Incidental Foreign-Language Acquisition by Children Watching Subtitled Television Programs

Abstract

Previous research on adults has demonstrated incidental foreign-language acquisition by watching subtitled television programs in a foreign language. Based on these findings and the literature about the sensitive period for language acquisition, we expected the acquisition to be larger with children. A short subtitled cartoon was presented to Dutch-speaking children (8–12 years old). We varied the channel in which the foreign and native languages were presented (sound track and subtitles); we also looked at the effects of the existing knowledge of the foreign language (due to formal teaching at school) and the linguistic similarity between the native and the foreign language (using Danish and French as foreign languages). We obtained real but limited foreign-language acquisition and in contrast to the sensitive language-acquisition hypothesis, the learning of the children was not superior to that of adults investigated in prior studies. The acquisition here does not profit from the more formal language learning at school. Contrary to the adults, the children tend to acquire more when the foreign language is in the sound track than in the subtitles.

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Correspondence to Géry d'Ydewalle.

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d'Ydewalle, G., Van de Poel, M. Incidental Foreign-Language Acquisition by Children Watching Subtitled Television Programs. J Psycholinguist Res 28, 227–244 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023202130625

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Keywords

  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Native Language
  • Formal Teaching
  • Foreign Language
  • Formal Language