Friday 16 July 2010

Dora and the "Cho co late"

"Dora the Explorer" is a TV show for toddlers about a girl called Dora who encounters different characters who speak either English (most of them) or Spanish (some of them). The idea is that children learn Spanish while they watch Dora.

That sounds like a good idea, maybe. If passively watching and listening would help, and I don't know if it does or not, the show could have some value.


And it's a huge but:

Our problem with BK1 & BK2 is that because we're in the UK, English is everywhere and we're looking for any occasion to give them more French, German or Arabic instead.

Right, you say, so you can get Dora in French! True.

In the French version, Dora will mainly speak French but use English every now and again. The idea of course is that little French children may learn a bit of English.

Unfortunately, the voices for both languages are done by the same actors, which in the French version means when they speak English, they do so with a thick French accent. I'm sure someone will tell me that if they wouldn't, the French wouldn't understand. And that may even be true, at least for adults. But in our
case, it means my daughters learn completely inappropriate pronounciation from Dora when they know better!

Worst example: the chocolate tree song. The lyrics are very simple: "mix and mix your chocolate". I'm not even going to judge whether an English person would have written those lyrics. The thing that upsets me is that they sing "cho co late", pronouncing "co" as in "" and "late" as in "too late".

I am actually pretty sure that even BK2 who is just 2 years old knows that in the real UK, that's not the way you say it. So why on earth did they do that? I mean how difficult would it have been to have two voice actors?

And, thinking about it: Dora is for children in the US and it is supposed to encourage them to learn Spanish, presumably because there are a lot of people in the US who speak Spanish. So, along those lines, the French version of Dora should really have Algerian as the second language, the version of Dora for the UK should introduce Punjabi/Urdu/etc and the version for Germany Turkish. Now that would make sense.

Or, go one step futher and give us downloadable "select two languages" versions!

Maybe I should see this in a positive light. Maybe I should sit down with BK1 & BK2 and say: "see how Dora and Baboush don't even know how to say 'chocolate'? That's because TV is often wrong. If you think you know better, you probably do."

(Oh, and Happy Birthday to my sister who is currently visiting along with her daughter and our mother. They are helping BK1 & BK2 develop their German)


  1. I wish I could find Dora in Hindi, as I'm trying to learn that and my language level is that of a kid!

    I haven't ever seen it, but I wonder if it's anything like Sesame Street teaching Spanish words here and there when I was growing up. I didn't retain one single bit of Spanish from that!

  2. Thanks for that comment, I am happy to have a c onfirmation that it is a good idea not to try those kind of things...
    love from amsterdam

  3. Heh, we had a similar problem not too long ago - we had the German version of Dora that is supposed to teach the German kids a bit of English. Suffice it to say that our then 4 year old rolled her eyes at the badly pronounced English. Though she thought it was pretty funny that her German speaking cousins might watch this and actually learn some English :)

  4. I SO get where you are coming from. Like Smashedpea we had the German version, and my daughter (mother tongue English, second language German) found it hilarious.

    On the language front it was a total waste of time. I think part of the problem is that as parents we often justify tv time because the label 'educational' is applied to a certain programme. And learning another language is such a great life skill.

    But for those of us whose kids actually have to function in that second (or third, or fourth) language, we realise that the truth is our kids are not going to benefit hugely from a mass produced, money making show like Dora.

  5. @Aamba: I cannot compare with Sesame Street, I'm afraid. The German version didn't have any English or other language in it, it was purely German.

    I'm pretty confident though that watching Dora will NOT help you a lot.

    @Paula & Paula: Fortunately for us the goal when watching Dora is to "dilute" the otherwise monolingual, English TV. We use Dora in French, Charlie & Lola in German and Winnie the Pooh in Arabic.

    @smashedpea: I think BK1 is more wondering "who would speak like this? Where do such people live?" I guess we have so much diversity that for her there is surely someone somewhere who says "tcho co late"

    @Fiona: agreed re waste of time. I'm sure no child will learn a new language watching any program like this.

    That's why we all try lots of other ways, isn't it :-)

  6. "mix, mix chocolate" lol.. I had to laugh because you referred to that phrase. I think that is one of the first Spanish phrases my kids were repeating. We also had the book that went along with the episode of when Dora was making a cake for her grandma. And "Bate, bate chocolate" was all I would ever hear.

  7. Very good point! I am totally with you, we have the same thing in Italy, Dora speaks Italian and English with a very strong Italian accent and what is even worse the wrong pronunciation. Thankfully we have Sky so we can select the original language and get the American accent instead with a little Spanish, which is always useful.

  8. @Tyeisha - at least that seems to rhyme in Spanish, as far as I can guess.

    @maria - you are eluding to another good point: we live in the UK and for people around here English and American are by no means the same thing. At all. That means watching the original American/Spanish version doesn't do either.

    For a program that evolves around languages, they could really put some more effort into getting their languages right, methinks.

  9. We have various Dora episodes in French too and I noticed the same thing. I too wonder if it is because the producers do it on purpose (worried that French people can't understand "real English") or if it is because they were too lazy/cheap to hire a native speaker for that part (or didn't want to change Dora's voice totally). Anyway, it is weird. At least they could train the actors to say those specific words right since the premise of the whole thing is teaching language.

    In a related incident, we have a CD of a French group singing Christmas songs, and one of them is in English. They sing Jingle Bells with a very strong French accent. It drove my then-two-year old nuts and he hated that song. He realized it was "wrong" and he wanted it to be either "French" or "English" and not a mixture of both!

  10. Ha, ha! We have the Mandarin version and it's even worse! The Dora actress reviews the "English" vocabulary before and after the show. "Hoppy Birzzde" to you too! My kids are native English speakers and had to ask me what she was talking about, they thought it was some Mandarin words they didn't know!!

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  12. Hi Psychemou, for some reason you seem to have removed your comment re Tinga Tinga Tales. Our girls do watch it, and enjoy it greatly. I personally think it is a good idea to expose children to various accents, nationalities and backgrounds. I have a problem with programs that aim to teach a foreign language, like Dora the explorer, which do not use the correct pronunciation.

  13. Hi again, and thank you for your reply. I thought I was off topic, so I did delete the comment. (The lack of comments made me believe that as well.) Now you prove me wrong. :)
    I was curious about Tinga-Tinga since I think they are very cute cartoons which teach kids some nice things. I don't really like Dora :D.
    (Meanwhile I changed the username, but it's me all right! :) )

    1. Hi Giggles, we were away in Algeria for a month, with 0 internet, so only catching up now on online stuff :)


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