Can you learn a foreign language by watching cartoons?

LEPETUNY (Babblers or «Лепетуни») — free Ukrainian language short cartoon series with pedagogical value

Can you really learn another language by watching cartoons? Yes, there is some pedagogical value (with the right cartoons) when raising children bilingual, but the short answer is no — cartoons alone won’t cut it.

Here’s the argument. In our experience, we found cartoons as positive teaching aids when used as:

  1. Creative breaks for parents and kids (need to punctuate grammar and math sessions somehow)
  2. Introduction of new vocabulary and exposure to different voices of the target language (for example the Nick Jr. show Bubble Guppies structures each episode on a specific subject, and luckily it has been translated into multiple languages such as German, Polish, Spanish, & Ukrainian)
  3. Reinforcement of previously learned material (read a book about a Unicorn in the morning, and later watched Twilight Sparkle*) 

*attention grandparents: this is a main character of the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic cartoon

Simply putting the kids in front of a TV to have them watch [insert your language] cartoons will not give them mastery without additional stimuli. Watching is passive so at most you are looking at raising a child that is fluent in English and perhaps understands some Spanish for example. Absent active teaching or interaction in the target language, the child will probably not be able to speak Spanish and certainly not be able to write Spanish. This is especially so if the environment is English-speaking and the only source of Spanish is occasionally on TV.

So, to review, use cartoons as a tool in your bilingual education approach, but do not place all your eggs in that basket. Recognize this tool’s limits and strengths.

We’d love to hear your experience with cartoons. Comment below or contact us. Thanks for reading and subscribe to our mailing list.

Next post: what does scholarly literature say on impact of cartoons?


Published by Smallest Scholars

Smallest Scholars is an online resource and independent publisher that provides materials and information for those raising (and supporting) multilingual children. We offer original publications as well as useful information about other publishing and media outlets that provide quality Ukrainian language products.

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