Developing Reading Fluency with Children


In some of our previous blogs, we’ve talked about Enjoying Reading with your Child and Making Reading a Routine Reality. But how about helping children to become independent readers?


Author, teacher trainer, and owner of her own language school in Japan, Mari Nakamura, has developed a Three-Stage Literacy Program at her school, English Square. In a recent article for The Language Teacher, she focuses on promoting reading fluency among elementary school age children. She considers what is reading fluency, what are appropriate materials, and what activities can we use to help.


What is reading fluency?

To read fluently, we need to recognize words accurately and automatically. Before this, however, children first need to develop letter recognition, know their sounds and the meaning of words before processing sentences and so on.  Although we may read for a variety of specific reasons and personal goals, we generally read to understand the message, communicating with the writer, and expanding our knowledge. With that can come enjoyment, but when faced with material that is too difficult, children can get frustrated and possibly put off reading.


What reading materials should we use?

In developing reading fluency, we know that children benefit most from many opportunities to read easy passages orally, repeatedly, and with guidance. Research has also shown that knowing at least 98% of the words is necessary to be able to construct meaning with a high degree of success, which also helps kids stay motivated to read. Of course, the content must also at the right maturity level as well as being engaging and interesting, for example, by expanding their knowledge whilst making them think more about their lives and the world around them.


How can we help foster reading fluency and independence?

For fluency development, Mari suggests using stories children are familiar with, especially ones that they’d read (or had read to them) when they were younger. In addition to repeated reading of easy materials and providing assistance when needed, we can also add developmentally appropriate activities. For example, with children who are more hesitant, we might read a word or a sentence first then get them to read it aloud afterwards. They might also try shadowing, even under their breath at first, trying to keep up with whoever is reading. We can even show children how to shadow with Dino Lingo Books, for example, reading the words aloud as they listen to the audio. They can also learn to run their finger along as they hear the words being read.


When children are faced with longer, more difficult words, we can show them how to break them up into their syllables, like ty-ran-no-sau-rus. By covering up parts of the words with my fingers, I can also leave the parts that my children (AA) either know how to read or can try to sound out. However, saying some words can still be challenging, so one thing that works well (with children as well as adult learners of English), is building difficult words up backwards, as shown below. And chanting expressively invariably adds to the fun!


Me: Say, ‘rus’ (expressively)

AA: ‘rus’ (laughing)
Me: ‘SAUrus’

AA: ‘saurus’ (quietly)
Me: Great. Louder. ‘SAUrus’!

AA: ‘SAURUS’! (laughing)

Me: ‘tyranno’

AA: ‘tyran…’ (giggling)

Me: ‘ranno’

AA: ‘ranno’

Me: Good. ‘tyRANno’

AA: ‘tyRANno’

Me: ‘tyranno, tyRANno, TYRANNO’! (getting louder)
AA: ‘tyranno, tyRANno, TYRANNO’! (laughing again)

Me: ‘saurus, saurus, saurus!’

AA: ‘saurus, saurus, saurus’!

Me: Tyrannosaurus!

AA: Tyrannosaurus!

Me: Alright! Tyrannosaurus! Rrrrr!

AA: Rrrr!! (laughing) Tyrannosaurus!! (laughing)

So, what kinds of reading fluency activities work for you and your kids? Please feel free to share your ideas and experiences, and let us know how you get along with any of the above activities and techniques.

Philip Shigeo Brown

The Social Advantages of Exposure to Other Languages


Recent studies show that “multilingual exposure improves not only children’s cognitive skills but also their social abilities” (“The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals”, The New York Times, March 11, 2016). Whilst I’m wary of sound bites that may mistakenly encourage us to think that people are ‘superior’ simply by virtue of speaking more than one language, there can be definite advantages that also serve as good reminders and sources of motivation for parents and children alike.

Firstly, researchers in developmental psychology found that early exposure to a multilingual environment can promote effective communication as children develop greater perspective-taking skills. And in a follow-up study, even babies as young as 14-16 months can be seen to develop these interpersonal skills as result of exposure to multilingual environments. The research adds to the benefits that have been witnessed by parents across the globe and shared in testimonies like this:

The benefits to multilingualism that we like in particular include the ability to see situations from multiple points of view (already at 2, our daughter knows there are multiple ways of saying the same thing), leading to tolerance, open-mindedness, empathy.
– Karolina from Poland and Oscar from Elsavdor are raising their 2 year-old, Natalia, in the US with Polish, English, and Spanish, whilst learning American Sign Language.

