Books by Adam Beck

Reading

What strategies can you use to nurture strong reading skills and a love for literacy? These posts offer helpful ideas!

I Know a Lot About...

Over the years, I’ve amassed big piles of papers that hold teaching materials, creative writing, and ideas for future blog posts, books, and other projects. From time to time I’ll sift through these piles in an attempt to file the papers I want to keep and discard the ones I no longer need.

But the truth is, I never seem to get all the way to the bottom of these stacks and so the piles begin rising again as I add fresh papers. One of my goals in connection with our move last August was to tackle this task and finally eliminate all the piles…and yet it’s now eight months later and they’re still growing like weeds.

The thing is, it’s a lot more fun for me to add to the piles with new inspirations than it is to get everything properly sorted in my filing cabinet.

Still, last night, as I was halfheartedly making another attempt at this aim, I came across a paper that was fun for me to rediscover…and might be fun for you to try with your own kids or students.

A humorous twist

When my children were younger, and first learning to read, I created a kind of worksheet designed to promote both vocabulary and early reading. If you’ve been following this blog over the years, you know that my mind is continuously trying to put a humorous twist on language activities for my kids and students because this sort of playful approach tends to make the activity more engaging and more productive. Of course, there’s nothing “wrong” with pursuing the same language targets—like saying the names of animals and reading some simple sentences—in a more conventional way. But, in my experience, a humorous twist holds the power to make the activity more enjoyable and more effective.

So here it is: the worksheet I used with my kids, and then with my younger students (renewed for this post); a simple activity that turned out to be a fun, language-filled success each time I tried it. (In my case, the target language is English, but this activity could be pursued in any language you like, and with any age, really, which means the same idea would no doubt work well with language learners.)

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UPDATE: Good news! My kids have officially passed their very first proficiency test in English, our minority language! And amazingly, their final scores—a combination of both the reading/writing test and the speaking test—were almost identical! My son’s score was 2445 and my daughter’s was 2439 (out of 2600 total points). Many thanks to you all for cheering them on! They had big smiles when they opened their large envelopes and found the certificates inside! :mrgreen:

EIKEN, Test in Practical English Proficiency

My son turns 12 in March and my daughter will be 15 in June. But until last month, they hadn’t been tested in any formal way to assess their ability in English, our minority language. So I signed them up to take the EIKEN test, which is a widely-used English test in Japan and is given several times a year in locations across the country.

The EIKEN test consists of seven “grades,” or levels: the lowest test level is Grade 5, then 4, then 3, then Pre-2, then 2, then Pre-1, and finally the highest test level, Grade 1. You can take the test of any level you choose (you don’t have to start at level 5 and work your way up), and ability at the higher levels is tested in two parts on two different days: the first part of the test assesses reading, writing, and listening; and the second part (but only if you pass that first part) is the test that assesses speaking.

Of course, I’ve long had my own estimate of their English ability, but I thought it would now be helpful, in these three ways, for them to begin challenging the higher EIKEN levels:

  1. The test results could provide further insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their current language ability.
  2. These tests would give us some new structure and goals for their language development. (Now that they’re getting older, and getting immersed even more deeply in their Japanese lives, it’s important for me to pursue concrete ways, that preferably have some continuity, to continue advancing their English side.)
  3. Passing test scores at the higher levels of the EIKEN test could potentially benefit them in the future when they seek to enter high schools and universities, or when they’re eventually looking for work.

The three highest test levels

Last year, with an eye on registering them for the first testing date in 2019, which took place in late January, I printed out samples of the three highest test levels from the EIKEN web site—levels 2, pre-1, and 1—and had them give these a try.

Since, in the past, I had helped a number of my students prepare to take various levels of this test, I already was pretty familiar with the range of difficulty and I was able to judge which level would be most appropriate for my own kids.

