Stories play an important role in our lives. Throughout history, humans have used stories and storytelling to teach, entertain and connect with one another. Stories capture our attention and nurture our imagination, whisking us away to faraway lands for an adventure before returning us safely to our own lives. And whether you read books, watch Netflix, listen to music, or simply chat with a friend about their day, you are surrounded by stories on a daily basis.
Traditional fairytales were meant to entertain and educate. Apart from helping people pass the time, they taught moral lessons and offered advice that we can hear echoed to this day. But in addition to offering life lessons, stories are a wonderful way to practice a new language.
Stories are great for providing language input to your young learners. They are imbued with rich language, and when children listen to a story, they are exposed to a lot of vocabulary, phrases and grammar structures, as well as the pronunciation of the language. They don’t need to understand every word to follow along. In this way, stories are also a safe and stress-free way for children to experience the language because all they need to do is listen and try to make sense of the plot. You can support comprehension by using lots of gestures and visual cues, such as illustrations or picture cards, and you can pause during the story to check that the children have understood what is happening.
Stories also give a context to the language that the children are learning. They paint a mental image within which the language is used, and it is much easier to deduce the meaning of words and phrases when they are presented in context. Context helps children learn for example the difference between “Good morning” and “Good evening”. Stories also make it possible to practice language that is not so easy to put into context in children’s everyday life. How often are your students going to encounter a tiger or a dinosaur in their life? Probably not often. But in stories, anything is possible.
In addition to vocabulary and grammar, cultural understanding is an important part of language learning, and stories from the target culture are a great way to engage children in learning about the culture. They can show children how different life can be around the world. This in turn teaches children about empathy and tolerance – skills that are crucial in our globally connected world. Filled with emotion ranging from joy and excitement to frustration and sadness, stories give children a chance to practice talking about their feelings and expressing themselves. These, too, are important skills that children often need help practicing.
Stories activate children’s imaginations and encourage them to be creative. You can build on this by including some arts and crafts after the story activity, for example by letting the children draw their favorite scene from the story. This also gives you a chance to talk about the story with the children in a more casual setting and use the vocabulary from the story.
Stories are also a great prompt for practicing critical thinking. You can take pauses during the story to discuss with the children and ask for their thoughts. Questions like “Why is the character sad?” “What should they do to fix the situation?” and “What do you think happens next?” get the children thinking and using their imagination and deduction skills.
Stories activate many of the mechanisms that are known to enhance learning. Firstly, stories are engaging which increases our internal motivation. We don’t want to understand the story just because we want to learn the language, we want to understand it because we want to know what happens next.
Good stories also engage our emotions, and a heightened emotional state helps us remember. We are much more likely to remember a piece of information if we found it funny or surprising, for example, because it causes us to have an emotional reaction to it.
Stories are often fast paced, which helps maintain our attention. Especially young children need their interest piqued and attention grabbed frequently to keep them following along. And what better way to do that than through a story with an exciting plot to follow, quirky characters to meet and beautiful illustrations to look at?
All in all, stories are a wonderful way to support language learning, which is why stories are an important part of Moomin Language School as well. With stories, children can encounter and practice the language safely while learning many other skills. Stories help children develop rich inner lives, so they can grow up to write their own stories and (hopefully) live happily ever after. The end.
March 20th is the World Storytelling Day. This year, the theme is “lost and found”. We have a couple of activities you can use if you want to celebrate with us! Download the activities here.
Moomin Language School is a play-based early language learning program for learning organizations. Would you like to try it out for yourself? Apply for a free trial month here: