Teach Foreign Languages To Kids With Picture Books
If you want to teach your child a foreign language, immersion is simply the best way to do it. The more chances you have to naturally soak up a language throughout the day the better. And, as we all know, it’s kids who make the best sponges when it comes to learning new skills. So, short of moving to Germany or France, what’s the best way to introduce foreign languages to children? It’s the same way we build up their English - reading to them.
It’s a well known fact that children who are consistently read to grow up with a staggering advantage with their vocabulary - sometimes estimated in the millions. And this huge head start not only leads to reading readiness, but stronger overall cognitive development in general. Every word is fuel for the brain.
Knowing more words obviously leads to a better ability to express yourself to others, but it also allows you to better organize your own thoughts in your head. In other words, your vocabulary opens up your ability to think. And if that’s the case with just one language, imagine what knowing multiple languages can do for your brain.
The Case for Teaching Foreign Languages
If you speak more than one language, you’re certainly familiar with the concept that some languages have words that describe ideas and concepts that have no simple translation. Inside your head you might know exactly what the word is describing, but there’s simply no word for it in English. Because of your knowledge of this other language, a new piece of life’s vast array of experiences was made available to you.
And that’s the very best argument I have for introducing your kids to foreign languages. The more languages you know, the more of the world is opened up to you. This means there are more people for you to talk to and learn from - but I’m also talking about all of the art. Personally, that’s the biggest selling point of foreign languages to me. With each language you learn, just think about all of the vast archives of music, movies, novels, and poetry that have been opened up to you.
How to Expose Children to Foreign Languages
For the sake of argument, let’s assume you aren’t going to move to another country, enroll your child in an immersion school, or hire a native speaker to raise your child and speak fluently to them in another language all day long. Let’s also throw out the notion that you yourself are fluent in another language and are going to speak in this language to your child all day long. I think we can all objectively agree that those would be remarkably efficient ways to learn a foreign language, but also rather unlikely.
Practically speaking, there are far more people that want to expose their kids to foreign languages, but don’t have the means or abilities for such drastic measures of complete and total immersion. The good news it that there is a much simpler thing that every parent can do. And it’s the exact same advice I’d give to parents who want to set their kids up for success in general - read to your kids.
Kids truly are the best sponges, and reading to them in another language really is the best way to soak up the basics. Vocabulary, prosody, sentence structure - all of these concepts will grow through osmosis in children. Even just the basic concept that different parts of the world have different names for the same object is incredibly eye-opening for a child. The world grows bigger in their mind - and brand-new possibilities are made available.
How to Read to Your Kids In Foreign Languages
Just as it is with reading to your kids in your native language, the sooner you start the better. But it’s never too late. You simply need to start, and be consistent. If your child was behind in their language acquisition and their reading ability, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to read to them once a month, and the same is true with exposure to foreign languages.
I recommend making a foreign language book part of your reading routine. Start by slipping in one per night, and the key is to be consistent. When you first begin, you can think of your child as a complete beginner. Even high school and college students have to start with the ABCs, colors, and numbers when they begin a new language. Don’t be afraid to buy books for babies.
And if your kids are anything like ours, they might even show resistance if you’re starting this new ritual a little late. It makes sense, after all. They’re probably completely fluent in English already. They’re used to understanding what they’re hearing, and kids are creatures of habit. That’s why it’s so important to think of them as beginners and to be consistent with this new routine. I imagine they might be just as resistant to English books if you never read to them before, and decided to start reading to them at 6 years old during a time they were used to watching TV.
But it does absolutely no good if they have no idea what you’re reading. The key is to seek as much engagement and understanding as possible, even with complete beginners. When children are independent readers, if there are more than 5 words on a single page they don’t know, they need to choose a new book. And the same concept can be used with foreign language read alouds. That’s why I highly recommend choosing picture books they already know well.
If you pick picture books your children already know and love, and buy those books in other languages, they’ll never be lost while you’re reading them aloud. If it’s one of those books you’ve read hundreds of times, they certainly know the plot by heart at the very least, and there’s a very good chance they even know it word for word.
Even in the worst case scenario, they’ll know exactly what’s going on while you’re reading and develop their prosody. But in the best case scenario, they’ll actually discover the meaning of individual words through context clues and their memory. And, just like it does through repeated readings of their favorite English books, their vocabulary will grow with every repetition of these books as well.
Where to Buy Foreign Language Books for Kids
I purchased quite a few foreign language versions of picture books while overseas, but that’s probably not the most convenient way to build up your home library. Another place to check it your local library. Our library has a very good section of foreign language picture books organized by language. Some languages are definitely better stocked than others, though, and it’s unlikely to find the exact book you’re looking for in the language you want.
The very best way I’ve found to track down the picture book you want in the language you want is to go through Amazon. I even made a new account through Amazon in the country I wanted (Amazon.de for Germany in my case) - to gain access to the entire catalog of German kids books. But, even if you wanted to shop strictly on the US website, the catalog of foreign language picture books is always improving there as well.
Just by merely opening up this door to a new world for your kids can have serious benefits down the line. The early acquisition of a little sentence structure, vocabulary and prosody will make studying languages in depth significantly easier later in life. Even the exposure to the concept that the world is much larger than what they knew has its benefits. If we can help provide the access to a little more beauty in life - then we can consider that a job well done.
Do you read picture books to your kids in other languages? What languages do you use? Have you witnessed the benefits? Let us know in the comments!