Learning a Foreign Language by Reading a Youth Album

Teachers in pre-school and primary school and wishing to familiarize students with the English language find essential to proceed through activities adapted to their students’ young age. Indeed, the playful aspect of oral activities is essential in order to be remembered by students. In addition, with the 5-7 years old we are obliged to use the spoken word and not the written word for the discovery or even the learning of a new language. That is why, it seemed to us wise to introduce the English language to our students using the youth album.

Teaching English through children’s stories seems to us to be more motivating and effective in order to enter into learning and give it meaning. First, we will discuss the value of using children’s albums; then we will see that the albums allow the development of transversal skills necessary for the general learning. Students, especially in pre-school, have a lot of fun reading albums.

Children love stories and they are familiar to them. This is why it is more interesting to use real English children’s albums rather than „pretext” stories that can be found in modern foreign language textbooks. In addition, the English language is presented in a context: “to understand a story in a foreign language, children must feel concerned and be able to relate to certain aspects of their own experience such as the region where they live”. (Brewster). It also helps to work the imagination and increase the involvement of the child who then identifies with the characters. In addition, albums are an effective way to develop comprehension strategies (hypotheses about the rest of the story, global understanding, search for clues using repetitive structures, for example).

The use of children’s books allows a positive attitude towards linguistic and cultural learning because it avoids presenting the language as a catalog of words to be learned. Still according to Brewster et al., authentic children’s literature is therefore an ideal medium for introducing a foreign language, as it serves as a springboard for a wide variety of learning and activities. Further development will then focus on the methodology that can be used for learning a language through children’s books and recommendations in terms of conduct in class. Since 1840, many methodologies have followed one another in the context of learning foreign languages. However, we can focus on two predominant contemporary methodologies: the communicative approach and the action perspective.

The challenge of the communicative approach is to position the learner at the center, he must be an actor and author of knowledge. The action perspective aims to make students more apt to act in authentic situations. Since 2001, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) strongly recommends using the action perspective in order to place the learner as a social actor. For him, it will be a question of carrying out concrete tasks, mainly creating and acting. Each task has a goal and targets a skill. The action-oriented approach makes it possible both to create a social context and to carry out learning in a fun way. Thus, the child sees in it a purpose and a motivation. Which helps with memorization. For example, the activity of a cooking recipe arouses a need: to find the vocabulary necessary to make the recipe, and therefore to carry out a concrete task (making cookies). On the other hand, group work promotes interactions so that the foreign language „comes alive”. In addition, working in pairs places greater demands on the students. Approaching a language through children’s books is an additional motivation since students want to understand history and make it their own. In addition, for students to enter learning they need a context, without it there is no interest for them, and they could quickly lose interest in the goal. “Although children are used to listening to stories in their mother tongue, understanding a story in a foreign language is difficult.” (Brewster).

In the context, illustrations have a very important place in the learning of the language through the youth album because they facilitate understanding. Indeed, a student who would not have understood the story read, especially in kindergarten, can refer to the illustrations that are then necessary. In addition, reading history alone is not sufficient for comprehension, which is why it should be dramatized, especially with the little ones who have no knowledge of English. It is therefore not a question of reading the story to the pupils as we would introduce them to an album in Romanian, but rather of engaging them in understanding through imitations, mimes, illustrations, voice games. It is about giving them all the keys to understanding history even if they lack the vocabulary. This allows them to face obstacles encountered on a daily basis: discussing with a person who does not speak our language and that we do not understand requires us to go through sign language in order to communicate. Moreover, the use of children’s albums is not limited to sequences which focus on their understanding but it can serve as support during less formal moments: complete a manual, to end a sequence, free reading, cultural discovery, etc. Albums, for example, allow the teacher to review or introduce vocabulary in a more motivating way. However, while in elementary the album allows students to learn vocabulary and structure, in kindergarten the work will focus on vocabulary alone. In their Guide to Early English,Brewster sates that „listening to stories develops children’s listening and concentration skills”.Indeed, these skills are essential in order to promote understanding of a story. It seemed essential to us to be able to capture the attention of children but also to motivate them to enter learning a living foreign language since the vocabulary, especially in kindergarten, is (almost) unknown to them. If students are to understand, they must listen, and children’s books facilitate this skill. They are therefore motivated because they do not understand and this challenge makes you want to be overcome. These listening and concentration skills are in part developed thanks to visual cues (images, illustrations), which they already know about the functioning of the language and their general knowledge. This is why they are able to develop comprehension strategies without the help of the teacher. These strategies help to understand the general meaning of the story.