I say “level”—not “levels”—because Lulu and Roy, despite nearly a three-year gap in their ages, are now basically at the same level of general English ability. In a post I made in January 2018—My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?—I explained the reasons why and stressed the point that Roy’s greater passion for books and reading has resulted in a greater quantity of input over a shorter amount of time. (Thus, doing your best to maximize your child’s “bookworm potential,” from early on, can have a hugely productive impact on his overall language proficiency through the years of childhood.)

After examining their sample tests, my sense of the appropriate test level for their current ability was confirmed: level 2 would be too easy; level 1 would be too hard; and level Pre-1 would be just about right.

To help you understand the sort of levels I’m talking about, here are vocabulary and reading samples from each of these levels.

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“Bilingual Lives” is a series of profiles of interesting people who are leading bilingual (or multilingual) lives, both personally and professionally. This series was inspired by the memory of my mother, who began a bilingual life that she later regretted not being able to sustain into her adult years. If you would like your life and work to be featured in this series, please contact me.

Bilingual Lives: Beatrice Beckmann

To successfully raise a bilingual or multilingual child, the main requirement is language exposure: the child must receive an ample amount of meaningful input in the target language (or languages) on a regular basis. And the more of this input you can provide, from yourself and/or from other sources of exposure, the greater the odds of fostering active language ability.

The two central pillars for providing this exposure are abundant speech (from you or from other speakers of the target language) and a daily read-aloud routine.

But when it comes to reading aloud, finding suitable children’s books in your target language may be a challenge. In fact, I wrote a whole post about this problem, in which I emphasized the use of “wordless picture books” as one way to effectively address it. See What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language.

Well, one parent has come up with another creative solution, a winning idea geared for families in the United States with German as a target language. Beatrice Beckmann, a mother of two who moved to New York from Munich, launched KinderBooks in 2016 to provide families with direct access to German picture books and chapter books. With a subscription to KinderBooks, parents can rent and read appealing books on an ongoing basis, and thus strengthen their read-aloud routine and their children’s exposure to German.

When I learned about KinderBooks, it struck me as such a helpful resource for maintaining a steady stream of children’s books into the home…and it’s a shame that there aren’t (yet) more services like this for other target languages, too.

KinderBooks

And not only is KinderBooks an affordable solution—with subscriptions starting at just $10 a month (free postage is also included for receiving and returning the books!), Beatrice is kindly offering readers of this blog a $20 discount to try it out. Just use the promo code BILINGUALMONKEYS (valid until March 31, 2019).

Learn more about KinderBooks.

And learn more about Beatrice’s life and work by reading the interview below!

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We moved in August and I’m now gradually organizing the many books and papers that I’ve amassed over the 22 years I’ve lived in Hiroshima. One box contains the early board books that I read to my kids—who are now 14 and 11—when they were just babies and toddlers. I’m in the process of repacking the box, to store safely away in a closet, but I thought I might stop and share with you the 10 board books that I read most often to my children (hundreds of times each!) and that I hope they will one day read to their own newborns and thus begin the journey of handing down the minority language to the next generation.

While these books were originally published in English, I’m sure many of them have been translated widely into other languages and may also be available as larger-sized picture books. And let me note, too, that while I naturally have a sentimental attachment to these books, I’m not suggesting that these are the “best” board books for small children. While I would certainly recommend each one, this is simply a humble list of the board books that I read most often to my kids during those early months and years. (In the comments below, please share your favorite board books, particularly newer titles that I’m not so familiar with.)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
One of the most popular children’s books on Earth, from the brilliant Eric Carle.

The Very Lonely Firefly

The Very Lonely Firefly
Another lovely book by Eric Carle. The last page contains tiny flickering lights, like fireflies.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
So much fun to read aloud. As my kids got a bit older, they would even act out the story as I read it.

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Author Zita Robertson with one of her chickens

Two years ago, I shared a creative project that was carried out by Nellie Robertson and her two children. They live in the U.S. and Nellie is originally from Hungary, which means that English is their majority language and Hungarian is their minority language.

