PBS has launched the web-original series Noah comprende to introduce children to Spanish and also to the process of language learning. Using animated video with embedded games, the series teaches basic Spanish vocabulary and creates a context where children hear Spanish and can begin to understand what is being said.
The premise of the series is that Noah is visiting his grandmother in a community where no one speaks English. He is trying to learn Spanish, but there are misunderstandings that lead to different adventures. Noah and his pet mouse Pequeño manage to work things out and in the process learn new Spanish words. In its basic concept Noah comprende acknowledges that learning a language is a process and that we all make mistakes. Noah is a great model as a language learner, because even when he makes mistakes he continues to try and to take risks, an attitude that is essential to learning a language.
The videos are designed to provide comprehensible input in Spanish. That is, the situation makes clear what the language means, so that children do not have to know the meaning of the Spanish words. Rather, they associate the words they hear with what is happening, deduce the meaning, and naturally learn the language.
Ideally, children associate the language with its meaning without translating into their native language. That is why the embedded games in these videos involve matching a picture to the word in Spanish. In the Juegos section, there are two games where they hear the word and then catch or pick up the object, so they do not need to be able to read to play. To date, there are videos and games that teach vocabulary for colors, vehicles, landscape and clothes. More episodes and activities will be added each month.
Noah comprende also has a game called ¿Cómo se dice? that teaches common Spanish phrases in different situations. Again, there is audio when you mouse over the phrases. You match the audio to pictures, so children do not have to be able to read to do these activities. There is also an option to print coloring pages with the pictures and phrases after you have completed the game. Right now, there are greetings and also phrases that you use in a restaurant. New situations will be added each month.
Noah comprende is an engaging introduction to Spanish. As I mentioned, the entire concept of the series is based on the fact that learning a language is a process and that we all make mistakes (even in our native languages). Noah is a wonderful model for language learners, because when he makes mistakes he is not discouraged, rather he learns from what happened.
The character of Noah is in the wonderful situation of being surrounded by a supportive, kind environment. I love that this web series models respectful, helpful interactions with language learners. I hope that children learning Spanish who watch Noah comprende will learn more than new vocabulary. I hope that they will learn to extend that same supportive attitude to the people they meet who are learning English.