As we mentioned above, starting an album makes kids want to understand it. Learning is therefore a challenge to be overcome. Albums make it possible, through self-motivation, to engage in the task and therefore learn and remember more easily. Children love stories and despite repetition, they still enjoy hearing well-known stories. In kindergarten, students regularly ask for albums they already know because children gradually recall every detail and gradually learn to predict what will happen in the rest of the story. Brewster et al further point out that “repetition encourages participation in the story and therefore provides an invisible framework in an understandable context. Following the meaning of a text and planning what will follow are essential skills for learning a language. ” In addition, choosing an album in which the vocabulary and structures are repeated helps anchor the acquisition and reinforcement of grammatical structures and lexicon. As teachers, we participate in the construction of the future citizen within the framework of the school and the classroom.

There is also a question of confronting the pupils with the principles of individual and collective responsibility by making them autonomous and capable of cooperating with their classmates in order to get involved in the life and class. The discovery of a youth album in the classroom allows you to develop the skill of living together and thereby tackle the themes of moral and civic education. The curricula determine that „this teaching aims to make people understand why and how rules are made, to acquire meaning, to know the law in and out of school. […] The student acquires the ability to express a personal point of view, to express his feelings and opinions, to access critical reflection, to formulate and justify judgments „. Indeed, when handling the youth album, the students collectively share a moment of listening and discovery in which different emotions are mingled (joy, sadness, excitement, suspense, etc.). This moment is then experienced as a shared social experience that helps children gain self-confidence and promotes their emotional and social development. In addition, the connections made between fantasy, imagination and the real world provide a way to better understand their day-to-day life and to draw parallels between what they experience and the stories of the characters they are experiencing. they study. This allows them to learn about and question the current world in order to „promote the development of an ability to live together in an indivisible, secular, democratic society”. In addition, the albums remain a link between school and home for the students, which reassures them and keeps an emotional connection. The motivation and involvement of the students are then put forward. As we said, when reading albums, children share emotional moments that are important for their cognitive development. But the emotional dimension is not the only one involved in this learning. The discovery of modern foreign languages is an excellent way of opening up to the cultural dimension of different countries but also of France thanks to the comparisons that can be made.

Going through the albums makes students want to discover the world around them, to discover different cultures, languages and ways of life. Asking about other cultures also allows us to question our own everyday life. It is then a matter of having a reflection that allows you to step back on your life and make comparisons. Kindergarten students are very interested and despite their lively thinking, the naivety of some thoughts can be corrected by teacher support. This is why albums are a good starting point for learning about other cultures: the earlier we start, the more students are open to the world. The programs specify that the goal of starting an awakening linguistic variety is to give learning a taste so that students want to learn languages other than their mother tongue. The albums themselves are a reflection of the culture of the authors. They allow you to soak up the Anglo-Saxon culture and glimpse aspects of everyday English life. Moreover, as we said above, the imbibing of a foreign culture provokes confrontations among the students, thus developing openness and tolerance.

Therfore, we consider that the Foreign Youth Album provides access to a contextual approach to the English language.  They are an opportunity to soak up rhythm, musicality, English sentence construction and review familiar vocabulary and structures in a cohesive and authentic whole.


prof. Elena-Monica Munteanu

Colegiul Național Pedagogic Ștefan cel Mare, Bacău (Bacău) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/elena.munteanu1

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