Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

Books for Kids

What children’s books can help nurture a child’s language ability and promote a love of reading? See these posts for suggestions!

ADAM’S NOTE: Have you ever wondered about the value of bilingual books? This is a common question, and one that I’m so glad to have author Delia Berlin respond to in this guest post. From her thoughtful perspective, she gracefully explains the many ways bilingual books can be beneficial in the home and classroom. Thank you, Delia, for your insight—this is a post that I will now point to whenever this question is asked.

A Writer’s Perspective on the Value of Bilingual Books for Children, Families, and Schools

Delia Berlin grew up in Argentina and Brazil, but spent her adult life in the U.S. state of Connecticut. Her professional career focused on education and administration. With graduate degrees in both Physics and Family Studies, she also worked in early intervention and taught child development at the college level. While living in three countries, Delia’s world view was influenced by the need to navigate different cultures. Throughout her life, friendships with animals also shaped her learning and understanding of nature. For more information, visit www.deliaberlin.com or www.amazon.com/author/deliaberlin.

Delia BerlinInfancy and early childhood are critical periods for language development. During these periods, all children have their highest potential to learn multiple languages without special effort. When families have speakers of different languages, they have the opportunity to easily gift their children with a highly valued and useful competency. For these families and their children, bilingual books are very helpful tools to succeed in this effort.

Benefits for families

Reading to children from early infancy provides permanent benefits, both for children and for those who read to them. When a child enjoys that special interaction with a parent, the parent is rewarded, strengthening the long-term bond that raising a successful person will require. With children, early investment has the highest return. Lots of social stimulation and broad experiences in early childhood will increase curiosity, develop self-confidence, and make future learning easier.

Current research has confirmed that bilingual children learn faster, and that learning languages even supports other types of learning. The cognitive effects of bilingualism are positive through the entire lifespan, and even include protection against some forms of dementia in old age.

But most bilingual or multilingual families have some members who don’t speak all the languages in play. Different relatives will remain limited to communicating only in the languages they can speak. Accordingly, they will be able to read to children only in those languages.

Since books should be part of a child’s environment from infancy, finding enough of them at the appropriate levels in all the desired languages presents a challenge. In infancy, pictionaries are ideal for learning single words bilingually. These books can be used by anyone in the family, regardless of their own language. Since infants can’t read, they focus on the pictures and the accompanying sounds that adults make. Pictionaries are the perfect starting point for teaching labels in more than one language.

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A Fish in Foreign Waters

As parents of bilingual kids, one of our most important aims is nurturing a positive attitude toward the minority language. When a child feels that this language has value, that it benefits his or her life, our efforts to promote its growth can be far more effective. The reverse, I’m afraid, is also true, and if the child doesn’t feel much value in learning or using this language, the road ahead will be more difficult and less productive.

It’s like swimming with the current, or against it. (A fitting metaphor for the book I’m sharing today! :mrgreen: )

I’ve written several posts which involve this idea of instilling a sense of value in the minority language. You may want to return to these links after reading through this post (and entering the giveaway!)…

Getting a Bilingual Child to Feel the Value of the Minority Language

A Powerful Way to Inspire a Positive Attitude in Your Bilingual Child

The Power of Using the Minority Language to Help Others

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Journey, a wordless picture book

Books and reading should lie at the very heart of your bilingual journey.

In The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child, I stress the tremendous power of reading aloud to your children each day, day in and day out, to nurture language and literacy development.

In How Many Books Do You Have In Your Home?, I cite sweeping international research which indicates that the larger your home library, the stronger your children’s language ability can grow.

In Free Report: The Power of Reading in Raising a Bilingual Child, I offer a PDF with a full overview of my thoughts on ways to make books and reading a central part of your efforts.

But what if your minority tongue is a less-common language? How can you meet these key conditions of the bilingual journey when children’s books in your minority language seem hard to come by? Here are several ideas…

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Bone

In my last post, How Comic Books Can Give Your Kids Bilingual Super Powers, I shared both anecdotal stories and hard research which point to the use of comic books as a highly effective resource for nurturing language development and a love of literacy.

If English is your minority language—or English might be in your children’s future at some point—the graphic novels (book-length comics) I recommend in this follow-up post may be of interest to you and your kids.

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive—it’s simply a round-up of the better titles I’ve come across to date in using comic books as a key resource with my kids and students.

For many more suggestions, I highly recommend the book A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics; the lengthy list of graphic novels offered by the American Library Association; and the review websites No Flying No Tights and Comics Worth Reading.

I use this book and these sites for ideas, then move to amazon to study reviews and peek at the pages for a sense of the reading level.

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RESOURCES

Let me propose a basic principle of success at raising bilingual children, something that I suggest is true for 99% of families in the world, whatever the minority language. (And this is especially true if you seek higher levels of literacy in that language, though your children attend a majority language school.)

