Reading – The Power of Children’s Books

This blog post will discuss how to utilize children’s books to learn languages.

Reading children’s books is a crucial staple in my language learning routine. My study sessions are often centered around reading these texts, learning the vocabulary, pronunciation, and associated grammar. Children’s books give you the opportunity to absorb just about every aspect of the language that you’re learning – and sometimes the culture.

Why are children’s books so helpful?

Children’s books are powerful in their ability to teach a foreign language because they often contain all of the following:

  • A simple story line – beginning, middle, and end. This aids in capturing our natural curiosity.
  • Highly-contextualized and simple vocabulary.
  • Repetition of phrases and ideas – sometimes rhyming.
  • Useful, simple, and high-frequent past tense verbs (said, got, was, were, went, thought, saw…).
  • Supporting visuals to aid comprehension.

Where can I find children’s books? 

There are a surprising number of children’s books available online for free or cheap. I’ve provided some links  to websites that I use below:

  • Children’s Library (use the top-right drop down list where it says “show [any language] books” to find your language.
  • Children’s Books Online
  • Children’s Books Forever (books available in Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish)
  • Amazon! (search for the language you’re learning and “children’s book” and you’ll be surprised what will pop up. If you have a Kindle, you can buy them for 2 – 3 dollars usually!)

Which ones do I choose?

  • Choose short and simple
  • Lots of visuals
  • Something interesting to you. Look up the title and decide if it’s something you can read enjoyably.
  • Ideally, your book should be written by a native speaker for a native speaker (authentic resource). However, I use translations often and it’s not a big deal (some people might not agree with that). The important thing is that you’re reading, learning vocabulary and structure, and engaging the language. However, as you get more advanced, authentic resources will become more and more important.

OK, I have a children’s book. How do I learn with it?

So you’ve got your hands on a children’s book. Now what? Here’s what I do when I read a children’s book.

  1. Cold read first. I read the first page. I read it slowly, word for word, out loud in my best accent. I do not look up any words. I utilize the visuals in the story and my own prior knowledge.
  2. Re-read the first page – out loud, slowly, in your best accent. (Have fun with it!)
  3. Go back and look for what I know. Make meaning from the text and say what it’s saying in English.
  4. Look for nuances of the language – are endings changing? Is word order changing? What agreement (or lack of agreement) do we notice? Why do you think it’s happening?
  5. Guess the meaning of words – can you tell what some of them might be? Make a list on paper.
  6. Look up what you don’t know. Check your answers through translation. Google Translate works just fine for this – or an online translator. Some of you may hate me for saying that, but it works for our purposes here.
  7. Keep track of your new words/phrases on a piece of paper.
  8. Re-read the first page again – attaching meaning the new words using your new words. Act out what the story is saying as you read it out loud, visualize what is happening in your mind, say it loud and proud, and have fun!
  9. Read the second page. Repeat steps with each page.
  10. At the end, add new vocabulary to a vocabulary set on Quizlet and practice with that context in your mind. Quiz yourself the next day and see what you remember. I hope you’re as surprised as I am!

Do you see how much I take my time with it? You need to attach meaning to the story for it to be useful. Don’t rush – what’s the hurry? Enjoy it!

** A corresponding video featuring me going through this process will be posted in the near future. **

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