Meet the Creator of Dot Line Curve
We had a fun chat with Agnes, creator of Dot Line Curve
As Chinese-speaking and Cantonese-speaking parent raising kids in Europe, we both realise the importance, and also feel the struggles of teaching our kids Chinese.
How to let our kid learn Chinese in a fun, intuitive way?
- How to raise kids in a bilingual or multilingual environment?
- Which age groups are Dot Line Curve books suitable for?
- How do we use the books and writing cards?
Read on to find a full recap of our discussion + SPECIAL GIFT in the end!
Questions from Rachel ( host and interviewer ) are marked in BLUE , and answers from Agnes in BLACK .
Can you briefly introduce the Dot Line Curve collection?
How should we use the books and writing cards ✏️ ?
The Dot Line Curve collection includes three board books, each with a different theme. The first is "Opposites". The second is "Nature". The third is "Seasons".
Each one has a set of 12 simple, everyday characters for kids to start learning with.
The idea is to make learning Chinese characters accessible to young learners. We start with the basic strokes and we color code them. These are the building blocks of all Chinese characters.
The color codes make them easier to follow and for learners to see how a character is written and in what order. The board books are designed for finger tracing then we have the writing cards with a wipeable surface for writing practice. Both are designed to be easy for young children to understand and for very hands-on use.
I remember you mentioned your husband also learned a lot of Chinese characters because of your books?
In fact, he was one of the first guinea pigs! I wanted to see if the design would make sense to a non-native. It was really helpful to have his feedback.
What was the inspiration for you to create your own children’s books?
I was taking some time off from my professional work as a designer. And during that time, I wanted to work on projects that were more personal and meaningful.
I was talking to some friends of mine who have children growing up in non-Chinese speaking environments. While most of the children can speak and understand Chinese quite well, writing often comes last.
I grew up in Hong Kong and learnt Chinese the traditional way, you know, with all these black and white exercise sheets where you take one character and write it 50 times.That's how we learn.
I wondered, okay, can we make this more accessible and somewhat easier, especially for children growing up in a non-Chinese speaking environment?
So that's when I started sketching. At that time it was more of a design exercise for me and I wasn't really sure what or who I was doing it for.
Then we had Estelle. And I was always looking for books in traditional Chinese that would be appropriate for her. Then I remembered my little design exercise with the colored strokes, and I thought that would be a great children's book for the early years!
Something simple and easy to follow, kind of like the equivalent of the A to Z alphabet blocks or books. So yes, it was my daughter who finally gave shape to Dot Line Curve and made it what it is.
The focus is really on creating an easy starting point by making it visible and creating a path that is easy to follow. You can see where to take the first step and where to take the next one. With time and practice, you will learn the principles and be able to write any character, no matter how complex it may seem.
It's all about simplifying it for young children or non-native adults.
Which elements do you think are most important to create a happy and positive Chinese learning environment?
＊Agnes is raising her kid in Switzerland - her husband speaks French, Agnes speaks Cantonese, and then the whole community speaks Swiss German.
It's quite common in our circles to have families that speak multiple languages. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to speak to her in Cantonese at home. And while it's quite common for people from Hong Kong to throw English words into a conversation, I do try to avoid that as much as possible.
 Consistency is very important to us, and we never mix up the languages. And to be honest, in the beginning, I wasn't really comfortable speaking a lot of Cantonese as I was more of an English speaker on a daily basis.
When I was pregnant, people said you have to talk to your belly and things like that. I remember asking my husband, "What should I say?”. I didn't know what to say and it felt even more strange to speak to her in Cantonese. But I started and just kept going.
 We also always speak to her as an equal and have never used baby talk. Even if she doesn't fully understand at times, it's about letting her hear and absorb as much of the language as she can in the early years. And I think because of that she was able to communicate with us and express herself quite well in everyday conversation early on.
 Creating an environment where they feel like they can make mistakes is also important to us. It's okay to not know, because sometimes we also don’t know. I honestly tell her, oh, mama doesn’t know what this is called in Cantonese either. So I'll make something up and we would just call it that way for now. And that's okay.
 And we talk to her as much as we can. We just keep talking and are always consistent in our own language. English is just between me and my husband, Cantonese between me and my daughter, and French from my husband’s side.
