Exposure to a foreign language deepens a child’s academic and emotional development in many meaningful ways, and sharing foreign language picture books is a wonderful way introduce a new language to your little ones. Reading aloud in a foreign language offers all the same benefits as reading aloud in your native language – bonding with a caregiver, greater vocabulary development, increased attention span, better reading comprehension, and more.
But reading aloud in a second language offers additional benefits, including expanding your child’s verbal processing skills by activating new neural pathways and broadening your child’s perspective across cultures by allowing them to experience words and emotions that have no adequate translation in English. Learning a foreign language helps us relate to the world with greater openness and empathy.
Introducing a foreign language can be daunting if you as a parent don’t speak a second language yourself. Audio picture books are the perfect solution, providing access to real native speakers who have been carefully selected for their accurate and easy-to-understand pronunciation.
Your local library likely has some foreign language audiobooks on CD available for check out. Depending on which language you are studying and the size of your library system, you might have access to a number of familiar titles through inter-library loan. If your family is just beginning with a foreign language, look for picture books or board books that your children already know and love. Even better are the kits some libraries carry with a picture book and an audio CD combined!
In my local library network, I was able to find Spanish audiobooks on CD for several beloved titles including Corduroy by Don Freeman, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Choosing stories my children practically know by heart in English gives them a delightful introduction to Spanish and allows them to painlessly assimilate new Spanish vocabulary words. Many libraries also provide access to free foreign language audio downloads through apps like Overdrive and Hoopla.
If listening to audiobooks isn’t yet part of your family culture, here are some suggestions for how to make them a part of your routine:
- Provide an audio book for listening during rest time or alongside independent play. Many children enjoy having an audio book on in the background as they play with Legos, dolls, stuffed animals or puzzles.
- Choose a story to listen to on the drive to the grocery store or dentist appointment. Picture books on audio are the perfect length for a short drive. This allows grown-ups to share in the learning. Try listening to the same book a few times. Repetition increases comprehension. As you’re remembering the story and picking up vocabulary, you’ll understand more and more of the language with each hearing.
- Choose one meal or snack time each day to listen to a foreign language audio book. Eating may give you a few quiet minutes of focused listening.
Getting started with a foreign language doesn’t need to be scary or overwhelming. By choosing a few good quality audio picture books, we hope you’ll get your children often to a strong start with languages and have fun doing it!