Storytelling is one of the most enjoyable and effective techniques to teach languages to young children.
When you read or tell stories to children you immerse them in rich language in context, which in turn leads to higher levels of sophistication in speech and literacy. Since this is true for both the first and the second language, it makes sense to introduce children to the best possible language experience from the very moment they start learning a language!
My interest in storytelling began almost ten years ago when I attended a workshop for early childhood educators at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference.
I immediately understood the great potential that storytelling held for language learning, but I had first to deal with a great obstacle: my Spanish students would not understand anything if I presented stories the way I saw that day.
Therefore, I would have to come up with a different approach. In addition, I wanted to engage the help of the parents in my classes to continue the language learning process at home, and this meant that the stories would have to be easy and appealing enough for adults as well.
The first thing I did was to choose the type of story that I was going to use. I decided to go with traditional stories known all over the world. I grew up with these stories and so did generations of people here in the US and in other countries (most of these stories are over two hundred years old). I figured that the familiarity would be essential in creating an instant connection to the language.
Secondly, I tackled the structure of the stories. Language learners do better when they develop conversational skills alongside literacy skills—imagine how it is for a young child to be engaged in reading or writing activities when he can’t even talk to the kid sitting next to him! Therefore, I decided to shorten the narration and make it highly descriptive and include lots of action and conversations among the characters.
The stories started to look like theater scripts, except that they included some narration as well—I believe that the balance between narration and dialogue makes the stories more effective as language learning tools.
The third step I took was to personalize the stories to suit my style of teaching. After researching different versions of the stories (tons of hours spent at the local library), I removed parts that I thought were not essential or that I didn’t like (some were really spooky or inappropriate!), re-wrote other parts, and introduced lots of humor and fun twists. This made the stories less predictable and much more engaging. One of the most important elements of education is motivation, and I wanted my students to have a great time in my classes.
I’m describing this as a sequence of steps, but in reality I was trying and testing everything in my classes and changing things as I went along.
The first story that I wrote and presented during a storytelling session in my class was The Three Little Pigs (actually, the story within the story that you can read in the e-storybook available in my website).
My students had a blast with it! Can you imagine the teacher wearing a wolf snout and talking to three little pigs on a board?
This first attempt was very short though, and it was over before I could get the whole “juice” out of it. I then decided to extend the stories so that I could work on different topics. In order to do so, I begun to think in terms of scenes—each scene to be acted out and reinforced with many different activities during a longer period of time.
The stories became more theatrical, and I would act them out using wigs, masks and all sorts of props. This made the experience even more fun and engaging for my students.
These are the same stories that I offer as e-storybooks in my website and as books in Amazon.com and other stores. Which means that you can now use the stories the same way, that is, in a theatrical manner. You will be surprised at the magic that happens when you do that in your class or with your children at home!
You will then realize how powerful storytelling is for language learning.
There are many more things that I could tell you about my approach to storytelling, but I hope you find this brief introduction informative and useful.
P.S.: To subscribe to the e-storybooks, click on “Kids Learn Spanish,” “Kids Learn French,” or “Kids Learn Chinese” on the navigation bar according to your chosen language and follow the instructions to purchase through PayPal.
P.S.S.: The stories are bilingual with English, and can also be used in reverse (that is, to learn English from Chinese or the other two languages). The audio is by native professional actresses.
Ana Lomba is changing the way people think about and interact with young children learning languages. Her Parents’ Choice award-winning books, lively songs, games, stories, and mobile applications are quickly becoming favorites with teachers and parents who want to nurture young children’ inborn language abilities. Key to the success of Ana’s break-through method is a focus on the family as the ideal environment for early language learning – even her signature curriculum for language programs is built with parents in mind. Ana has taught toddler, preschool, elementary school, and college-level Spanish courses, and held leadership positions with some of the most influential language organizations in the US, including ACTFL, NNELL and FLENJ. After graduating with a law degree from Spain, her native country, Ana pursued graduate studies at Binghamton University, Princeton University, and NYU.