The Rhythm of Foreign Language Read-alouds

Did you know there’s a word to describe the musicality of language – the rhythm, pitch and intonation of the spoken word?

Prosody. Who knew?
(OK, maybe the linguistics out there!)

The more I thought about the word, the clearer it became how important prosody is to reading foreign language books to your kids.

Every language has its own rhythm, and an awareness of the target language’s prosody during read-aloud helps minimize the second-language accent. As a storyteller, I am hyper-aware that the way I present shapes how kids will internalize the language I am introducing. As a native English speaker who has studied French and Spanish, but do not use them daily, I follow three simple steps when I integrating new books into my story time.

1. Be accurate
Tap your circle of native speakers and have them read the story, paying special attention to rhythm, syllable emphasis and speed. Typically, children’s books are read aloud at a slower pace, but that pace is relative for each language.

2. Be expressive
If you’re bored, your listeners are bored. So have fun! Placing too much emphasis on “reading” makes it difficult to convey the story – and nothing derails a story time faster than applying a “See Dick Run” style to a narrative-rich text.

3. Practice. Practice. Practice.
The addition of different character voices, dramatic pauses and interactive questions is what distinguishes read-alouds from self-guided reading – and is much easier in one’s native language. Infusing this performance element into second-language books requires additional preparation, but is worth the extra time when you hear your kiddos repeating the book to themselves – funny voices and all.

Words have music, no matter what language is spoken. So ponder the prosody of your next second-language book.

Your listeners will be singing your praises.


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