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Bilingual Children's Visual Attention While Reading Digital Picture Books and Story Retelling

A group of bilingual children sitting in a cozy reading area, each holding a picture book. Their faces show curiosity and concentration as they engage with the illustrations and text. An educator or parent is nearby, guiding and discussing the story with them. The setting is colorful and inviting, with bookshelves and educational posters in the background, creating a lively and engaging atmosphere that emphasizes the use of physical books in learning.
Bilingual Children's Digital Reading

With the rapid advancement of digital technology, the way children engage with reading materials has dramatically changed. Digital picture books offer a dynamic and interactive reading experience, especially for bilingual children. A study conducted by He Sun, Adam Charles Roberts, and Adriana Bus explored how Mandarin-English bilingual children's visual attention varies across different types of digital books and how this attention influences their story retelling abilities.

The study involved 89 preschoolers, aged 4 and 5, from Singapore, divided into three reading conditions:

Digital Books with Visual and Auditory Enhancements: These books included animations and sound effects alongside the text and narration.

Digital Books with Only Auditory Enhancements: These books featured narration and sound effects but no animations.

Static Digital Books: These books had text and static images without any animations or sound effects.

Over two weeks, the children read three stories across four sessions. The researchers used eye-tracking technology to monitor the children's visual attention and assessed their story retelling abilities after the first and fourth readings.

The study yielded several significant findings regarding visual attention and story comprehension

Enhanced Digital Books Maintain Greater Visual Attention:

Children who read digital books with both visual and auditory enhancements showed significantly higher levels of visual attention compared to those who read books with only auditory enhancements or static books.

This suggests that the combination of visual and auditory stimuli in digital books effectively captures and retains children's attention over repeated readings.

Impact of Bilingual Proficiency on Visual Attention:

Bilingual proficiency played a crucial role in modulating the effects of visual attention. Children with higher proficiency in both Mandarin and English showed better visual attention in the visually and auditorily enhanced book condition compared to their peers in the other two conditions.

For children with lower bilingual proficiency, the visually and auditorily enhanced books maintained their attention better than static books, although the difference was less pronounced when compared to books with only auditory enhancements.

Visual Attention and Story Retelling:

Children with higher visual attention were able to retell the stories more effectively. This was particularly evident in children with higher bilingual proficiency, who demonstrated superior story retelling skills after repeated readings of the enhanced digital books.

This finding underscores the importance of engaging visual stimuli in helping children comprehend and remember stories.

The study highlights several important implications for educators, parents, and developers of digital reading materials.

Design of Digital Books:

Incorporating both visual and auditory enhancements in digital books can significantly improve children's engagement and comprehension. Animated illustrations and sound effects can make the reading experience more interactive and enjoyable, thereby enhancing learning outcomes.

Support for Bilingual Education:

Bilingual children, especially those with lower language proficiency, can benefit greatly from enhanced digital books. These tools can help maintain their attention and improve their language skills, making them a valuable resource in bilingual education settings.

Encouraging Repetitive Reading:

Repetitive reading of enhanced digital books can reinforce story comprehension and retention. Educators and parents should encourage children to revisit stories multiple times, as repeated exposure to engaging content can deepen their understanding and narrative skills.

Tailoring Reading Experiences:

Recognizing the varying needs of children with different levels of bilingual proficiency, educators can tailor reading experiences to maximize engagement and learning. For instance, providing enhanced digital books to children with lower proficiency can help bridge the gap and support their language development.

The study by He Sun, Adam Charles Roberts, and Adriana Bus offers valuable insights into how digital enhancements in picture books can influence bilingual children's visual attention and story comprehension. The findings suggest that engaging visual and auditory stimuli play a crucial role in maintaining attention and improving narrative skills, particularly in bilingual children. By leveraging these insights, educators and parents can enhance the reading experience and support the cognitive and linguistic development of young children.


Sun, H., Roberts, A. C., & Bus, A. (2021). Bilingual children's visual attention while reading digital picture books and story retelling. Journal of Experimental Child


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