Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Can TV teach your child a second language?

I met 8-year old Dalia at a birthday party that my daughter was attending. Dalia was doing handsprings on the front lawn and when I caught a glimpse of her tumbling, I said my 4-year old daughter “Look at what that girl is doing! Would you like to try gymnastics one day? Doesn’t it look like fun?” (The alpha mom in me never takes a break…).

“I can do other stuff, too!” Dalia said, when she overheard me.

Now, this party was in an Italian home for a girl in my daughter’s French kindergarten, so I was a little surprised to hear Dalia speak to me in English. I knew that her family had just moved here from Egypt but I also knew that in Egypt, she had attended the French school, so how was it that she spoke almost fluent English?

After talking to Dalia about gymnastics, I asked, “And tell me, where did you learn English, Dalia? You speak it so well, just like an American.”

“In Egypt!”, she replied, as if this was obvious. I looked at her quizzically.

“But in Egypt, people speak Arabic,” I replied, scratching my head.

“Yeah, but whenever we watched TV or DVDs, it was in English.”

That would explain why Dalia not only spoke with an almost perfect American accent, but seemed to have all the current expressions down pat. But I was still incredulous.

“You’re telling me that you learned English just from watching TV and that’s it??”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” she replied, with a shrug.

Now, Dalia’s parents are diplomats, so that probably is not “pretty much it”. She has likely been in many social gatherings where she has heard English being spoken (this birthday party being just one example). And although her mom speaks to her exclusively in Arabic, Dalia has probably heard her mother speaking English (albeit with a slight Arabic accent) to other diplomats and expats, in Egypt and here in Rome.

Nevertheless, it sounds like television has played a big role in transmitting language comprehension and (surprise!) even speaking ability to Dalia.

I still don’t advocate letting children watch unlimited television, but Dalia’s case just goes to show, if they’re going to watch it, why not get them to watch in another language?


Destination Infinity said...

Interesting, to know about the usefulness of the TV to speak a different language. The TV, could also be used to increase the literacy levels in the masses who know to speak the language but not read/ write. It is called SLS - Same Language Subtitling. If the TV is running an Italian show, the subtitles need to be put in Italian. Thats all this technique needs. You could read about this in an earlier post of mine:

Destination Infinity.

Selena said...

Those children in countries that use SLS (such as The Netherlands) -are better in languages, above all in English. Not using subtitles for fear that the native language will be 'lost', is utter rubbish and a facile excuse for 'protectionism' of language. In the end, it is the future generation that suffers. French children lag behind in internet literacy and use. As proof that subtitling and foreign language influence does not get in the way of native language take the following statistic. Over 90% of the internet in FRENCH has been created, set up, and managed by those in ... Quebec, (where every day the native French-speaking inhabitants are inundated with English language media, goods, services etc.) Not only have they kept their language, they have been able to keep up with internet evolution which is to this day predominantly in English. The irony of this is Quebec put the French language on the internet map.

Kataroma said...

I agree with Selena. My husband is Dutch and whenever we go there I'm amazed at the ability of the average person in the street (bus drivers, shop assistants etc.) as well as h's young relatives to speak English with a good accent. And how to they learn it? From the TV - which is predominantly in English with Dutch subtitles.

In Holland kids start learning English at school at age 11/12 whereas in Italy they often start as young as 6. But speak to a Dutch 14 year old in English and compare that to speaking to an Italian 14 year old in English (most Italian kids can't even have basic conversations in English at that age...)

I also think the Dutch education system is very good and the language teaching is very practical. But the TV seems to be the main thing.

Scintilla @ Bell'Avventura said...

My son coming from an Italian /English speaking family learn't German solely from Cartoons. He even translates for me as I can't understand a word. He has learn't French from the playground and television and is studying it as a second language (grade 3) but is already fluent. that's four languages up his sleeve and he is only eight!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.