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 stories for kids in Chinese, Korean, English, French, Spanish, and other languages!
This article highlights 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.
This post was original published in December 2018 and has since been updated with new information.
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 as well as questions and answers.
Almost all images are clear photographs, which is my preference over the typical cartoon. In addition, the people include have 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 the most widely spoken languages of Canada.
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 both 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, I do think 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 used the Chinese version of the app intermittently.
While we prefer to use a physical bible, the app is helpful for families who need more minority language exposure and aren’t able to 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 have 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, Portugese (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 language 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 many stories are narrated by a gentleman in contrast to most children’s stories which are narrated by women. This is important for kids like ours who have only really spoken Chinese with females due to 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.
Related: 20+ Educational Chinese Apps
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. You can read Mandarin Mama’s review of the 糖果姐姐 CD for more information.
App: 咔哒故事 on iTunes
This is one of the first apps that we used when we were first learning how 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
1. 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 key words with Pinyin and English translations.
2. 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 knew of this program! It looks like a fantastic option for beginner learners.
3. Huayu World
Huayu World is a Taiwan-based website with numerous free Chinese stories for children that cover a wide variety of 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 either the illustrations or the Chinese words enlarged.
4. 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 first 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.
Taiwan Presbyterian Church offers free Bible-based audio books on their websites in 3 language versions: Mandarin, Taiwanese and English. The website also has Chinese Christian music, cartoons, printable lessons from preschool through high school. The website is in traditional Chinese.
Which free multilingual books are the best?
For those who are just starting to learn a minority language, I recommend exploring Unite for Literacy and Storybooks Canada. In addition, beginner Chinese learners will find Little Fox Chinese to be a valuable resource.
As your child’s proficiency improves, the other resources will help expand your child’s comprehension skills, vocabulary, and grammar while cultivating love and appreciation for the minority language!
Of course, many other websites and apps offer multilingual stories beyond this list. However, I have elected not to make this an exhaustive list of everything that’s available. We all reach a point where we have too many resources and not enough time!
Chinese audiobooks has been a big help for improving our Mandarin fluency and literacy. Personally, 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 vocabularly.
Have you used any of these multilingual book resources?
If there is a truly superb resource that I have neglected to include here, please leave a comment below so that other families can learn from it, too!
WHERE TO BUY CHINESE BOOKS FOR KIDS
Whenever feasible, physical books are preferred over digital books, especially for young children.
For more book recommendations, please explore our favorite Chinese books for kids!
If you’re wondering where to buy Chinese books for children, please click here for a list of the most popular online bookstores!
Tips on creating a multilingual learning environment at home
- Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps
- Raising Multilingual Children as a Non-Fluent Parent: 7 Lessons Learned
- How To Get Your Child To Speak the Minority Language
- Encourage A Child to Love and Speak the Minority Language with 5 Strategies
- How to Find a Foreign Language Teacher for Your Child
- Why is My Child Not Paying Attention to Books in the Minority Language?