Reading in a foreign language has been hands down one of the most efficient ways to learn a language. Today we answer the question, "is reading childrens books a good way to learn a language?"
Children's books, which are ideally meant for kids between the ages of 0 and 8, have proven to be effective for children and adult language learners. The simplicity and the easy-to-follow stories help basic vocabulary building, and with contextual images, the words and their meaning become extremely clear. However, not all children's books are created equal. Here's how to select a book that works for you!
Children's books and language learning
Your choice matters when selecting a children's book to learn a language from, irrespective of the target language. Most children's books in foreign languages are written to help children learn how to read. It is, however, not that simple.
Most books are created assuming that the target language is the native language. This is good for monolingual language development, where one or both parents speak the language taught. It's like saying that I will automatically learn French if I go to France, which may be accurate, but the learning curve will be immense.
It is a children's language book, however, which takes into consideration that the target language and the native language are different that can provide the support necessary for effective language learning.
How can a bilingual children's book help a child in their learning process?
The differences between foreign language books and bilingual children's language books are small but cardinal. These can prove to be the difference between becoming fluent or giving up on a new language for beginner language learners.
The path of least resistance
Our previous post about How to Raise a Bilingual Child discussed how children follow the path of least resistance. This means that they will only learn what they can easily understand.
When using monolingual books in a foreign language, they are unable to draw parallels to words in their native language, which makes learning harder, and in some cases, unnecessary in a child's mind. Especially if a parent doesn't speak the target language, they won't feel like they need to learn new words to express themselves effectively.
Children are naturally inclined to learn the language they feel is important for them to express themselves. Their language acquisition largely depends on being able to tell other people what they want or need. With a monolingual book, you are giving your child the course material but not teaching them how to study.
The quality of input matters
When learning languages, the quality of input matters a lot. What I mean by quality of input is the degree to which a child understands each word's meaning in each language. For example: For early English language learners, the yellow fruit is called a banana, and for someone learning Spanish, the same fruit is called plàtano.
When the quality of input is enriched, the 2 variations presented with a drawing of the fruit reinforce the relationship between the words in both languages and the yellow fruit it's used for. Regular foreign language books call it plàtano, but the fact that it means banana also needs to be learned. This is where the quality of input is required in both the native and the new language.
Fluency comes when learners practice speaking
Most bilingual learners start learning a new language to become fluent in the target language. With the ultimate goal of effectively communicating, the learning process needs to involve some speaking or pronunciation guidelines. Most foreign language books will assume that a parent is supervising the learning process and can teach the child the correct pronunciation of words. While this may not be a major blocker for a native speaker with a bilingual child, non-native speakers can often struggle with pronunciations in other languages.
Another factor is the ability to master spoken language. Spoken language means that the speaker must be able to articulate tones and voices within their speech as per the emotion it warrants. For example: "I am going to the fair tomorrow." is different from "I am going to the fair tomorrow!". Both mean the same thing, but the one with an exclamation point requires a particular way of speaking it, with a bit more excitement and gusto.
Along with drawing comparisons between phrases in a child's and foreign language, bilingual children's books also provide practical pronunciation tips based on easier, less complex words. This means a child would know how to speak "banana" and "plàtana" correctly while determining how they are the same and different in pronunciation.
This sort of learning is beneficial, especially for a child, since they learn languages through recognizing sounds rather than reading words. Most bilingual children's books also have visuals expressing excitement or sadness in the character's body language and face. This helps them understand the contextual meaning of a phrase.
Can adults use a bilingual children's book for learning a foreign language?
Most adults are fluent in at least one language, but the idea of learning languages is something all adults explore at least one point in their life, to varying degrees of success. Some do it for fun, others for better job prospects, and parents do it for their children. Whatever your reason, there is a lot to be learned from bilingual children's books that meets the eye.
They start with the very basics, and that's a good thing
Kids' books, especially bilingual ones, if used for language learning by an adult, can provide a great starting point for them. With age, our ability to absorb a new language diminishes, but the teaching methods remain the same.
If you use a language sourcebook as well, there will be a lot of new vocabulary that you will have to build. Instead of learning the basics from a sourcebook with a dictionary by your side, you can use a bilingual children's book to acquaint yourself with a language.
Once you can build some basic level understanding of the words, their pronunciation, and contextual meanings, you can then move on to a coursebook to learn about the specific grammar rules of the targeted language.
They compare terms and phrases
This is a very apparent advantage, where you can see a real-time distinction between all the words mentioned in a phrase. So if you are a native English speaker learning French, you would come across something like this: "Jonah is a boy, and Marie is a girl" in French is "Jonah est un garçon et Marie est une fille." Immediately your mind compares the two sentences, and you can determine what all these words correspond to in the English language.
This comparison is your enriched quality of input. Where a child cannot draw comparisons, your adult brain can and will remember what a boy is called in French.
The ultimate stepping stone
Bilingual children's books will not immediately make you a fluent speaker but will be a solid stepping stone in your learning journey. Once you have a basic understanding, you can use this knowledge to study from a coursebook and other children's literature to slowly but surely set the proper foundation.
Combined with proper attention and discipline, you can unlock a new world for yourself and if desired, for your child!
So, are children's books a good way to learn a language?
A resounding yes! But bilingual children's books are the most effective ones to do so. Irrespective of age, the books cover the basics of new languages, help build a better vocabulary, and are the right start for any language learner.
They give high-quality input towards language learning which regular children's books may fail to provide. It may be your second or fifth language, but when combined with comparative translations, pronunciation cues, and fun visuals, these books will surely provide the proper foundation.