At Unite for Literacy, we provide free narrated picture books online to children around the world. Aimed at children birth through about age eight (and their cuddling parents), our books are free, via mobile networks and the Internet. Wondrously Infinite Global Library
The narrations of our books include 15 different languages, to date. Parents and their children can click or tap on a little speaker symbol and listen to a reading of the story in English, and hear renditions in Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and ten others. This makes our books a valuable resource for those new to literacy and books and most particularly for those learning English.
However, most of our children are fluent in English. What do they learn from the narrations? I mean they can certainly hear their books read aloud, as a boost to learning to read. That IS our central mission of course. But as a bonus, as it turns out, children really enjoy listening to the books in the other languages.
Let’s keep in mind that very young children, especially preschool aged children, are amazing language magnets. The research indicates that they can learn two languages as fast as most of us learned one. In fact, research indicates that learning two languages at the same time improves their mastery of both.
Kids might not be able to articulate the WHY? of this, but just about all kids seem to enjoy hearing* the languages of the world. Children love to mimic and pretend, so our narrations open the door for lots of delightful language play and learning.
Small children also just love to look at the pictures. In the time before they figure out that the text is there to cue their parents / older siblings about what to say, they don’t look at the words much. Eventually, after they figure out the role of text, they’ll begin to start the process of learning to map the language they speak so effortlessly to the squiggles on the page across from the image. “Me do it!”
“Play it again” … or for babies, perhaps “Again!” is a common response to hearing someone in the mobile device say what mommy just said.
“Again” is a powerful learning tool for children. Each time a narration is played for a page, they are gaining additional grasp on the nature of books and the nature of those squiggles on the page.
Next thing we know, the child who is revisiting a favorite book is repeating what daddy said or saying it right along with him. Then, having memorized the book, the child starts “reading” the book by herself! With each reading (and rereading) children move closer to “getting” books and to understanding the role of text in carrying the language from the author.
All this to say, that it’s never too early to read to/with children as whatever their age there is something to learn, especially if we consider reading not just about the text.
The words are central in our focus as adults wanting children to become literate and to accrue all of the benefits of being readers. But our books offer a large range of other potential benefits that can be collected through children just playing around in the library.
So come on in! Invite the kids to have fun with our books in whatever way they like. You, too of course!!*They want to see the languages too of course. That is on the drawing board right now.