Fairly early on in our parenting journey, my husband and I decided that we would be a mostly screen-free family. While technology can be an amazing learning tool, of course, in these early years, we wanted to ensure that our children’s time was filled with as much active, tactile learning as possible: read-alouds, nature walks, mud pie bonanzas, stuffed animal tea parties, great music, and lots and lots of dress-up and make-believe.
We do have one significant exception to this rule, however: Netflix Kids.
On weekday evenings, if all chores have been completed (without complaining!), my older son gets to pick one Netflix show to watch while I cook dinner—with the additional rule that he has to watch it in Spanish. Although when we first started allowing him to watch TV (at about age two or so), I was really skeptical of its educational value, I can now say that I have been amazed at how much my son’s language capabilities have grown as a result of this small amount of daily input in our family language. Even more surprising—my son’s TV watching has actually grown my own vocabulary as well! Although I have a PhD in Spanish and am a completely fluent speaker, I learned the language as an adult, so I have some gaps in my vocabulary. Now, however, thanks to my son’s favorite shows, I know how to say both “vampire squid” and “sea cucumber” in Spanish.
Used thoughtfully, I believe that Netflix Kids can be a powerful tool for your family as well. That’s especially true for young language learners, who can absorb language easily but won’t necessarily benefit from direct grammar lessons. Watching television in the target language is an easy trade-off to make that can help your family balance language learning with the many other subjects and responsibilities on your plate.
For today, then, I’d like to share my recommendations for the best shows to watch on Netflix, categorized by language and (approximate) level of difficulty. Before I do so, however, two quick practical tips: first, if you don’t know how to change the language on Netflix, here’s a link that will help you do so, no matter what device you’re using to watch. Secondly, don’t forget to use subtitles—ideally, in the target language—to increase your child's comprehension.
So with no further adieu, here are the shows, enjoyed and approved by our own family:
For Beginning Language Students:
Little Baby Bum (available in Spanish, German, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese)
Word Party (available in Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin)
For Intermediate Language Students:
Pocoyo (available in Spanish, French, and Mandarin)
Pocoyo is a series built for the preschool crowd that also happens to be at just the right level of sophistication for the intermediate language learner. It follows the adventures of Pocoyo, a four-year-old boy and his assorted animal friends, and will be particularly useful to language learners because of all of the deliberate narration that the series includes—which helps viewers recognize what’s going on and learn new vocabulary.
Octonauts (available in Spanish)
For Spanish-learning families with children interested in science, Octonauts can’t be beat, and it’s a perennial favorite here in our house. Although the story lines are a bit formulaic (think: the Octonauts save various sea creatures in distress), that kind of predictability is actually helpful for language learners, who will benefit from the repetition built into the show. I personally love the “Creature Report,” which comes at the end of the show and features a 1-2 minute scientific overview of the episode’s star animals. I love my vampire squid facts!
For Advanced Language Students:
The Magic School Bus Rides Again (available in Spanish, French, German and Mandarin)
The Magic School Bus was a staple of my childhood, so I love watching this Netflix Kids reboot of the series to follow along on the latest adventures of Ms. Frizzle and the gang. Like the first version of the show, this one is focused on science exploration, so language learners will naturally pick up vocabulary in that vein.
Puffin Rock (available in Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin)
Tied with Octonauts for “Favorite Netflix Show” in our house, Puffin Rock is a beautifully animated series that follows the life of a family of puffins and the adventures that they share with their friends. The series integrates science learning into each of its story lines, and also supports children’s emotional development by encouraging good character and good decision making. I also love the sibling dynamics between the puffins—their relationship has proven a healthy model for our own boys.
By the way, if you’re looking for even MORE recommendations of shows to watch in a foreign language, here are some other resources that you might want to consult:
- Maple Leaf Mommy has a list of 112 (!) children’s shows and movies available on Netflix in French
- Spanish Mama has a list of cartoons that are great for the preschool-aged crowd (or intermediate to advanced Spanish learners)
- At the bottom of this post by FluentU, you’ll find a few recommendations of German cartoons with English subtitles
Do you watch television in a foreign language as part of your homeschool language learning? If so, please recommend your favorite shows!