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Reading with Children


How to use TV to develop foreign language vocabulary

By Janet Castrejón, MA

Most of us know that reading with your child can expose them to new vocabulary and develop language skills. Television, when used appropriately, can also be a tool for building vocabulary as well as exposing children to native language models. What sorts of programs should you select and what can you do while watching them to help your child get the most language development out of television time?

When using television with your child, keep in mind the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations of no television for children under the age of two and no more than two hours a day for children over the age of two. The Academy also stresses selecting quality television programs. For more information see

To use your child's television time most effectively to build foreign language skills. Select quality programs from DVDs or recorded from foreign language stations. Ideally they should be educational programs designed for children. For example, Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Street in Spanish) has several DVDs. To find DVDs in your target language, click on the language in the red horzontal menu at the top of this page and then click on DVDs. Some DVDs even allow you to select the language that you want to view the program or movie in.


To truly get the most out of the television viewing time, you should watch with them to engage them in the program and draw attention to new vocabulary. Otherwise they may just watch like zombies and get very little out of it. While watching TV with your child, periodically ask questions like, "What do you think is going to happen next?" You could even check for understanding by playing dumb and asking them to explain portions that you claim to have missed. Call attention to new vocabulary that you hear in the program by asking questions or making statements that call attention to the new word. For example, "Oh. Look. It's a _____." or "What do you think he's going to do with the ______?" The tricky part is trying to talk enough so that you engage the child and call attention to new vocabulary without interrupting too much and being annoying. You'll have to find that balance. At the very least you could take advantage of commercial time to talk to your child about the program.


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