The project took place over the course of a full year and involved a stuffed alligator named Alfonzo, who they sent on a worldwide trip to enjoy “homestays” with a number of families (including mine!) who then reported on their experiences with their toothy guest.

Alfonzo the alligator

During this time, Nellie and her kids blogged all about Alfonzo’s adventures—in both of their languages—and the result was a wonderful project that was both very fun and very effective.

You can learn all about it, and see photos from Alfonzo’s “homestays” in various parts of the world, by reading this post…

How a Globe-Trotting Alligator Helped One Family Find Greater Fun and Success on Their Bilingual Journey

…and by visiting Nellie’s blog…

Alfonzo Around the World

Another creative project

Well, Nellie and her kids are back, this time with a fantastic book project that involved Nellie and her nine-year-old daughter, Zita. With Nellie’s solid support, Zita has written and self-published a book about her chickens, with versions in English and in Hungarian!

Dixie's Chicken Sisters in English

Dixie's Chicken Sisters in Hungarian

Full disclosure: Because Nellie and her family live just a short drive from my hometown of Quincy, Illinois, I was able to visit them in the summer of 2017! So I not only had the happy chance to meet Nellie and Zita (and the father and younger brother), I met the chickens, too!

Zita and her chickens

When Nellie told me about their new book project, this became something I was eager to share. As I’ve stressed before, along with persistent daily efforts—like providing ample speech in the target language, reading aloud, and pursuing a regular homework routine—language and joy can be fueled even further through the use of short-term projects: making videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; creating a picture book or comic book; writing and performing a short play; singing and recording a favorite song (even making up your own); inventing a new game and playing it together; compiling a photo album and adding captions; pursuing crafts or a building task; researching and reporting on some subject of interest; and many more.

Here, then, are Nellie and Zita to tell you all about their bilingual book project. Many thanks to them both for generously sharing their lives with us.

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Breakthroughs-for-Bilingual-Children-top

My daughter will be 14 in June. My son turned 11 in March. If you’ve been following this blog over the years—when I made my first post in September of 2012, they were just 8 and 5—you know that they’ve had very different inclinations when it comes to reading in English, our minority language.

While both have become competent readers through a variety of long-running efforts—which include reading aloud from birth; flooding our home with books, magazines, and comic books in the target language; maintaining a daily homework routine; and making persistent use of the strategy I call captive reading—it’s also true that Roy’s progress has been stronger because, ever since he was small, he has been reading by himself more eagerly than Lulu. In fact, I detailed this important aspect of our bilingual journey in an article I wrote not long ago…

My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?

Fundamental shift in motivation

With Roy, because he has long been a more natural bookworm, I’ve mostly just had to continue feeding his desire to read by providing a steady stream of suitable material. (Naturally, this still takes some regular time and energy on my part to find engaging resources.)

Lulu, on the other hand, because she has always preferred active play, has been more difficult to motivate when it comes to independent reading. However, over the past two weeks a fundamental shift in this area has been taking place and I now see that the previous breakthroughs I’ve documented at this blog (see Big Breakthrough with My Bilingual Daughter? and, again, My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?) have been steps leading to the manifestation of this moment, alongside her growing maturity.

Here’s what happened…

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"Betty & Cat" bilingual books

Today I’d like to give a loud shout-out to author Hennie Jacobs and her uniquely bilingual children’s books. While it’s true that, as a rule, I no longer feature specific titles for bilingual children’s books at this site (continuing to do so is beyond my capacity), I feel that Hennie has taken an inspired approach to the challenge of creating “bilingual books” and I want to share her work with you.

What makes Hennie’s books different from the many other bilingual books I’ve seen is the way she incorporates the two languages in her “Betty & Cat” books. (To date, Hennie has produced three books in this series, in various pairings of these languages: English, French, Dutch, and Spanish.) While typical bilingual books for children will tell the story twice, with mirror translations of the text, Hennie has written books with two characters—“Betty” (a dog) and “Cat” (yes, a cat)—and each character speaks a different language. In other words, these stories are told through code-switching, with the dog speaking one language and the cat speaking the other language.

