her an apple.

And that, sadly, was about as involved as she ever got with the series (Little Pim had sent me the Chinese and French DVDs for review). She never requested us to play it again, and I can’t imagine she learned anything from it.

Not that she doesn’t want to learn languages! This is a kid who speaks a good deal of Mandarin already (thanks to her Taiwanese mother, Chinese nannies, and bilingual preschool), as well as some ASL, thanks to the “Baby Signing Time” series of videos. But Little Pim just didn’t capture her imagination.

What’s the difference, then, between Little Pim, Baby Signing Time, and Sasha’s Chinese education? Well, far be it from me to cast scientific doubt on the Entertainment Immersion Method™ developed by Julia Pimsleur Levine, daughter of the renowned language teacher Paul Pimsleur, but it’s missing what I consider a vital element: song.

Sasha’s Chinese education is, for example, far from organized. My wife tries to speak it at home, but as often as not she ends up combining English and Mandarin within a single sentence. And at Preschool of America, Chinese is just sort of thrown into the mix, but not necessarily “taught” explicitly. Sasha, however, knows tons of Chinese-language songs—”Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Ba lobo,” “Liang zhi laohu“—and even sings them to herself, often without our prompting. She’s learned them from CDs we have at home, and from song circle time at school. And whenever we let her watch “Ni Hao, Kai-lan!” she’ll actually say “Ni hao!” to the TV. She loves this stuff because it captures her imagination, instead of presenting her with the preschool version of facts.

Likewise with sign language. The Baby Signing Time series was built entirely around songs—”Sunny Day,” “I’m a Bug,” and so on—and although Sasha’s kind of outgrown the series, she continues to sing the tunes and reference their lyrics out in the real world. And this is in a series of videos that are teaching her how to communicate with deaf people!

So, look. I won’t say Little Pim won’t effectively teach your child how to say a few words in Russian. But it’s hard for me to imagine any kid becoming truly attached to the roly-poly digital panda, or screeching demands to watch the videos again and again and again. Which is, as much as we parents hate it, a pretty damn good sign that our kids take something seriously.


  1. dadwagon says:

    December 7th, 2010at 9:30 am(#)

    Curious to see what Sasha does with the Mandarin as she grows older. JP’s early language was mostly Vietnamese, largely because he heard it every day from his grandparents. Now that he’s in school, he hears it less often, and now never speaks it. I bet he still understands it, but the pronunciation is lost completely, at least for the time being. –Theodore.

  2. Adam says:

    December 7th, 2010at 10:31 am(#)

    Curious review, yet not, I suppose, surprising.

    I have a three year old, my wife is Chinese. My wife and I are probably assholes by your definition, but I don’t think my daughter has been alive long enough to be one yet. What I do know, is that she’s been doing Little Pim for a year, and loves it.

    Her accent is excellent, she understands (and doesn’t just mimic) the words on the DVD, and it will hold her attention for the length of an episode. Frankly, I don’t know what more you could want? But then again, I appreciate that reviewing things that I might want to purchase for my kids, isn’t exactly the point of this blog.

  3. Matt says:

    December 7th, 2010at 12:10 pm(#)

    @Adam: Glad it works for your kid. Still, if there was a Mandarin video series with songs, I’d recommend it over Little Pim.

  4. Adam says:

    December 7th, 2010at 1:04 pm(#)

    @Matt: Fair enough. I guess we’re not a very musical household. I went to a French school as a kid, and when we were supposed to sing the national anthem every morning, I was told that I had to mime it…

    In fact, that’s the reason I bought Little Pim in Chinese rather than French. French has a music CD, and I knew there would be a highly uncomfortable moment where my wife would insist I sing along. That, and the fact that my wife usually gets her way.

  5. beta dad says:

    December 7th, 2010at 1:41 pm(#)

    I was just thinking about language videos this morning. We have a bunch of Vietnamese kids’ books, but I do more harm than good trying to read them, I’m sure, and I do most of the reading aloud around here. I was thinking that what we need is music videos in ‘Namese. Like JP’s mom, my wife speaks a lot of Vietnamenglish to our kids, but other than that they don’t hear real Vietnamese much, except when the grandparents are around.

    The problem is that we don’t let the kids watch any TV (they’re only 17 months old), so we would have to compromise our asshole ideals if we wanted to use them.

  6. Adam says:

    December 7th, 2010at 1:50 pm(#)

    @beta dad: Yeah, the whole TV thing is always a concern. My general feeling is that as long as it’s not stupid TV, it’s ok. There’s nothing like visual images to keep a little kid’s attention, and short of doing a puppet show, videos are pretty much the only option. I think as long as it’s educational, and for a limited amount of the child’s time, TV can do as much good as it can harm, as long as it’s an educational tool, not a babysitter. I for one think I’d be a much less prodigious counter without Sesame Street.

  7. NG says:

    December 7th, 2010at 3:09 pm(#)

    It sounds to me like the Little Pim series is basically just teaching vocabulary. That is definitely not the same thing as learning a language. Whether it is entertaining enough for toddlers is another matter, but as far as effective language learning media, that doesn’t do it. What works best are the other methods that you mentioned (playing with Jean, learning at preschool) because they require interaction and comprehension. Those are exactly the aspects of language learning that children don’t get with videos and adults don’t get with software. But then you’ve probably heard me complain about this before… :) And I’ll link once again to this: http://www.wal.org/wordpress/index.php/2009/05/11/second-language-learning-and-software/

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