Building a multilingual home library can be costly and challenging for non-native overseas families. Thankfully, in this digital era, many websites and apps offer books for kids in Chinese, Korean, English, French, Spanish, and other languages!
If you’re a parent raising multilingual children or a language teacher for kids, these resources are meant for you! Here are some of the best websites and apps with free multilingual books for children. The first 5 multilingual book resources are available in numerous languages; the last 8 are free Chinese books for kids.
Try this: 15 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Read
Free Multilingual Books for Kids
1. Mutilingual books from Unite for Literacy
This is a wonderful resource for beginner language learners who need listening practice. The books introduce vocabulary and simple sentence structures about common everyday topics through simple stories and questions and answers.
Almost all images are clear photographs, which I prefer over the typical cartoon. In addition, the people include diverse physical appearances.
The downside is that the text is in English or Spanish only.
Available languages (check under “narration”): Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Cup’ik, Danish, French, German, Greek (Ελληνικά), Hindi (हिंदी), Karenni, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Turkish, Vietnamese
2. Multilingual Books from Storybooks Canada
Storybooks Canada has dozens of stories from the African Storybook with text and audio in Canada’s most widely spoken languages.
Available languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Chinese (Mandarin), English, German, Korean, French, Italian, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, and Urdu!
For families learning Chinese, you’ll be happy to know that simplified and traditional Chinese are offered, as well as Mandarin and Cantonese!
3. Multilingual Books from World Stories
World Stories offers a growing collection of multilingual books in the most common languages in the United Kingdom. Registration is free but required for access to stories.
While I like that the focus is on the audio narration due to the lack of animation and minimal illustrations, I found the website to be a bit slow and confusing. I had to click around a bit to figure out how to listen to audio and was stuck on music for a while.
However, this website has great potential to help many multilingual families.
Available languages: Akan, Albanian, Arabic, Cantonese, Danish, English, Filipino, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Kannada, Mandarin, Manx, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Scots, Scots Doric, Scottish Gaelic, Somali, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu, Welsh, Yoruba, Zulu
4. Bible App for Kids
The Bible App for Kids has animated bible stories in numerous languages. Although we usually read the Bible as a family in English, we have occasionally used the Chinese version of the app.
While we prefer to use a physical bible, the app is helpful for families who need more minority language exposure and can’t get a regular bible in their language.
In our experience, the downside is the distracting animation and games. Each page allows for “exploration” of the image through touch.
When my kids used the “interactive” features, they did not focus on listening and impulsively touched everything on the screen. The games are also not useful for reinforcing Biblical concepts in the target language.
Available languages: Afrikaans, Arabic, Belarusian, Bengali, Cantonese, Chinese (Mandarin – Simplified & Traditional Chinese), Dutch, English (UK), English (US), Farsi, Filipino (Tagalog), Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hindi, Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Nepali, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Zulu
Audible is an Amazon company that streams stories in 6 different languages on your desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet.
Available languages: Japanese, Spanish, German, French, and Italian. Limited options in Chinese.
Apps with Free Mandarin Chinese books for Kids
1. Ximalaya FM
This is our family’s favorite resource for free Chinese audiobooks. They have thousands of Chinese stories and even free Chinese music.
Ximalaya requires basic Chinese listening comprehension skills. If you are just starting to learn Chinese, the narration will be too advanced compared to the resources listed above.
To learn more about Ximalaya, please check out the following articles:
- Free Popular Chinese Audiobooks for Children on Ximalaya 喜马拉雅
- How to Use Ximalaya FM When You Can’t Read Chinese
App: 凯叔讲故事 on iTunes
凯叔讲故事 has numerous free Chinese stories for children in Mandarin Chinese! What’s unique about it is that a gentleman narrates many stories in contrast to most children’s stories narrated by women. This is important for kids like ours who have primarily interacted in Chinese with females due to the lack of diversity in our local community.
App: 火火兔讲故事 on iTunes
This app has a wealth of free Chinese stories and songs in Mandarin Chinese! The Chinese audiobooks are best suited for preschool and early elementary school-aged children.
糖果姐姐說故事 (Candy Sister Telling Stories) is an app with narrated Bible stories as well as other stories. The narrator’s voice is pleasant and easy to understand, but the content may be more suitable for elementary school kids and up.
App: 咔哒故事 on iTunes
This is one of the first apps we used when we first learned to speak Chinese. The app features many popular stories with simplified Chinese text. Some stories are free, while others require a subscription fee.
Websites with Free Mandarin Chinese Books for Kids
Learning Chinese Through Stories
Learning Chinese through stories is one of my favorite audio resources! Their Mandarin podcasts have 3 major proficiency levels:
Each proficiency level has sublevels of high, middle, and low.
The podcasters teach common Chinese vocabulary and idioms in the context of stories. The stories have definitions of keywords with Pinyin and English translations.
Little Fox Chinese
Little Fox Chinese is a free language learning curriculum that offers 5 levels of reading practice. Level one begins with pinyin, basic words, and daily expressions and progresses to longer sentences through animated stories. The program offers hundreds and stories and songs through their website, app, and YouTube channel.
If you’re trying to minimize screen time like our family, you can print out the books and add them to your home library!
When we first started to learn Chinese a few years ago, I wish I had known of this program! It looks like a fantastic option for beginner learners.
Huayu World is a Taiwan-based website with numerous free Chinese stories for children that cover various topics, including everyday life, Chinese idioms, Chinese festivals, and fiction.
The website is entirely in traditional Chinese, and the stories have Zhuyin next to the traditional Chinese characters. When viewing the Chinese stories, you can choose to have the illustrations or the Chinese words enlarged.
Stories for Teaching Chinese
The New York University StarTalk Immersion Training Program for Teachers has several narrated and beautifully illustrated stories in Mandarin Chinese.
Native families will recognize familiar traditional folktales, such as 司马光砸缸 (Si Ma Guang Breaks a Jar).
Please note that some stories discuss relatively mature content, such as the history of opium in China. Parents should preview the stories and consider deferring some topics for elementary school-aged children and older.
Teachers and parents may also appreciate the lesson plan breakdown and options to print the PDF files of each story or view the audiobook on iBooks.
Which free multilingual books are the best for my child?
If you’re just starting to teach your child a second language, I recommend exploring Unite for Literacy and Storybooks Canada. In addition, beginner Chinese learners will find Little Fox Chinese a valuable resource.
As your child’s proficiency improves, gradually explore more multilingual books to encourage the minority language. This will help expand your child’s listening and reading comprehension skills, vocabulary, and grammar while cultivating more connection to the language!
For our bilingual family, Chinese audiobooks have been a big help in improving our Mandarin fluency and literacy. We used to use Ximalaya regularly until we were gifted the Luka Reading Robot for convenient Chinese narration. Learning Chinese Through Stories is my other favorite source for studying new vocabulary.
Have you read any of these multilingual books for your kids?
If there is a truly superb resource I have neglected to include here, please leave a comment below so other families can learn from it, too!