Here’s an example of this from the book she kindly sent to me, a Spanish/English version of At Home with Betty & Cat. Note that the dog speaks Spanish and the cat speaks English. Throughout the book, their voices—and the two languages—alternate in the same way.

At Home with Betty & Cat

First page from the book

Although this twist on traditional bilingual books may seem simple, it must be handled with considerable skill so that the story holds together well. My impression is that Hennie has achieved this aim admirably, creating clever and colorful books that bilingual families and schools will find fresh and fun as well as beneficial to their bilingual goal. (Kudos to artist Christine Duvernois, too, for her lovely and playful illustrations.)

At the same time, I should note that because the books contain no translation of the text, readers and listeners need to already have some ability in the two languages used, otherwise it may be difficult to enjoy them fully without a dictionary at hand.

To learn more about the appealing “Betty & Cat” books, read the revealing interview (below) that we pursued through an email exchange. You’ll find further information, too, at Hennie’s website.

Hennie has also agreed to provide free copies of her books to two readers of Bilingual Monkeys (and two books each!) so be sure to enter this giveaway, which closes on Friday, March 16.

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My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?

My daughter is 13, in her first year of junior high school.

My son is 10 and in 5th grade.

Both attend local Japanese schools and have grown up under virtually identical circumstances when it comes to sources of input in English, our minority language.

And yet, in my personal observations of their language skills, as well as their performance when practicing for a standardized English test widely used in Japan (the Eiken test, where their level is now at the second highest on a seven-level scale), their ability is basically the same.

How can that be if their upbringing has been so similar and a substantial gap of three years exists between the two? Shouldn’t Lulu’s level now be demonstrably higher than Roy’s?

In fact (and here’s a big hint as to the reason), Roy’s sense of spelling is actually stronger than Lulu’s at this point. Lulu continues to make spelling errors that are typically seen in children who are several years younger. In other words, the gap of three years in age no longer exists in terms of language ability because Roy’s level is higher than a typical monolingual child of his age while Lulu’s level (at least her literacy level) is a bit lower than a typical 13-year-old.

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 Raising Bilingual Kids Is a Vital Part of Our Efforts, From Babies to Teens

Let’s begin with two examples. These examples involve parenting in general, but I think they’ll make this important principle very clear. Then I’ll go on to offer further examples that connect more directly to the challenge of parenting children in more than one language.

Example #1: When my daughter was still a baby, but starting to crawl about, my wife and I made a mission—as all sensible parents do—of “babyproofing” our home in order to prevent accidental injuries. We did things like adding covers to outlets, attaching foam guards to sharp table corners, and installing safety gates at the top and bottom of our staircase. If you’ve already experienced this phase with your kids, I’m sure you undertook similar proactive steps in your house.

Example #2: When Lulu entered junior high school, (which I shared in the recent post The Most Important Point on Our Long Bilingual Journey), we bought her a nice new desk, hoping this would encourage good study habits for the tougher academic challenge she was now starting. However, for the first couple of weeks, she barely used it at all. Despite our repeated appeals, she continued to sit on the floor and do her homework at the low Japanese-style table in our living room, a long-running habit from her elementary school years. Finally, since our pleas weren’t adequately altering her behavior, I began removing the table itself before she returned home from school each day and placing it in a different room for the evening, out of sight. Without that table present, she was essentially “forced” to develop the new habit of sitting down at her desk.

As these two examples demonstrate—one from early childhood, one from later childhood—a key principle for parenting in general, and parenting bilingual and multilingual children in particular, is the idea of intentionally shaping (and reshaping) the space of the home to promote the aims we seek.

When Lulu was a baby, our aim was to keep her safe and we did so by pursuing measures to reshape the space in order to minimize the risk of accident.