As Professor Katherine Kinsler points out in her New York Times article, “… the social advantage we have identified appears to emerge from merely being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are experienced, not from being bilingual per se. This is potentially good news for parents who are not bilingual themselves, yet who want their children to enjoy some of the benefits of multilingualism.” And in a similar sense, Dino Lingo Books and Dino Lingo, are also well suited to parents who are not bilingual themselves (or fully bilingual, like me), but hope their children can benefit from multilingual exposure.

by Philip Shigeo Brown

How to teach kids a foreign language?



1 Get fairy tales, storybooks in the 2nd language on Amazon or your local library

Children love shared reading time and regardless of language acquisition they will always remember the time they spent with you reading books.Try to find books with good illustrations. Look at the pictures with your child, point to things they already know in the 2nd language.

As you come across new words ask the child what they think it is. If it is illustrated, have them point it out on the page.Use different voices for different characters.If your child has a favourite story encourage him/her to play different characters making up the words from memory.Help your child to use his/her imagination to change the story or change the ending.


2 Use puppets or turn your child’s favorite plush toy into a puppet that talks the 2nd language

Kids love puppets and puppet play is great for motor skills. You can tell much loved stories through puppet play, either using the whole body or make a puppet theatre from a box and use hand or finger puppets. Finger puppets are also fun when singing songs.


3 Go to the zoo and call the name of the animals together in the 2nd language

If you have any, look at some animal books together, then go to the zoo for the day. Ask your child the names of the animals he/she has learned and point out the new ones. This is a great place to add in adjectives and colours, ‘look at the big, grey elephant, look at his long trunk’. When you come home, encourage your child to draw pictures of what he/she saw and talk about them together using the 2nd language.


4 Play hide and seek by counting in the 2nd language

Hide and seek is a great game for practicing numbers. You could start with 1 to 10 and gradually increase. When your child knows them well you could count down backwards. When ‘seeking’ your child it’s a good opportunity to repeat words without it sounding repetitive. “Where are you?” “ Are you behind the sofa?’ “Are you behind the T.V? “ Are you behind the door?” Add in as much language as you think your child will be comfortable with and still keep the implicit fun of the game.


5 Play board games in the 2nd language e.g.: snakes and ladders, board games, family games

Dice games are always good for counting and also simple addition. Board games played with the whole family can be a time for relaxed learning. Just playing a simple board game such as snakes and ladders teaches a young child so much more than just language. They also learn rules of play, understanding goals and of course, that family games equal FUN!


6 Play games by using flashcard games e.g.: Go fish, memory game

Flashcards are one of your most valuable resources in teaching language to young children. With multiples of the same cards you can play well-known games such as Go Fish or the ‘memory game’.

Very small children may struggle to hold too many cards, so play games that have the child match one card to another. Match a sound with a picture, or two cards that have the same sound, or two pictures that match, any way you choose.

Lay cards out on the floor or table and have your child touch the card as you call out words/sounds. Encourage your child to be the caller and you touch the cards. Keep it playful and fun.



7 Have a progress chart that tracks the words and phrases your child mastered

A simple progress chart teaches your child clear goals and kids love stickers. Let your child know when he/she is approaching a goal, make a big deal of reaching the goals, be excited to getting the stickers out. Praise him/her for their achievement with a ‘great job’, a hug or a ‘high five’ (or all three).


8 Listen to children’s songs in the 2nd language together or reward your child for memorizing a short one

Listen to children’s songs in the 2nd language whenever and wherever you can. Keep CDs in the car or put a CD on quietly in the background when you are doing something else. Add actions to the songs, this helps kids remember the words. If it suits your child’s personality, encourage them to ‘perform’ songs for you. You could have a special ‘song night’.

Be the ‘emcee’; introduce your child to an imaginary audience with applause. You could take it in turns.


9 Listen to pop songs in the 2nd language together or reward your child for memorizing a short one

Teach your child some catchy pop songs that you both like. Something with suitable lyrics and a good chorus are easiest to remember. Sing it around the house as you do other things, when your child tries to join in, model the language and encourage them to sing with you.


10 Find cartoons in the 2nd language on Youtube or Amazon

Cartoons are a great way to engage kids in the 2nd language. Kids can figure out the story visually without worrying about not understanding every word. It’s easy to buy DVDs from Amazon in almost any language or, alternatively, look for them on YouTube. Let your child guide you to which cartoons they like best. Watch them together and you will know which language to reinforce.


11 Have an annual/monthly goal check list

Make a checklist of goals or ideas of where you want to be with the language learning over a year. Break it down into monthly mini-goals.

It will be help you stay focused on where you are going and also a great way to look back and see how far you and your child have come.


12 Create youtube playlists or find playlists suitable for your child’s level

YouTube is a super resource. You can create playlists of your favourite language teaching videos, these days people post from all over the world.