And there is a trick that probably sounds a little strange. I'm literally the only person who speaks Cantonese to her, so since she was little, I've just made everything talk to her. A tree could talk to her, a flower could talk to her, a snail could talk to her. Just anything, it was almost like role-playing.
 I just recruit other things to have conversations with her. Now she's three and half, and of course she knows that these things don't really talk, but it doesn't matter. She would walk down the street and start talking to a garbage can and I had to talk to her as a garbage can, which sounds crazy, but at the same time, you create a lot more opportunities for conversation when you don't have anyone else.
Do whatever you can to create as many kinds of opportunities for conversations as possible, listening or speaking, in a way that's how we integrate language learning into our everyday life.
How do you set up your home to support the learning environment?
We make a conscious decision to keep everything open and accessible. The area where she does crafts, the area where she plays, we have what she needs on her level and it's integrated into our living environment.
A big part of it is that she knows where to get her materials and everything is organized in a way that is easy for her to pick up and use.
We're aware of what she's doing at home, but we're not hovering over or supervising her all the time. Sometimes we play or do something together, and sometimes she prefers to work on something on her own. I'm happy to give her the space and time to do both.
Please share more about your design journey! Which tests did you run to finalise the design?
＊Dot Line Curve collection was first launched on Kickstarter. Agnes has tested the mockups with many different families.
Of course! As I said, I tested the idea with my husband first and he thought it made a lot of sense. But the book is not meant for adults, so it was important to test it with the actual users. So I decided to really reach out and find the right demographic for feedback.
More than 90 participants from all around the world participated in the initial test. The target group range in ages two to six years, and with different family backgrounds of native speakers, bilingual families, or non-native speakers.
Some of the feedback really made the material the way it is today. For example, the color-coded dots, which became a key element in the final design. We also added the sand texture from the feedback round, which added a tactile element to the books.
Both of these features make learning easier and more accessible, which is what Dot Line Curve is all about.
Do you have any tips on how to use the materials for kids in different ages?
The books and cards are designed for children from two to six, so the materials have to be quite durable. They're made to last for a few years.
For children around two or two and a half, the books are great as simple picture books. I’ve used them as storybooks, creating a story from one character to the next. The illustrations are a bit childlike, created with a younger age group in mind.
Around the age of three, they start to use the books a bit differently. That's the age when they respond more to the order of things. That's when they start to be able to follow the order of the strokes and follow the character. If they don't follow or get the order right at first, that's okay. It will come.
The writing cards are good for ages three and up. They can also be used in a variety of ways. Before they can pick up a pencil and write, they can follow the dotted lines and place stickers on them, or use clay to make the different strokes and characters. These are all great ways to help them develop fine motor skills in preparation for writing. And when they're ready to write, the cards become a practice surface for tracing and writing.
Every child is different and I believe in letting them develop at their own pace. Thinking back to how we learned Chinese in school, all the rote learning even at a young age. I really wanted to take a different, more open approach to learning in the early years.
Make it more playful, more open, giving them the space to discover and think in their own time!
Questions from the Audience
[ 1 ]
I find it very difficult to consistently speak Chinese to my daughter...
Her dad is not native, and she will start elementary school very soon at four. I'm the only one speaking Chinese to her, and it's very difficult to do it consistently. My daughter will just refuse to speak when she doesn't feel confident. And I'm not sure how to encourage anymore. I try to do no pressure or anything, but it's very, very hard.
It's really hard, especially when there's so much pushback on the other side.
Sometimes it's just a matter of adjusting our own expectations and releasing some of the pressure that we put on ourselves. It's also helpful to realize that you're not the only one, that a lot of parents are struggling with the same thing. And there are lots of resources online from families with similar backgrounds who are facing similar challenges that we can learn from.
I would say keep going! It's worth it!
They may talk back to you in the majority language now, but when they get older, just because you've persevered and kept that connection in your lives, they may naturally want to explore that part of the family heritage for themselves, and they will be able to access it.
[ 2 ]
I have a question for these three books you published. If we want to start, which book is easier?
I would say the first book “ The Book of Opposites” is the easiest. It is a good introduction to the basic stroke colors and writing principles. You also have simpler characters to start with. Eventually, you will gain the confidence to know where to start and be able to follow the rest.
Let the kids develop at their on pace and in their own time!
If you are interested in purchasing one, or all the Dot Line Curve collection, we have a special offer for you!
HAPPY LEARNING ✏️
＊Deliver to all countries in Europe + international shipping.