TV as a Tool to Raise Multilingual Children

Back when I was working for a group of charter schools and was up-to-date with research about the negative effects of TV viewing for young children, I swore I wasn’t going to put my baby (not even my preschooler) in front of the TV longer than half an hour every day.

Then, when I got pregnant with my second child and was too tired to entertain his older sister, Sesame Street and Hi5 helped me to keep her happy as I had some time to recharge batteries. After the birth of my son and all the changes that went on, I used TV viewing as a distraction for my then toddler daughter. I felt really guilty for using the TV as a sitter while I nursed the baby or made dinner. I thought I was the worse mom in the world and that I was ruining my children or at the very least, depriving them from precious active time.

But then, I started noticing that my daughter was learning many things from her shows and movies. Her vocabulary was increasing every day, she started recognizing colors and shapes better, she was even better at recognizing emotions. I knew this because I was watching all those shows with her so I knew exactly where the new skills were acquired.

I have to add that I was very intentional selecting movies and TV shows in Spanish with the idea of helping with language acquisition; after all, I learned a great amount of English vocabulary from TV while learning the language. I just didn’t expect that by watching the same shows (like Sesame Street) sometimes in English and others in Spanish, I was helping my children recognize language differences and increase their skills in both of them.

Now that my daughter is three years old and can communicate clearly, I can really say that watching TV shows in both English and Spanish has been a great tool for me to help my bilingual child to recognize differences in sentence structures and even cultural nuances. She now is able to recognize the languages as two separate ones and is able to determine whether a conversation is going on in English or Spanish. She’s also pleasantly surprised when we had been watching a movie in Spanish for a while and then play it in English (it is as if it was a brand new movie for her). She loves recognizing both languages and is quick to point out which one is being spoken.

So if you ask me, despite all the research against TV viewing, I will still recommend it. Of course, I’m talking about watching the TV with your children, selecting age-appropriate shows and being an active participant by asking your children questions about the plot and practicing the new vocabulary.

Unluckily, there aren’t any TV shows or movies in Spanish on cable television or sites like Netflix but you can buy almost any TV show in Spanish on the Internet. I also only buy movies that come available in English and Spanish. It can be hard and more expensive to add bilingual titles to the family’s DVD library, so make sure to visit the public library -you’ll be amazed of all the titles they have available in Spanish (and many other languages). In my case, I also ask anyone who comes to visit from Mexico to bring DVDs, CDs and books in Spanish for us.Some of our favorite shows to watch in Spanish are:

  • Hi5
  • Plaza Sesamo (the Mexican version of Sesame Street)
  • Baby Einstein DVDs
  • Disney movies

What are the shows/types of movies your children watch in other languages?



One thought on “TV as a Tool to Raise Multilingual Children

  1. Thanks for the suggestions! I have a few books that I read to Norah in Spanish but where to find tv shoes and movies is helpful! Que lastima no vivimos en la east coast!! Hay muchisimas opciones alla.

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