They might be short tutorials, or craft ideas you can incorporate into your language learning, or children’s songs you can sing together. Look for playlists already put together by others with the same goal.


13 Join online support groups (forums, facebook pages, twitter lists, multicultural blog groups etc.)

Join some online groups to exchange ideas and information. Support is invaluable too. Language learning can hit some hurdles, it is important to be able to connect with people who are having the same difficulties or have successfully navigated these hurdles. Facebook and Twitter are great for immediate connections. Online chat groups or forums can give you a sense of community and common goals.


14 Visit the website of the ministry of culture (of a country where the language is spoken)

Have a look at the website and find interesting information about the country. Read about traditional food, dances and costumes. Look at statistics such as population. Find some fun facts about the climate, holidays and customs. Talk about them with your child and follow their lead on which parts they are interested in.


15 Go to public libraries and check all the available resources in the 2nd language

Libraries are an excellent resource. If they don’t have things you are looking for ask the librarian if it is possible to order them. Also check out the noticeboard and see if there are any kids groups speaking the 2nd language in the area. You might make some new friends too.


16 Make use of language learning DVDs for kids

There are a great many language-learning DVDs on the market these days. Check them out, Look for something that is specifically for kids, that uses games and songs and has well-structured levels.


17 Play CDs when driving your child to school

Always play CDs in the 2nd language when you are in the car. It could be songs or a kids’ language learning CD, whatever your child likes. Do it consistently so your child comes to expect the 2nd language in the car.


18 Play streaming radio in the background at home or make use of Spotify, Lastfm, etc.

Nowadays, there are a lot of resources that help you play streaming radio through personal electronic devices and laptops, etc. All you need is tuning into one of the local radio stations and have the radio or the song list play in the background all day long. Even if your child does not understand what has been spoken or the lyrics of the songs he/she will get used to the new sounds and intonation patterns.


19 Make use of worksheets for beginners

There are a great many websites offering worksheets for beginners. Many are free and some you can pay monthly or a yearly fee. Kids love worksheets. Some may be simple colouring sheets (kids LOVE colouring), or sheets that help fine motor skills through pencil manipulation. Buy some stickers and put one on each sheet your child completes.


20 Make use of Flashcards

There is no end to the fun to be had from playing games with flashcards even if you child is still too young to play a game that has structure and rules. You can make your own ‘games’ call out a card, have your child touch it/pick it up. ‘Hide’ the cards around the room and have your child find them and say what they are etc.

You can also put the flashcards up around the room. Change them each week in categories (animals/flowers/ fruit/etc. Look at them and say them often with your child. Ask them, “What’s this? / What’s that?”

Put them on your fridge with magnets or let your child do this.You call out the words and have them put them on.


21 Get a picture dictionary to get started

A Children’s picture dictionary is a wonderful resource. Follow your child’s curiosity with it. Let him/her choose what he/she wants to know on any given day. Ask him/her more information about the words they do know. “What colour is it?” “ Is it big or small? “ “Where does it live?” “What does it do?”


22 Consider getting an alphabet book (especially useful in certain languages: e.g. Japanese, Arabic)

Introduce your child to the shapes of letters with a simple alphabet book. This is especially useful if the 2nd language alphabet is different to that of the 1st language. For young learners get a very simple, ‘starter’ book, also great for fine motor skills and pencil control.


23 Think about kinesthetic learning (learning by doing). Coloring books, sketchbooks or DVDs that children watch and dance are great!

The research is in that kids learn best by doing (don’t we all?).

Anything that gets kids moving their bodies or their hands helps them to learn.  Watch DVDs together, make up dances, put on ‘shows’, even dress up. Encourage your child’s inner artist with a sketchbook. Colour, paint, draw, and talk about the colours and your child’s pictures in the 2nd language. Colouring in pictures is a very relaxing activity (you should do it too!) Kids tend to be very relaxed when they are colouring, a good time to make some general chitchat in the 2nd language.

Mix paints and talk in the 2nd language about how colours are made.


24 Consider getting a reading pen (only available in major languages)

The very latest translation tool. A ‘reading pen’ scans and translates. The translated text appears on a small screen on the pen and can also provide audio pronunciation of words or full sentences.


25 Find some talking or singing plush toys

There are so many talking toys on the market these days. Try one that says greetings in the target language (or multiple languages) or one that sings traditional songs/nursery rhymes from the target country.



26 Make use of culture books prepared for little kids

Ready made ‘culture books’ are great for learning about different countries. Read them together, ask questions and encourage your child to ask lots of questions too. After reading one, you could make a simple one together using pictures from magazines, or encourage your child to draw pictures too. Gather information together at the library or from the internet.


