Learning Languages Through Bilingual Storytelling

Several developers in our network make apps that focus on learning new languages. Our guest post this week highlights strategies from two families that cover storytelling as an important component of bilingual education in the home. The first portion is written by Franck Koestel at Early Languages (Princesses Learn Chinese), and the second is written by Survi Gopal at Niyaa (Monkey and the Crocodile). 

Four Pillars of Storytelling

Written by Franck Koestel | Early Languages

Reading and telling many stories, usually several stories a day, is the common element to parents who raise their children with a second language. Not only it is the common element, it is the #1 on the priority list.

Parents that raise their kids with a second language are “story addicts”. They find every possible opportunity to tell or listen to stories with their children. Here are the 4 pillars of how parents expose their children to stories:

1. Creating a story routine

Stories are an excellent way to get the attention of children, especially when the story is a familiar one. Children love their routines. Creating a story-telling routine in a second language makes kids look forward to a story on a regular basis.

  • “Reading the same story, night after night. My son does not want to listen to another story. He knows the story in Russian by heart. I think I read it over 50 times.”
  • “Coming home after work, I read a 5-minute story on the couch”
  • “During breakfast on weekends I read 2 or 3 stories, usually a fairy tale or hero story. Not sure if it gives them the best manners at the table, but it helps them listen to French.”

2. Making children actors in the story

  • Creating stories where children are the heroes makes them engaged and helps them practice the second language.
  • “At bedtime, we make up a story where our children are the heroes. It gets them very engaged, as they want to hear what will happen.”
  • “I like playing with puppets: creating a 1 minute story that I tell, then having my daughter act out also a 1 minute story.”

3. Everywhere story-telling

Talking, having frequent conversations, finding opportunities everywhere to tell stories or listen to them is used by parents to expose the children as much as possible to the second language.

  • “Going to the park, and telling a story about what we see there, in Hindi.”
  • “While driving, I put on children stories on CDs in Spanish.”

4. Using technology as a story telling complement

Technology will never replace what parents or teachers do directly with the children to learn a second language. However, it can help reinforce what parents or educators do.

  • “Having grandma read a story via skype, showing the pictures of the book to the camera.”
  • “Listen to podcasts on the internet (ex: Cody’s Cuentos). Every week is another story in Spanish, we listen to it together.”
  • “Screen time on week-ends: we listen to French stories on the iPad for 15 min.”

If you have your own habit of telling or listening to stories with your child in a second language, I would love to hear about it. –Franck

Raising Bilingual Kids, A Mom’s Journey

Written by Survi Gopal | Niyaa

As a mom of two little daughters Niya 9 months and Anika 3 years old, I am passionate about teaching them new languages. As a native Hindi speaker and a husband who speaks in Gujarati (another Indian language) we wanted our kids to be able to join us in the conversation at the dinner table. We started speaking to them in both languages since they were born. Our preschooler today is fluent in both these languages and speaks some English too as she just started preschool. I would like to share with you some of my challenges and experiences as I embarked on this journey of bilingual learning with my kids.

Start Early

We started speaking to them in their infancy and continued speaking to them, even when at times it seemed that they did not understand us completely.They listen and it’s amazing how they can even pick up more than one language, at the same time, with such ease.

Storytelling helps

Reading to them regularly is a great way to expose them to myriad languages out there. Stories seem to work wonders with kids when it comes to languages and vocabulary. When Anika turned 2 our bedtime ritual included 3 books. She would pick her favorites, Cinderella would be one, and the other is Monkey And The Crocodile. This one is part of the popular Panchatantra series – classic folk tales from India. All of her book choices would be written in English, but I would make it a point to read to her in Hindi. She loved the animals in the book and her eyes would light up every time we read about them. We continued this ritual.

Later Niya was born and I left my job at BabyCenter to spend more time with the kids. I decided to bring Anika’s favorite book to life as a bilingual storybook app on the iPhone and iPad. Monkey And The Crocodile – by Niyaa – A Panchatantra Classic app is available in both English and Hindi narration and is shared with kids in 43 different countries across the globe.

Be consistent

Another important factor is to be consistent. If you speak to your child in English and your husband speaks to her in German try and stick to that. I noticed that if I spoke to her in a different language she would give me a confused look. She expected mom to speak to her in a given language and dad in another. No interchange allowed.

What’s in it for you and your kids?

  • Research has shown that exposing kids to more than one language can have a positive effect on their cognitive skills.
  • It also seems to help with their reading abilities
  • As the world gets smaller what a great way to expose your kids to all the different cultures out there.
  • Bonds between generations grow stronger. Kids can now speak to their grandparents in their own languages!

We hope that our story and our app will inspire you to join us in our bilingual journey. Our other storybook app is Little Blue Jackal. Please connect with us on our Facebook page Niyaa and let us know if you would like to see Monkey And The Crocodile in your favorite language. Thanks for reading our story!

4 Replies to “Learning Languages Through Bilingual Storytelling”

  1. What an interesting article! As a (German) mum of a bilingual daughter I can only agree to the above.

    To my great disappointment I found that after two years in Germany, my daughter switched within 3 months to English, after having moved to Australia just over a year ago. Soon she hardly replied to me anymore in German and I could see that she struggled speaking German when she had to (e.g. when talking to her grandmother on Skype).

    I started downloading German audiobooks on my ipod and played the stories to her when she was playing or relaxing on the sofa. I was hoping that it would help with her bilinguality – but didn´t expect to have the impact that it had. Within a few weeks her active vocabulary greatly increased – even my husband and other (English-speaking) family members noticed the change.

    My daughter now mostly speaks back to me in German – even if her English is still better.

    Another positive side effect to audiobooks: since letting her hear 2 bedtime stories on the ipod when she is in bed, the going-to-bed procedure is happing at the speed of light! 🙂

  2. It looks you guys have great apps!
    Small children are known to learn languages super fast. I wonder if there are any case studies about how such apps can help children to learn it better or faster. or perhaps just with more fun… 🙂
    Good luck!

  3. Hello Ole –

    I am not sure that an app by itself can help children learn better. There are no real studies out there.

    From my experience as a parent, an app can make it fun to reinforce what you learn with a parent or a teacher. Also, it can engage a child by making exposure fun. As a result, he or she is more open to practice the 2nd language with a parent or a teacher. At least this it how it worked with my 7-year old daughter and 4-year old son, who through apps and cartoons were more interested in learning Chinese.

    When they start having a decent level, I would recommend what Alexandra said in the previous comment: read a lot in the 2nd language and use audiobooks.

  4. @Franck – well, I guess it is hardest to make the child interested. And apps come in handy just for that purpose. And the more language sources – books, cartoons, apps – there are, the better.

    Liked the videos on your blog 🙂

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