Free access to multilingual digital books: a tool to increase book reading?

The objective of the study was to examine how providing access to multilingual digital picture books affected the reading habits and language development of children from bilingual families.

Young children need a balanced media diet of stories, not just including cartoons (Wiederhold, 2019). Picture books, in particular, offer an ideal combination of visuals, sounds, and ample time for children to process and reflect on the narrative (Horowitz-Kraus and Hutton, 2017; Suggate et al., 2021). Exposure to picture books allows children to gain insight into the emotions and actions of others, thereby enhancing their understanding of social situations and emotions (e.g., Aram et al., 2017). Additionally, children’s books ensure a dense and rich language input or, in Stahl’s words, “children’s books are where the words are” (Stahl, 2005, p. 100).

Regrettably, not all families have the means to obtain picture books to read to their young children early on, nor do all families have the interest or inclination to read to young children (Egan et al., 2022). Printed books may be expensive or unaffordable, and in some cases, there may be no libraries in the vicinity. Language barriers can also pose a challenge, as minority or immigrant families may not have books available in their heritage language. However, in the digital age, we have the opportunity to create platforms that address these obstacles and provide children with access to picture books at no cost, with the added benefit of being able to hear the story in their preferred language. Digital picture books with voice-over options can be especially advantageous when parents have limited literacy skills or are not inclined to read to young children (Horowitz-Kraus et al., 2018; Tunkiel and Bus, 2022).

Our study focuses on whether the multilingual aspect of digital books can increase access to picture books in bilingual households (Orr et al., 2021)

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