27 Decorate your child’s room with learning posters (colors, numbers) or pictures from the target country (flag, the cities, etc.)

Get some large colourful posters to decorate your child’s room or the learning space you use. Point things out and ask questions, swap roles and have your child ask the questions too, this also helps model the pronunciation. Ask which is your child’s favourite poster and why?

Follow their lead on the things that interest them.


28 Follow a simple syllabus prepared for kids

Use the simple syllabus prepared in your language learning system or make one yourself. Let your child know what it is so he/she can see what they will be doing. Children tend to do better when they know what is coming and what is expected of them.


29 Use stickers as rewards (stickers that say congratulations, wonderful, etc. in the 2nd language)

Kids love stickers! Use them liberally. Take praising your child as an opportunity to use the 2nd language. If you can find stickers with words of praise in the 2nd language use those and repeat the words a lot. Use a couple of words at first and add more as your child knows them.


30 Get some printed items related to the 2nd language: T-shirts, mugs, children’s silverware, etc.

If you have the opportunity to visit the 2nd language country buy goods with the language on. T-shirts, mugs and pens are useful as well as educational. Look for postcards, posters or bumper stickers with popular expressions on. Post these around your house.


31 Arrange play dates or playgroups with other parents who want to teach their children the same language

Try to find other parents encouraging their children to learn the same language, arrange to play together, go on picnics to the park or take a trip to a zoo or aquarium, great places to practice the language. Making new friends is of great benefit to you too!



32 Video chat with friends and relatives who have a child that speaks the 2nd language

Encourage video chat with other children you know, that speak the language. It’s easy using Skype or Google Hangouts or something similar. Be nearby to help the conversation along. Be encouraging and resist the temptation to correct your child’s mistakes.



33 Invite Grandma and Grandpa (who can speak in the other language) to stay over

Spending time with grandparents is valuable to all parties anyway but spending time with grandparents who speak the 2nd language is great for strengthening bonds and hearing natural language. Your child will come to associate the 2nd language with feelings of love and security.


34 Hire a short-term or full time nanny or caregiver that speaks the 2nd language

If it is possible, consider hiring a nanny/caregiver/babysitter who speaks the 2nd language. Even a few hours per week would make a difference (and give you a little free time!).



35 Cook local recipes together with your child

Kids always want to be a ‘little helper’ in the kitchen. Cook some simple dishes from the 2nd language country together. Us the 2nd language for instructions, wash, cut, wipe, mix…. Name the ingredients in a natural way as you cook.


36 Go to community centres, cultural centres and temples with your child

Local places of interest are stimulating for your child and cultural centers often have exhibitions or music/dance performances. Look out for anything from the 2nd language country. Community centres are a great place to meet people, look at notice boards for anything from people interested or connected in some way to, the 2nd language. You could even offer to do something yourself, give a talk about the country or a traditional dance etc.


37 Visit ethnic supermarkets and ethnic restaurants with your child

Go around an ethnic supermarket and point out the foods from the 2 nd language country. If your child is unfamiliar with them, ask questions. “How do you think it tastes?” “ Do you think this is hard/soft/crunchy/sweet/etc.?” If possible eat in ethnic restaurants. Talk about the food, how it is prepared, where it comes from.


38 Have a word of the day activity

Pick a ‘word of the day’, you or your child could choose it, or have your child pick it at random from a pile of word cards. If the word is a noun, look for it around the house and when you go outside. Talk about where it might be found. If it is a verb, find ways to do the action either really or mime it, see if you can spot other people doing it? Or use adverbs and spend some time doing everything in the manner of the adverb, slowly/quickly/happily/etc.


39 Play online language games (memory, click&tell, etc.) with your child

There are plenty of free online interactive language games for children. Find one that appeals to your child and encourage them to do a little every day. You can check out 3 different kinds of free online language learning games here 



40 Try Skype lessons for children (may not be advised for infants and toddlers)

Many teachers are offering language lessons via Skype. Ask around and see if anyone can recommend a teacher to you. Sit in on the lesson too so you know what language to reinforce between lessons.



41 Read bedtime stories in the 2nd language to your child

Books, books, books. Kids love books and stories. Read stories in the 2nd language before bed. Often when kids have heard a favourite story many times they know the words. Encourage your child to help tell the story.



42 Play local children’s games (e.g. the local version of papers, rock, scissors)

Many children’s games are the same the world over, play kids games your child already knows in their 1st language but play it in the 2 nd language. Paper, rock, scissors has many variations; play it in the 2 nd language. Hopscotch, skipping games, clapping games etc. can all be played in any language. For more ideas have a look at the games in the different ‘countries and cultures’ at Dino Lingo (to the right of this post).


