This article was originally published on www.speekee.co.uk in 2007
Dora the Explorer is a popular children’s series in cartoon form. You’ve probably heard of it!
Dora the Explorer recounts the adventures of a girl called Dora and her sidekick, a monkey called Boots. The cartoon’s popularity owes much to its groundbreaking use of interaction with the viewer. It has been cleverly thought out, and bases itself on sound principles: Howard Gardner’s ideas about multiple intelligences.
Dora is a Latina, and the programmes are peppered with Spanish vocabulary. We have often been asked how much Spanish children can learn by watching Dora the Explorer.
The straightforward answer is ‘some words’. Dora the Explorer is not primarily aimed at young Spanish language learners, but its occasional Spanish language content can rub off on children watching.
When asked the question: ‘How did you come up with the idea for Dora the Explorer?’, Chris Gifford, one of Dora the Explorer’s creators, said:
We wanted to create a show that teaches little kids problem-solving skills. Preschoolers are our least powerful citizens. They can’t reach the light switch; they have trouble pouring the milk on their cereal. They’re faced with obstacles throughout their day and it can get pretty discouraging. Problem-solving strategies like stopping to think, asking for help, and using what you know are modelled in every Dora show.(*)
So, it appears that problem solving, rather than Spanish language learning, was at the top of the list of priorities when the idea of Dora the Explorer was first conceived.
Naturally, the programme could neither be all in Spanish, nor include large chunks of that language, because English speaking viewers wouldn’t understand what they were watching! Instead, Dora the Explorer works on a simple level as an introduction to the Spanish language, rather than as a tool for Spanish language learning, as another of the programme’s creators, Valerie Walsh, explains:
Educators believe that introducing a second language to a child before the age of 6 or 7 is an important factor in his/her ability to achieve fluency. For many of our preschool viewers, Dora is their first encounter with a foreign language. As such, the show might teach them a little Spanish and make them curious and interested in learning more, or simply make them aware of and comfortable with foreign languages. For our Spanish-speaking preschool viewers, seeing Dora use Spanish might encourage them to take pride in being bilingual.(*)
If you watch Dora the Explorer in German or French, you’ll find those versions contain bits and pieces of English rather than Spanish. So it seems to be a question of which languages matter most. For English-speaking children, learning a few Spanish words and phrases makes sense – Spanish being such an important and fast growing language these days – whereas for German-speaking and French-speaking children, their second language priority would be English.
Dora the Explorer is a fun cartoon for children which aims to teach them how to problem solve. That it also includes a smattering of foreign language learning for children is a bonus for parents.
The link above unfortunately no longer works!