Q&A: Watching cartoons in different languages – good or bad for bilingual children?

by | Dec 11, 2014 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 1 comment

Question

I am Egyptian so I speak Arabic and my husband is Italian. We speak together in English but we don’t speak English with our son. In his daycare they use English and Arabic and a little French. My 3 year-old son is speaking both but he is much, much better at using Arabic – I think this is because I am more talkative than his father. My question is now: our boy likes to watch cartoons in many languages – German, Russian, French – is this normal? Can I allow him to watch cartoons in many languages or should I stick only to Italian and English?

Thanks, Yasmine

Answer

Dear Yasmine

Thank you for your question. It is wonderful that your son is surrounded by so many languages at a young age and is well on his way of becoming bilingual. It is natural that he knows Arabic best, as he has probably has most interaction with you. This is the important point, children learn best through interaction – by using the language in different situations and with different people. Watching cartoons is a good help when learning a language, but no replacement for chatting, singing and reading books together.

Yes, it is completely normal that your son wants to watch cartoons – in any language. Cartoons are usually made in a way that very little understanding of the language is needed, so are easy to follow regardless. You don’t mention where you live, but I presume it is not in Italy, so it may be a good idea to try to find cartoons he likes in Italian, as this would increase the time he hears the language. That said, I can’t see any harm in him watching cartoons in any language – within the time you allow him to watch cartoons over all, of course. Hearing different languages in cartoons will not confuse him, nor slow down his learning of any other language. It may give him a certain level of understanding of additional languages, though.

All the best,
Rita

Rita Rosenback

Rita Rosenback

Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Agreed. Cartoons are a great way to learn. You still want to check the level though. Many cartoons are designed for native speakers and actually have a high level of language. Depending on your child’s language level, you may want to look for more simple or more complex cartoons.

    We agree with Rita that the best is always personal communication though!

    Reply

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