43 Get comic books & children’s magazines from overseas

Ask if a friend or relative overseas can send you comics or children’s magazines in the 2nd language. Children’s magazines usually have lots of fun facts in them that you can talk about and further research. They also have quizzes and puzzles that are lots of fun to do.


44 Go to a national parade of the target culture

You could try to find where there is a large community of people from the target culture. They will no doubt have special events to celebrate the holidays of their country of origin. Take your child to their parades and festivals.


45 Have a personalized notebook specially used for learning the2nd language(Don’t forget to use it to have your child draw whatever you say in the 2nd language: e.g. draw a “ねこ”)

Let your child choose the notebook at the shop and decorate it anyway they want to make it special. Say words in the 2nd language and have them draw pictures, or even write the word or the first letter, depending on what level they are at. Go back over the pictures every few days. Talk about the pictures and praise your child’s drawing skills.



46 Do local crafts (E.g. doing origami with a child who learns Japanese)

If you are a native speaker of the 2nd language think about the crafts you did as a child and do them with your child (think also about how happy you were doing this activity with your own mother/father or your friends). Don’t worry if you have forgotten how, look on the Internet to refresh your memory. Perhaps you could send something your child makes to grandparents or relatives overseas.


47 Use chatting apps (WhatsApp, Line, etc.) to talk with friends and family who have same-aged children

Chatting apps are mobile and easy to use. Chat with friends in the 2nd who have children about the same age. Encourage your child to chat with them and their kids too. Ask their kids about themselves, their day etc. and encourage your child to talk about themselves.


48 Sing lullabies in the 2nd language to put your baby asleep

Lullabies are so soothing for baby and parent. Sing some 2nd language lullabies to help your baby sleep. You can buy wind-up crib music at a baby store. Play the music and sing in the 2nd language. Establish is as a routine and enjoy the time holding your baby and knowing you are soothing him/her.


49 Consider homeschooling by getting an online curriculum

More and more people are turning to homeschooling these days and there are plenty of resources online. Do some research and find something that suits you and your child. Depending on the school hours where you live, it may be possible for your child to attend the local school and follow a homeschooling curriculum.


50 Send your child to a summer camp where he/she can study the 2nd language in a short time.

Summer camp is a great experience for children. It is often their first extended time away from home and a chance to make lots of new friends and try a variety of activities for the first time. ‘Language’ camps for kids usually incorporate study with lots of games/crafts/activities related to the 2nd language culture. Look online or on the notice board in community centres and other public buildings.


51 Try Dino Lingo, it has DVDs, storybooks, flash cards, song CDs, picture books, activities, games , culture books and a magic formula that will make every child happy!

Dino Lingo is a veritable treasure chest for the young language learner. It has everything needed to make learning a language a fun, interesting, positive experience for both child and parent/teacher.



Start Simple

Start with some simple greetings and every day words.

E.g. good morning/ how are you? Be consistent, use the words or phrases you have chosen every day.  Items in your environment that you see or use every day can be used repeatedly and naturally in the 2nd language.

Here you are/thank you, good morning/goodnight,

Ball, dog, cup, door etc. are useful and easy to use naturally everyday.  Use the language naturally and be patient for your child to use it back to you. Slowly introduce new words and phrases but continue to use the ones your child has learned.



After doing particularly well, or completing a set goal, why not treat your child. It could be something simple like going out for an ice cream, or make a surprise picnic and eat together in a local park.



The Element of Surprise.


Add an element of surprise to things, surprises have been proven to increase motivation. Play hide and seek and count in the 2nd language, or vary hide and seek and take turns to hide an object, such as a ball, use the 2nd language word for it as you hunt.  For very young children, Peekaboo is lots of fun.



Make It Fun.

Always make it fun! How about a field trip to a park, a zoo or an aquarium? Talk about what you see in the 2nd language. Name the animals at the zoo or aquarium. Or have fun with a board game like snakes and ladders or bingo.

They will pick up word very quickly when they are focused on the fun of the game.



Short and Simple.


Kids lose interest quickly if the task is too difficult so only give them a few words at a time to learn. They will learn much more when they are interested and they will gain confidence. Confidence is paramount, give them the satisfaction of feeling, “I can do it’. Tell them often, ‘you can do it’.


Monitor Progress.

Test your child’s knowledge frequently. Instead of a written test you can use worksheets or just ask simple questions like show me your “はな”(nose) or give me the ”ボール.”  A game like Simon says is good for reviewing body parts and simple actions.


