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I have been brought up in a multi-lingual environment and I consider it essential to raise my children the same way. I have done so by buying English, German, Dutch and French books. My idea is that if they are surrounded by enough reading material, the learning of multiple languages will come naturally. I have no proof for this assumption and it is my gut feeling. We now have some really nice german children books bought on the German amazon, although we both don't speak german. Now that they start watching tv, I was looking for children shows on Youtube. It appeared to be more difficult then with books. There is of course teletubbies or bumba on youtube. Since there are people from multiple cultural backgrouds here, I was thinking of posing the question here to suggest nice children episodes here.

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Just to add a little to your gut feeling, my daughter watches Dora the Explorer regularly and knows how to say quite a few things in Spanish only from watching the show. –  Jason Mar 30 '11 at 12:06
    
@Jason, Saying a few words, naming colors and counting in multiple languages is not nearly the same thing as learning to actually communicate in the language. This Ted Talk may be useful and relevant to the question at hand and discusses sound distinguishment skills in babies. I see the value in having multilingual materials around as being a way to just introduce and maintain the idea that there are Lots of ways to communicate, think about, and understand the world around us. –  balanced mama Feb 15 at 19:21
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5 Answers

I'm sorry but I don't think that just buying foreign books on Amazon is going to help a lot. It's just as difficult for a kid to simply pick up book in a foreign language and make sense of it as it is for an adult. As the parent, how are you going to support that learning when you yourself don't speak that language?

The same goes for other medias like YouTube or DVDs, though perhaps to a lesser degree. I believe that material like comics such as Donald Duck, or tv shows such as Sesame Street and Muppet Show, would be your best choice because these things are very visual and therefore work well without understanding the language.

But studies suggest (see references below) that children don't learn well on their own from a screen. What's lacking is the interaction and the actual presence of a real human -- and for language learning, it must be a native speaker. I imagine that when the effect of live human interaction is so profound compared to video, then books must really suck.

What does work for language learning is real-world interaction -- the summer is coming, so plan a camping vacation in your neighboring countries; that will provide lots of opportunity to play with other kids that speak a different language. Or find some kind of regular multinational community gathering in your neighborhood.

References:
This language researcher provides evidence that watching video has limited learning effect and that effective learning requires live humans (as opposed to audio or video recordings): video presentation, article.

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I completely agree with you about the interaction. Living in a small european country, we have 4 language just within 2 hours driving range. I don't know if camping is a good solution, because nationals tend to cluster on campings, but in general holidays are nice for this matter. Regarding the books I have to disagree. My daughters favorite book is a german one (amazon.de/blaue-Stuhl-Claude-Boujon/dp/3551516626). It is actually a french book being translated, but never the less we believe that it provides just an addition to learning foreign language –  user35 Mar 30 '11 at 12:49
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@Andra: But why does she like it? It's probably not because she can read the German. My own children didn't learn language in a vacuum -- my wife and I were there to guide them. I'm not sure that children can gain fluency in a language without a real human instructor. They might be able to pick up words and string them together, but who's going to guide them in structuring sentences, word forms, subject/object distinctions, verb tenses and conjugation, etc.? Who's going to correct them when they make mistakes? (e.g. We say "many things", not "much things") –  afrazier Mar 30 '11 at 12:56
    
Why are you so hostile against exposing children to many languages. I completely agree with you that a child will not learn a language just by giving them foreign books. I am just convinced it might help a bit in the long run. Even if it is only because adults have nostalgia towards their childhood memories. –  user35 Mar 30 '11 at 13:15
    
@Andra, I'm not opposed at all to the idea of learning languages, my apologies if it comes across that way. On the contrary; I learned my fourth language when I was ten. My only objection is what @afrazier worded very precisely above. "Reading books" is not "learning a language", it takes much more than that, and it takes guidance and interaction that I don't think you can provide in those languages, based on what you describe in the question. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 30 '11 at 14:06
    
I'd agree, my sons do well with Mandarin because they watch Mandarin TV shows, read books and Mom SPEAKS to them in Mandarin. My 15 month old understands both English and Mandarin when asked questions but is not speaking yet, for him unless there was interaction I would not imagine him getting much use out of just hearing phrases repeated. –  MichaelF Jul 27 '11 at 17:08
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I believe Dora the Explorer speaks Spanish as well as English in most of the episodes, repeating each thing she says in both languages. I don't know about my 4-year-old, but it has certainly taught me a phrase or two!

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The BBC's CBeebies for pre-school kids currently runs a series called 'The Lingo Show', which aims to give kids an introduction to different languages. It's fairly well supported online.

There is also Same Smile which "explores the UK celebrating diversity of children's lives".

Last but not least, is our current household favourite, Rastamouse!

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There's also Muzzy, for which I saw ads constantly as a child. It's a Beeb product, as well. –  Aarthi Jul 29 '11 at 17:49
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My son loves Pocoyo, and you can find the episodes on youtube in multiple languages.

Also, I don't know if you have BabyTv where you live, but "manny a la obra" is about a boy that fixes stuff with talking tools and alternates between talking in English and Spanish in every episode.

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If you are just looking for exposure Dora and Diego are good for incorporating Spanish in the shows, while Ni Hao Kai Lan does Chinese. Although I wouldn't expect these to be useful for more than gaining a few words in another language.

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