Language-Learning Tools for Kids

Digital aids give toddlers an edge in Mandarin and other languages

The statistics supporting bilingual education are hard to argue with—improved problem-solving and social skills as well as higher test scores mean that foreign languages set kids up for success across the board. The sweet spot for second language acquisition comes early on, so exposure in the first few years is critical. While scouting this year’s New York Toy Fair, we came across several innovative companies with targeted programming for toddlers, with many of them specifically targeting Mandarin. Here are four that provide both an educational and entertaining learning experience.


Chinese Cubes

A highly progressive program, ChineseCubes uses augmented reality to combine hands-on learning with dynamic feedback. Holding one of the cubes in hand, you’ll notice Chinese characters, Roman type and QR codes printed on the sides. A webcam reads the code and provides animated and audio feedback to help along the learning process. Based on a core of 200 characters, the cubes combine to form more than 30,000 words and phrases.


Gordon & Li Li

Michele Wong McSween’s board book series—named after her mom and dad Gordon & Li Li—was created to help teach her children elementary Mandarin. A go-to source for kids to learn simple works in English and Mandarin, the beautifully illustrated book “Learn Animals in Mandarin” has also been converted to iPad, including fun exercises like finger-drawing Chinese characters on the screen. Keeping things focused on family, the voices for the app are provided by McSween’s son and niece.


Early Lingo

Following the birth of her first child, Caryn Antonini developed Early Lingo as a way to incorporate the tenets of full immersion with at-home entertainment for children. The DVD-based program uses no translation and reflects Antonini’s expertise in the subject as a graduate of Georgetown University School of Languages and Linguistics.


Little Pim

For very young learners, Little Pim provides easy learning through an array of DVDs, books and iOS apps—all based around the adventures of a panda. The program is available in numerous languages from Hebrew to Portuguese and focuses on providing young children with a core set of 360 words and phrases to use as a linguistic foundation.

Early Lingo image by James Thorne; All other images courtesy of the respective companies