Set Clear Goals

Have clear goals about your target for the end of the year. Do you want to teach a) greetings and basics b) conversational competence, c) reading and writing skill, d) native level competence, e) etc. Keep your goal in mind and always be working towards it. Take time to look back and see how far you’ve come.


Combine Digital and Traditional Materials

Applications and language DVDs are good but also use traditional hands on materials such as flashcards and picture dictionaries. Watch how your child uses the materials and where they do best and follow that lead. Kids learn in different ways so pay observe how your child learns best and enjoys what they are doing.


Use Your Connections

Ask grandparents, neighbours and relatives if its OK to have a Skype chat with them. Language aside it is good for your child to create and maintain bonds with relatives overseas. Connecting with likeminded people is important for you too. Facebook groups are a good resource for support and information, or find an online forum or chat group for exchanging ideas and working out any problems you might experience.




Let your child’s kindergarten teacher or caregiver know about your aim of raising a bilingual child. It’s important that other people in your child’s life know what you are doing and can be supportive. Teachers at kindergarten or other caregivers can make sure that your child doesn’t experience any difficulties among their friends/peers.



It is not only about the words


When individuals study foreign languages they tend to focus on expanding their vocabulary as fast as they can without paying attention to paralanguage that is “how” people say things versus “what” people say. During these days where everybody is talking about soccer/football, one can see how much variation there is when it comes to saying this simple word “goal” adopted by most other languages.


INFOGRAPHIC Most Spoken Languages on TWITTER

Our research shows that

English is the most used language on Twitter. (However, this is lower than the popularity of English on other platforms: e.g.  more than 50% of websites all around the world are in English) 

Japanese is the 2nd most popular language on Twitter despite the fact that it is the 9th most spoken in the world.

Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of online population using Twitter. 


Infographic here a (1)

Can Language DVDs teach Babies? Do Infant-Directed DVDs Work? A Closer look at Baby Vocabulary and Baby Media

The short answer is yes, simply because language DVDs make babies process audio information coupled with visual information either passively or actively. This process in turn influences the phoneme differentiation (which naturally deteriorates after 8 months of age) and increases familiarity with different sounds. When children pay attention to the material, they acquire receptive or expressive vocabulary easily as explained below. If they don’t pay attention to the program, they still can improve since studies show that even background TV does improve vocabulary (Robb et al., 2009).

Perhaps the earliest proponents of vocabulary learning from children’s programming were Rice, Huston, Truglio and Wright (1990) who found that children aged between 3-5 improved their vocabulary significantly after constantly watching Sesame Street for 2 years. Furthermore, Linebarger and Walker (2005) observed that babies aged around 30 months were able to express a higher number of words after being exposed to educational TV shows like Dragon Tales, etc. More recently, Dr. Krcmar and her colleagues(2007)  found that televised instruction can teach babies new words although it might not be as effective as live instruction.  In 2008, Carlson and Strattman reported that babies who watched vocabulary DVDs scored higher than babies in the control group. Lastly, Dr. Krcmar’s student Amy Rush had demonstrated that babies aged 4-24 months can learn new novel words from infant-directed DVDs.

There are a few studies which found insignificant effects of DVD exposure and vocabulary learning. However, most of these studies used Baby Einstein WordsWorth videos which are not necessarily produced by scientific guidelines. Additionally, these studies failed to provide a theoretical explanation why audio-visual exposure is inferior to zero exposure even though it is scientifically proven that babies are extremely sensitive to sounds in their immediate environment.

Here are  the studies cited

Carlson, T.  & Strattman, K. (2008). Do Babies Increase Vocabulary by Viewing Baby Media? Paper Presented at the Proceedings of the 4th Annual GRASP Symposium, Wichita State University.

Linebarger, D. L., & Walker, D. (2005). Infants‟ and toddlers‟ television viewing and language outcomes. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(5), 624-645

Krcmar, M., Grela, B., and K. Lin (2007). Can Toddlers Learn Vocabulary from Television? An Experimental Approach, Media Psychology 10, 41-63.

Rice, M. L., Huston, A. C., Truglio, R., & Wright, L. C. (1990).  Words from Sesame Street: Learning vocabulary while viewing. Developmental Psychology, 26, 421-428.

Robb, M., Richert, R., & Wartella, E. (2009). Just a talking book? Word learning from watching baby videos. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 27–45.

Rush, Amy (2011).Can toddlers learn novel words from educational videos? A study using repeat exposure to assess infant’s use and understanding of television. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Wake Forest University, NC.

