Doing some research on strategies for raising polyglot children, I stepped on this paper (not peer-reviewed) on academia.edu. Also available here.

It suggests that through television it is possible to teach children a language not spoken at home or in the every-day environment:

After just one year of age, “E”, began to communicate with her father in Venetian and in Armenian language with his mother. The evening after supper, every single day, “E” has to see a cartoon or a movie for kids in FRENCH language for about an hour. This block of french language cartoons consisted of about 2/3 weeks alternated by another block of 2/3 weeks of cartoons or movies in RUSSIAN language.

I have no experience in raising polyglot children but it seems to me that they can get to understand a new language only in an interactive way (mostly by speaking it). This that cannot be done with television. So I am a bit skeptic.

Do anyone ever heard of similar approaches? Do you think that they're reliable?

3 Answers 3


I can tell you about my experience. Around age three, my daughter began occasionally watching a cartoon where the characters would use a few Spanish words. We speak English and one other language at home, but not Spanish. She started to say things like "I want to watch Spanish [movie name]". She also discovered how to change the audio track from English to Spanish, and she would watch large parts of movies in Spanish.

She currently knows a few words, but she can't actually communicate in Spanish. We allowed her to experiment with this new language, but we also didn't push her. I don't think you can easily become fluent just by sitting in front of a TV, particularly if nobody else in your life speaks that language. The interactivity seems to be the motivation, as she is eager to speak her other non-English language with her grandma.

Somewhat related -- here is a quote from a study on adults using interactive TV:

Finally, participants indicated that contact with other people - teachers, peers and target language speakers - motivated them to learn


From my own experience, television does enhance the learning of a new language. But of course, it does have its limits, one can learn to speak and understand a language by means of television, but it might be hard to get some writing skills that way. It certainly doesn't hurt to start an interest in a new language with the TV. I've been watching movies and series in a foreign language subtitled in my native language, which helped me to associate the words and their meanings in the two languages while watching and reading the subtitles.

I'll most probably wouldn't mind to apply this technique with my child, as our goal is to have him speak more than 2 languages, so this might be one of the sources.


I'm not sure if it would be different for a child, but in my own experience learning a second language, I found that television is great as an additional resource and to use for reinforcing what I am learning. I do also need interactive conversations for the invaluable feedback that they provide. I hope this is helpful.


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