5 Things to consider before using YouTube to introduce a new language to your child

Ana Calabrese
Sep 10 · 3 min read

When I was a child, I remember looking at the cover of the vinyl for the only album we had at home with children’s songs. There were not many images related with the songs on the cover, so I had to imagine the stories and characters. I also remember my mom singing with my sisters and me, and when my grandma was with us, she would even make up some movements for us to act-out some of the parts of the song. I remember pretending to wash my face or drink tea, while singing some of the traditional nursery rhymes in Colombia.

Becoming a mom brought a flood of these memories back, and I knew that music was going to be the key to teaching my mother language to my children.

Times have changed, and those same songs I used to listen to as a child are now available on YouTube in different versions and all kinds of cartoon styles.

What kid wouldn’t prefer that over just listening to the songs in the background at home or in the car? How easy is it also for us as parents to turn on the TV, the phone, or the tablet and feel that they are just watching friendly content and being exposed to a second language.

But there is something very important that is missing when we just turn on the TV or the computer and play a song for our kids. We are taking away the opportunity for them to imagine, to just listen to the music and lyrics, and, most importantly, we are taking away the memories of having a special time with us singing and dancing. I am not saying we have to do it all the time, but once we introduce the routine of watching music instead of listening and enjoying it as a family, we also take away a precious opportunity to facilitate that emotional component that enjoying time together while listening to music can add to the language learning process. If we want the minority language to stay in our children’s hearts, we need to help them have memorable experiences with us around the language.

So if you are really serious about introducing a new language to your child, please take into account the following before turning on YouTube:

1. How old is your child and how many hours do they already spend in front of a screen? Music videos on YouTube count as screen time.

2. Are the videos you are going to play high quality educational productions to really spark the learning of the new language? Do the images make sense and give a real idea of the lyrics being sung?

3. Can you play the song without the video and invite your child to dance, act-out words, or repeat complete phrases easily?

4. Is the video appropriate for your kid’s age and developmental stage?

5. What is your goal by playing the video? To add exposure to the language? To introduce new vocabulary? To entertain your child?

The chances we have to connect with our children are less every day. Listening to music is one of the activities that, when they are little, they can enjoy the most with us. Now is when we can be silly and make it playful, let’s not wait until music becomes something that they will just play in their headsets when they want to ignore us. Make learning a language the perfect excuse to enjoy music together.

Ana Calabrese

Written by

Expat mom raising bilingual-bicultural children and helping others to do it with the power of music. www.spanishplusme.com