Here’s the abstract of Amy Rush’s Thesis

“”The current study employed a mixed design to assess word learning in infants under the age of two. Four conditions were used to see if babies who watched an infant-directed DVD at least six times over two weeks, or who watched an infant-directed DVD with parental mediation at least six times over two weeks, learned more novel words from the DVD than infants in the control condition. The current study was unique in three ways. The present study used a DVD very similar to an actual Baby Einstein DVD and the study used repeat exposure to explore whether showing the same DVD to a child multiple times could increase word learning. Finally, this study sought to determine if parent mediation could enhance children’s viewing experiences. Results suggested that repeated exposure to the DVD did have a significant impact on word learning for infants aged four months to twenty-four months compared to children who had not seen the DVD. Results also showed that while the interaction between age and condition was not significant, the means were in the predicted direction and thus infants aged eighteen to twenty-four months did learn more novel words than the younger infants. Lastly, results showed that children in the treatment group with mediation did learn more novel words than children whose parents did not provide mediation of the DVD for them; however, the effect for word learning was not significant.””

Germen lessons for kids

Do children learn languages faster than adults?

At Dino Lingo we get this question quite often…

Contrary to the common belief, children cannot acquire foreign languages in shorter time span compared with older learners. This is just a myth since most people compare kids from immigrant families with their parents without keeping in mind that these children experience higher level of foreign language exposure and go through intense formal education in the second language. Despite the earlier views about younger is the better, now many academicians seem to agree that older learners outperform children in terms of verbal analytical tasks and sophisticated use of language (Collier, 1989; Bialystok & Hakuta, 1994; Bongaerts et al., 1997).

“A common assumption is that “young children pick up a second language so fast.” What is not often taken into account by the layperson is the vast difference in the level of language complexity expected for each age. Children’s second language acquisition appears superior largely because the structures and vocabulary they need for adequate communication are so much simpler than those required of adults. In addition, children at age 6 have not yet begun to complete full cognitive development in their first language. Young children can be outperformed by older subjects on similar tasks in the second language because of the latter group’s greater cognitive maturity and the knowledge or life experience that transfers from the first to the second language. This is even more clearly demonstrated in the following summary of studies focusing on acquisition of context-reduced, cognitively demanding aspects of oral and written school language.” (Excerpt from Collier, 1989)

HOWEVER, there`s a critical period of foreign language acquisition peaking around age 6 and ending by the age of 12 (Pennfield and Roberts, 1959 ; Lenneberg, 1967): children are way better than adults when it comes to pronunciation and oral performance which are attributed to muscular plasticity and cerebral plasticity that naturally diminish by aging (Scovel, 1988).

Neuromuscular Control: From the phonological perspective, the sounds produced by each speaker are heavily influenced by neuromuscular coordination in the oral region. Since young learners (especially children aged 1-6) have no established articulation patterns, uttering any sound or word is way easier for them compared with adults.

Brain Plasticity: Scovel (1988) argues that lateralization of brain functions and the loss of neural plasticity before puberty –around age 12– marks the end of first language development (except vocabulary). Although there is still an ongoing debate in this area, it is proposed that lack of plasticity in the brain hinders new language acquisition because after this period language processing capacity cannot increase, L1 and L2 would be managed in different regions of the brain and higher levels of myelination becomes an impeding factor.

Some people also propose that soft palate size during early childhood, the strength of receptive memory for new words in L1 between ages 2-9 and children`s sensitivity towards different sounds (e.g. recognizing the difference between English r, French r and Arabic r) make children better learners of foreign languages. However, so far, none of these hypotheses are scientifically tested.

Ellen Bialystok from York university explains the difference between adults and children with the shift in phonemic categorization strategies after age 5. Before the age of 5 children can establish new sound categories when they hear a new sound but later they just extend the categories they know. Bialystok (2001) also notes that adults don’t necessarily have poor cognitive skills but, aged individuals rely more on established schemes that make harder to acquire new information. The conclusion: young children are better in sound recognition and pronunciation but when it comes to learning a whole language, it is a totally different story.

Scovel, Thomas. 1988. A time to speak: a psycholinguistic inquiry into the critical period for
human speech. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Penfield, W. & Roberts, L. (1959). Speech and brain mechanisms. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Lenneberg, Eric. 1967. Biological foundations of language. New York, NY: Wiley.
Bialystock, E. & Hakuta, K. (1994) In Other Words: The Science and Psychology of Second-Language Acquisition. New York, NY: Basic Books
Bongaerts, T., Summeren, C., Planken, B., & Schils, E. (1997). Age and ultimate attainment in the pronunciation of a foreign language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 447–466.
Collier, V.P. (1989). How long? A synthesis of research on academic achievement in a second language. TESOL Quarterly, 23, 509-531.

