Technology to Help Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time

Picture Sean Wood

Technology is a tremendous help when teaching children a new language, especially for time-starved parents. At the same time, screen time should to be limited to what we, as parents, believe is appropriate.
In our family, technology is a definite help when exposing our children to French, Spanish and Chinese. It is a supplement to what we already do and helps our children hear different accents.
Here are some of the technology we utilize in our household – 10 minutes at a time: 
  • #1: Use audio books:
    We are nuts about audio books. We bought at least 50 storybooks with CDs for our children, Elena and Pablo. The CDs are great in the car, especially when we drive to school or go to an activity. Elena also has a subscription to “J’apprends a lire”, a French monthly story book that comes with a CD. When she gets it in the mail, she is excited and listens to it right away.
  • #2: Listen to MP3s in the car
    The iPod is the greatest invention ever! We have different playlists of Spanish songs and French songs which Elena and Pablo take turns selecting. We also listen to mp3 stories in the car in French. Going to the supermarket is therefore not only driving time, but also a time to learn without even realizing it.
  • #3: Learn with the Smurfs and Zorro on YouTube
    We let Elena and Pablo watch one cartoon per day on YouTube in French. They can choose which one it is, as long as it is in French and it is less than 10 minutes. Currently, Elena wants to watch “Zorro”, and Pablo “Les Schtroumpfs”.
  • #4: Listen to Podcasts together
    Good Argentinean friends of ours who live in Zurich, Switzerland recommended two free podcasts that help their children build great vocabulary in Spanish through stories: “Cody’s Cuentos” and “Cuentos a la luz de la luna”. Podcasts like these are wonderful additions to our day.
  • #5: Have breakfast with grandparents via Facetime or Skype
    The iPad makes it very easy for kids to call up their grandparents in France or Spain via Facetime or Skype. The advantage of Apple’s Facetime app is that it is very easy for a 3 or a 4-year old to answer or call with it. And it is free.
  • #6: Games on the iPhone
    Little games on the iPhone help us when the kids become restless (waiting at the doctor’s, at the airport for a flight, etc.). And if the games are about listening to more words and expressions in the target language, it removes some of our parental guilt.
  • #7: Read and listen to stories on iPad
    There are many bilingual stories available for the iPad. It is easier for children to use than books with CDs. On Saturdays, we let our 4-year old Pablo listen to 2 stories in French on the iPad, while we take care of paying our bills.
  • #8: Use online tutoring via Skype
    My wife and I are using a tutoring service via Skype to learn Chinese (“Chinese Hour”). It works around our schedule and it is cheaper than having a personal teacher. If someone came across an engaging online tutoring service for children, we would be very interested in hearing about it.
We hope these tips will help you and your bilingual children find ways to use technology for language exposure – 10 minutes at a time. When used in moderation, technology can be a wonderful way to learn a brand new language or keep a family language strong.
Let us know what technology tools you use to help your children learn a second language.

This post was originally published in Multilingual Living.