Mar 02

Learning Language through Movies

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

It's Friday afternoon, or a weekend day, and what to do with the children? Depending on your parenting philosophy on "screen time," consider a movie in a foreign language.

If your child is on the younger side, you can decide if the goal is to have a more "passive" movie experience, such as playing with toys while having the television on, with either an "original version" of a movie on, or a "dubbed" one. Do you want "Toy Story" in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese?

On the other hand, if your child is older and/or more proficient, then it might be a day to announce, "We are watching Peter Pan in Spanish!" Either something the children have seen (so they can follow along more confidently) or something new. Finding suitable foreign movies for children may seem daunting at times, but the rewards are great: "a-ha moments" when you see your child following along; gaining a real sense of life outside of the U.S., being exposed to different cinematic styles; learning idiosyncratic expressions; continuing on life's language journey. It's fun; it's thought-provoking.

Who is going to help you? YOU!

Look around the Internet. Talk to your librarian. Query your friends and acquaintances if any are language buffs, foreign language speakers or travelers. Any film fanatics out there? Do not be shy asking around; just caveat it with "My child is learning Mandarin Chinese and I am looking for a movie. Can you recommend one?" Aside from your librarian, consider YouTube, Netflix, Apple TV, Roku, etc.

NEXT, if it is a foreign movie, preview for visual content at minimum. THEN, you decide if it is acceptable. Perhaps it is a good idea to have a short talk before the movie starts about how movies are chosen/produced in different countries to cover yourself as All-Knowing Parent.

NYC International Children's Film Festival

If you happen to live in a major cosmopolitan area, a children's foreign film festival is a good option! This is like manna from the sky: serving up to you movies that "should" have children's themes. New York City is having its International Children's Film Festival this year from February 27th – March 22nd. Grab a friend and make it a family play date! At the time of press, it appears the movies are presented in English, however it is an excellent starting point to search for the original versions. For more info see

Sometimes, arguably, you do not have to push the "target language" all the time, but expose your child to other cultures. For example, consider the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who has made many films, such as "Spirited Away," etc. For a discussion thread on French movies, see On the right side, there is a "Best of" series of tabs; scroll down and you will find "French Films That Are Not Freaky."

Any advice on Spanish or Mandarin Chinese films for children? I plan on starting my review with the children's film festival!