Some Other Helpful Resources

30 + Reasons Why Learning a Second Language is Good for Children


1 A child’s brain has a higher number of synapses (compared with an adult brain) and greater plasticity. This means children naturally can learn languages better than adults.
2 A study which assessed math and language scores of 2 groups (1 group studied 30 minutes of Spanish for 1 semester and the other comparable group did not) found that the group which studied the foreign language for 1 semester had higher math and language scores at the school.
3 A study which looked at the reading scores of average intelligence children concluded that there is a close relationship between studying a foreign language and better reading scores.

4 According to the IQ test scores of 2 groups: immersion French class vs. regular class, immersion French class students had higher IQ scores (e.g. classifying dissimilar objects etc.)
5 An analysis of the Louisiana State Basic skills Tests scores of 13200 3rd and 5th graders showed that students who took foreign languages classes did better in the English test.
6 Bilingual babies are more perceptive to nonnative languages/easily discriminate different sounds
7 Bilinguals can better deal with distractions
8 Bilingual kids have better problem solving skills . Having more linguistic and cultural information enable bilinguals to look at different aspects of the problem.
9 Bilingual kids can read better than their peers.
10 Bilingual kids can understand more about any other culture
11 Bilingual kids gain flexibility in acquiring any kind of new information
12 Bilingual kids have the upper hand in a multicultural, multilingual, multi-ethnic world
13 Bilingual kids perform better in the situations that require multitasking
14 Bilingualism delays dementia and Alzheimer’s
15 Bilingualism helps kids become more creative (Bialystok, 2001): field independent thinking…
16 Bilinguals can better understand other cultures and countries
17 Bilinguals can easily interact with multinationals
18 Bilinguals can effortlessly learn a 3rd language
19 Bilinguals can have a better use of language creatively
20 Bilinguals gain competitive advantage in future jobs
21 Bilinguals have better memory when it comes to remembering language dependent words
22 One in five Americans speak another language besides English at home. Two thirds of the world’s children are brought up bilingually.
23 Only bilingual kids in immigrant families can understand the true heritage of their ancestors
24 People who know more than one language are better at handling with conflict
25 People who study languages in early age get better in creativity and divergent thinking
26 Saunders (1998) found that students in the ESFL program of a high school in Georgia, scored higher on the Math portion of the e Iowa Test Of Basic Skills test
27 Students who study a foreign language in elementary school have better communication skills, improved cognitive development and advance cultural awareness.
28 Students who study another language get higher scores in college entrance exams
29 Studying foreign languages increases SAT score. Cooper (1987) analyzed 23 metropolitan high schools in the south and found that student who studied any foreign language for at least 1 year in general had higher SAT scores.
30 more reasons here
30 more reasons here
30 more reasons here
30 more reasons here

1 Research Notes: Language Learning and the Developing Brain. (1996) Learning Languages, 1/2, 17.
2 Armstrong, P. W. and J. D. Rogers. (1997). Basic Skills Revisited: The Effects of Foreign Language Instruction on Reading, Math and Language Arts. Learning Languages, Spring, 20-31.
3 Garfinkel, A. and K. E. Tabor. (1991). Elementary School Foreign Languages and English Reading Achievement: A New View of the Relationship. Foreign Language Annals, 24/5, 375-382
4 Samuels, D. D. and R. J. Griffore (1979). The Plattsburgh French Language Immersion Program: Its Influence on Intelligence and Self-esteem. Language Learning, 29/1, 45-52.
5 Dumas, L. S. (1999). Learning a Second Language: Exposing Your Child to a New World of Words Boosts Her Brainpower, Vocabulary, and Self-Esteem. Child, February, 72, 74, 76-77.
7 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008

8 Kessler& Quinn, 1980,87, Hakuta, 1986
9 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
10 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
12 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
15 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
16 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
17 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
18 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
19 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
20 Marcos, K. M. (1998). Learning a Second Language: What Parents Need to Know. National PTA Magazine, August/September, 32-33.
21 Seven steps to raising a bilingual child. Naomi Steiner, Susan L. Hayes, Steven Parker, 2008
23 common sense 🙂
25 Marcos, K. M. (1998). Learning a Second Language: What Parents Need to Know. National PTA Magazine, August/September, 32-33.
26 Saunders, C. M. (1998). The Effect of the Study of a Foreign Language in the Elementary School on Scores on the Iowa Test Of Basic Skills and an Analysis of Student-participant Attitudes and Abilities. Unpublished dissertation, University of Georgia.
27 Marcos, K. M. (1998). Learning a Second Language: What Parents Need to Know. National PTA Magazine, August/September, 32-33.
28 College Board, 2003
29 Cooper, T. C. (1987). Foreign Language Study and SAT-Verbal Scores. The Modern Language Journal, 71/4, 381-387