Edutainment – What’s the Deal?

Dora’s teaching your child Spanish! Or is she? So-called ‘educational TV show’ put the spotlight on learning, while giving children a cute little cartoon character to gently feed it to them. In your quest to have a bilingual child, will watching television help your little learner build foreign language skills? Sure, these programs bring a second language into your living room. But, how in-depth can they really go? Understanding the value of ‘edutainment’ and its place in second language learning experience is a must for any parent who is raising a bilingual child.


Which Shows Are Foreign Language Edutainment?

One of the most notable bilingual television characters is, of course, Dora the Explorer. The Nick Jr. screen queen, along with her animated animal friends (and Backpack too!), bring the Spanish language into your home. Even though Dora might be one of the most (of not THE most) widely recognized bilingual TV characters for kids, you’ll find a few other ones to watch out for.

Dora isn’t exactly the only Spanish-speaking kids’ cartoon. The show’s spinoff Go Diego Go! also features the language, as well as the Spanish talking tweens Maya & Miguel.

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is another Nick Jr. feature that takes a second language and makes it more accessible to young children. Unlike Dora’s Spanish speaking scripts, this show puts the spotlight on Mandarin (the title means “Hello Kai-Lan”).

Are Language Edutainment Shows Effective?

Okay, so getting in some language learning is always better than nothing – right? If you’re wondering, “Will Watching Ni Hao, Kai-Lan teach my child how to speak Chinese?” the answer is pretty much, no. So, your child will learn a few words. But, in general this is not the best way to immerse your child fully in the language and it’s not a substitute for a foreign language-learning program/class.

little-boy-reading-book_zpszgfpmzklEdutainment, as an educational/media concept, isn’t exactly new. In the late 1960s public television introduced us to a little show that just about all of us have grown up with – yes, that’s Sesame Street. From there, other networks, directors and producers took the educational television model and put it to use in their own ways. This went well beyond the A,B,C’s and 1,2,3’s, and into other subjects such as science, history and foreign languages.

Research on educational television does show that it can in fact positively affect a child’s ability to learn. In a report by PBS, the experts note that TV that encourages social and cognitive (that’s mental) growth is entirely possible, as long as the creators of the programs understand (and play to) the ways that children learn.

Between the bright cartoon colors, the interactive nature of the shows and the repetition (your child has the chance to watch the show over and over again, reinforcing the skill or words), it’s likely that your child will indeed learn something. That said, educational foreign language shows aren’t a means to an end and they shouldn’t become ‘the’ way to teach your child.

Why Watch Educational TV?

If you’re still on the fence when it comes to language edutainment, think about it this way: It’s not a class, it’s not an immersion program and it’s not a tutoring session. But, it is a simple (and probably enjoyable) way to pick up a few extra words. And bonus, it may even help you to learn something too. This allows you to repeat the word (or words) to your child regularly.

Let’s say Dora is saying the Spanish word for grandmother “abuela” (if you’ve watched the show, you’ve probably heard this something like a ten-thousand times). Your child hears the word over and over again, and starts repeating it to you. Has your child mastered Spanish? No. Did your child learn a new word that they’re likely to use regularly? Yes.

How do you feel about educational TV? Share your answer in the comments section below.

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