Multilingualism and education

The world’s languages at the click of a mouse

There are special web sites that offer playful and effective ways for kids to get involved with foreign languages. Photo: Candice Popik © iStockphotoThere are special web sites that offer playful and effective ways for kids to get involved with foreign languages. Photo: Candice Popik © iStockphotoWhere is the easiest place to find children’s songs from Bangladesh or Bolivia? How do you get kids excited about learning English or French words? On the Internet of course!

When Tina Jack moved with her family to the United States in 2003, it was clear to her that her children not only needed to learn English, but that they should have the opportunity to continue learning German as well as have contact with other languages like Italian and French. But in California it was difficult to find native speakers of foreign languages – even finding learning materials was a challenge. As an educator, Tina fortunately had the wherewithal and ambition to develop her own materials for her kids and then publish them on Chillola.com for other parents and teachers to use. Eight years on, Tina and her children are now much better equipped to take advantage of the online world of foreign languages. In addition to Chillola.com, a number of other sites have popped up including Kidsville.de or Blinde-Kuh.de where children can click around and explore the basics.

Big or small, for fun or in earnest, in English or Turkish

Theres is a number of sites for children on the internet. Photo: Brad Killer © iStockphotoFigures, colors, shapes, animals, vegetables…at Chillola.com children can find colorful pictures and drawings of a wide variety of subjects. By clicking the images they can read and hear the corresponding German, English, Spanish, French or Italian word. In order to provide the correct accent, native speakers were used to create the audio files. The digital dictionary at Kidsville.de functions in a similar way. While Chillola.com focuses on children of Kindergarten or pre-school age, Kidsville.de users already need to have reading skills. They are shown not just individual words but also everyday greetings or useful phrases – and even the odd comical expletive. Anyone looking for more exotic languages like Hebrew, Vietnamese or Afrikaans will be well served at Blinde-Kuh.de, which has translations of words in 57 languages but no audio files to accompany them. MamaLisa.com has children’s songs from all over the world (some with and some without audio files).

Learn and play

The childrens world on the internet: Figures, colors, shapes, animals, vegetables.  Photo: Liv Friis Larsen © iStockphotoIn addition to the digital dictionaries and the collection of songs on MamaLisa.com, our little foreign-language enthusiasts will also find loads of options for practicing online. Those who have already mastered their first English or French words can then use them on Blinde-Kuh.de, for example, in a memory game, or on Langenscheidt.de in a suitcase packing game. Meanwhile, the British Council children’s web site offers special listening comprehension exercises, short stories, tongue twisters, video news from native English-speaking children, and plenty of interactive games to help children who already have advanced skills. Single-language children’s sites are also great for advanced learners. For young students learning German, for example, the WDR “site with the elephant” and the news site Kinderkurier.de provide loads of challenges.

Discovering language online – fun and no need for inhibitions

Especially smaller children are dependent on the support of their parents.  Photo: Mark Ahn © iStockphotoUntil now, it seems the most comprehensive and didactically well-organized offerings online are only available in English or French. Still, in order to satisfy the first pangs of curiosity for foreign languages or refresh vocabulary using playful exercises, the web sites mentioned here offer a relatively diverse array of free and publicly available options that are being constantly improved.

Of course, smaller children are dependent on the support of their parents in order to enjoy the benefits of online language learning tools. Tina Jack not only recommends that parents agree to and implement a time limit with their kids, but they should also help them when visiting a site for the first time. In addition to her own children’s positive experiences, letters from satisfied parents have shown that other kids have also enjoyed visiting her site. When the grandparents of her four-year-old son ask a question in German on the telephone, he is a bit shy, but when playing a game on a web site he really blossoms. “It’s fun to watch him. He clicks on everything and then repeats the words.” And that reinforces what many media educators say about the subject. They are convinced, namely, that children can not only have a great time online, but it also awakens curiosity for foreign languages and builds self-confidence.

Janna Degener
works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
February 2011

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