More recently, as a 13-year-old, she needed help with the aim of creating a new study habit, and since continuing to nag her about this wasn’t working—not for us nor for her—simply reshaping the space to remove the distraction, without having to say another word about it, proved far more effective.

The crucial point, then, when it comes to our bilingual or multilingual aim, is that we must remain mindful and proactive, throughout childhood, about shaping and reshaping the home environment in strategic ways so that we can fortify the process of language development. In other words, the more effectively you shape the space, the more effectively you’ll nurture progress in the minority language (or languages).

Here’s the next round of examples, more specific to our bilingual aim.

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Look How Far We've Come On Our Bilingual Journey (And How Far You Can Go, Too)

Now that my daughter is in junior high school, and nearly a teen, I’d like to offer you a special peek at the progress my kids have made to date in their minority language. (For those who need a bit more context, we live in Hiroshima, Japan and my kids attend local Japanese schools, which means that Japanese is our majority language and English is our minority language.)

The idea for this post arose the other day when we bought a new desk for Lulu (to encourage her to study hard in junior high!) and had to overhaul the room that, until now, had always been our “play room.” After revamping it, and removing old toys and books—Roy inherited Lulu’s old desk and will get to choose his own new desk when he enters junior high, too—we rechristened this space the “study room.”

In fact, among the things I relocated from this room was a huge stack of workbooks and journals that have been part of our long-running homework routine to nurture literacy—and overall proficiency—in the minority language.

The full details on our daily homework routine can be found in Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1 and Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 2 so I won’t go over that ground again here. Instead, I’d simply like to share samples of my children’s work—scanned right from these workbooks and journals—so you can see, very concretely, how far their language ability has progressed over the years as a result of the ranging efforts I describe at this blog and in my book.

I hope these images will help convey the crucial point that success on the bilingual journey is a function of daily diligence and long-term perseverance—and that this outcome can be realized by any determined family that makes the bilingual aim a top priority.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Today is World Read Aloud Day! To mark this occasion, Gabriela Simmons has written a lively guest post which stresses the importance of reading aloud and shares useful ideas for this practice. In my case, reading aloud has been at the very heart of my efforts for 20 years, with both my students and my own children, and I’ve experienced the power of this daily routine first-hand. Gaby, thank you for shining a spotlight on one of my favorite topics! :mrgreen:

How to Make the Most of Reading Aloud to Your Kids in Two or More Languages

Gabriela Simmons is the mother of two active, sometimes nerve-wracking, but always amazing trilingual pre-teens (German, English, and Spanish). She was born and raised in Peru then moved to the United States for the last two years of high school and university. She later met her German husband in France while earning her masters degree. They have been living in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years.

Gaby is the co-founder of TimTimTom, an online book publisher that has launched its first bilingual storybook: a personalized book printed in the two languages of your choice. For more information on this unique bilingual book, see https://timtimtom.com.

Gabriela SimmonsIn our home, we have a rule: “One more book, bought or borrowed, is always okay.” Things like clothes and candy, they have their limits, but when it comes to books, we can never have too many.

Reading aloud to children is extremely important for their language development, and this is even more true when the child is growing up in a bilingual family and needs ample input in the minority language. In daily conversation, we tend to use the same limited range of vocabulary over and over. Because of this fact, books are an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to building a broader vocabulary.

But reading aloud is not only about expanding vocabulary and fueling language development. There are also important psychological and emotional benefits for you and your child. This aspect should not be underestimated.

Think of the read aloud experience: You and your child are snuggled up together as you read a colorful book and describe the illustrations. The child has questions and you pause to explain. The story sparks new ideas in the child’s mind, and may prompt a stream of comments or a wave of laughter. It might even enable you to talk about your cultural heritage and foster pride in your family’s roots.

All these elements of the experience strengthen the bond between you and your child while promoting their progress in the target language.

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