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Can fairytales help you to learn a language?
A brief history of fairytales
We all know at least a few classic fairytales – Cinderella, Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, perhaps. The particulars of these stories often vary from culture to culture, or even from family to family. This is typical of fairytales, which were historically told and retold for generations before they were ever written down. Even today, fairytales are constantly being retold by authors and filmmakers in new ways.
Fairytales have changed drastically over hundreds of years. Early fairytales were typically violent stories with sad endings, intended more for adults than young children. Now, fairytales have taken on a different form that makes them an integral part of children’s literature. Graphic violence is usually omitted, and the stories end happily, with wickedness punished and good behavior rewarded. Common elements of modern fairytales include magic, enchanted settings, clearly defined “goodies” and “baddies”, and a moral or lesson to be learned.
It’s commonplace for fairytales to be used in teaching small children to read. The storylines are easy to follow, while the fantastical elements can spark children’s curiosity, keeping them engaged in the task at hand. But is this all fairytales can be used for? Can they help older children and adults to learn a new language?
They certainly have great potential to do so. Language lessons usually focus on the development of four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening – and fairytales can be used to improve all of these. The stories can be made as complex or as simple as needed, depending on the student’s language level.
Take a look at our video about fairytales
Fairytales are fun and interesting, but short in length, making them a good reading comprehension text. They are rich in terms of vocabulary, but structurally simple and easy to follow. They also contain good examples of grammar structures and syntax. Students may find it easier to memorize grammar rules from fairytales, as they’re used in a novel context.
Improving your reading skills naturally improves your writing. The more words and grammar structure you pick up, the more advanced pieces you can write. Writing your own fairytale in a foreign language could be a great exercise to test your writing skills. The structure of a fairytale is simple, the characters can be obviously “good” or “bad”, and it doesn’t need to be long.
Speaking and listening
As fairytales were originally told orally, they can be an excellent way of improving both your speaking and listening skills. Their poetic rhythm and descriptive language makes them both pleasant to listen to, and easy to follow. The intonation of the narrator’s voice is often a good indication of what might be happening in the story, even if you don’t understand all of the vocabulary.
Reading fairytales aloud is a good way to improve your language pronunciation, as they are designed to be spoken and heard by others. They may also improve students’ speaking skills by providing an interesting and novel topic for class discussion, which could encourage shyer or more creative students to speak up. For example, you could try to describe your favorite fairytale to your classmate in your own words, using your non-native language, and see if they can guess the title.
Fairytales might not be a part of your current language curriculum, but there’s definitely an argument to say they should be. In the meantime, why not try reading fairytales at home? Or better yet, write your own. We’re sure you’ll see some improvements in your language skills.