The more resources you have in the minority language, the more suitable those resources are for the child’s age, language level, and interests, and the more actively you use those resources in the home, the more progress will be made.

This sounds obvious, I know, but my sense is that many families, despite high hopes for their children’s bilingual development, are lacking in resources (books, magazines, games, CDs, DVDs, software, etc.) for the minority language.

Why is that?

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Poem by Shel Silverstein

How much do you use poetry with your children to nurture the minority language?

My sense is that many parents (myself included) don’t make use of poetry to the extent that they could, and should, beyond the early stage of nursery rhymes.

The fact is, poetry is a highly effective means of promoting language acquisition. Exposing children to the sound and rhythm of your target language, through suitable poetry, can foster deeper sensitivity to that language and help lay the foundation for reading ability—which is ultimately the key to higher and higher levels of proficiency.

And even if every word isn’t understood, poetry adds to a child’s growing vocabulary, introduces the magic of figurative language, like metaphor, and builds awareness for precision in writing and speaking.

At the same time, poetry feeds a child’s intellectual and emotional development. With its compact power, poetry can be a potent way of expressing concepts and emotions—from the silly to the sublime—thereby expanding a child’s insight and imagination.

If all this weren’t enough, poetry can be great fun for both reader and listener!

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The winners are in! Tatiana in Ukraine has won “Bosley Sees the World” and Kiara in Italy has won “Bosley Goes to the Beach”! Congratulations! Tim Johnson of The Language Bear will contact you directly to arrange delivery of your books!

Tim has also agreed to offer a special discount to any reader of this blog who would like to purchase a book. To place an order, simply click here for “Bosley Sees the World” or here for “Bosley Goes to the Beach.” Then, on the order form, enter the secret word monkey in the “Offer code” field. The 25% discount is good only for the first 20 copies of each book, so place your order soon if you’d like a copy at this lower price. (If you have any questions, please email Tim at The Language Bear.)

Bosley Bear

Want to win a colorful bilingual children’s book, courtesy of Bilingual Monkeys and The Language Bear?

If you’re already a subscriber to the Bilingual Monkeys Newsletter, just skip merrily ahead to learn more about the books produced by The Language Bear and how to enter the giveaway.

If you’re not yet a subscriber to my weekly newsletter (it’s free!), simply click the link below to enter your first name and email address. You’ll then be eligible for this giveaway and every other upcoming contest held at Bilingual Monkeys. Not only that, you’ll regularly get additional ideas and inspiration not found on this site to help boost your children’s language ability.

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For more details on the newsletter, and other subscription options, see the subscribe page. To view the fun results of the last contest, which involved “surprise packages” sent by me and my kids from Hiroshima to winning families in France, Germany, and Serbia, see Do You Remember Those “Surprise Packages” from Japan?

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Poems by Mary Ann Hoberman I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be with children’s poets and poetry (hey, that rhymes!), but one of my favorites to date is Mary Ann Hoberman, a former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate and the author of over 40 books. We have a number of her titles and I’ve turned to them regularly, and with great success, as a source of fun, lyrical material for my kids and students.

Hoberman is remarkably deft with verse and her work is consistently clever and witty. If you’d like to add some splendid books of poetry to your home library—books that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike (and are particularly good for nurturing the language development of younger children)—I highly recommend the lively, lighthearted work of Mary Ann Hoberman.

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Sandra Boynton You may not know her name, but I bet you’ve seen her wide-eyed cartoon animals on popular greeting cards and children’s books. In fact, Sandra Boynton has apparently created more than 4,000 greeting cards, which have sold over 200 million copies, as well as more than 40 books that have sold over 30 million copies.

In addition to her work as a humorist and children’s author-illustrator, Boynton is a songwriter who has produced four albums of distinctive, offbeat music.

If English is the target language for your baby or toddler, and you don’t yet have any of her board books in your home library, I recommend them highly. We had about ten of her appealing titles when my kids were younger and they were constant favorites. (For more on the importance of reading aloud to children, see The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child.)

For older kids, her music is a lot of fun. We have three of her book-and-CD sets, and we listen to them regularly. Although every tune isn’t a hit with us, some of the songs are so clever and amusing that they more than make up for those that seem to miss the mark. (See How the Power of Music Nurtures Bilingual Ability for the rationale behind making music an integral part of your efforts.)

For more details on Sandra Boynton’s quirky work, along with helpful links, just click to continue reading.

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AnimaliaOne of the most remarkable creators of picture books for children is the Australian artist Graeme Base. His books are so colorful and clever—and the art work so striking and lushly detailed—that I’ve found them among the most effective resources I’ve used with my kids and my students. When half the battle of raising a bilingual child is coming up with good resources that can promote the growth of the minority language, the wonderful books of Graeme Base are a very rich source of support if English is your target language.

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Now I'm Reading!Not long ago I was at a friend’s house with my kids, playing a board game with his family. (I lost.) The kids’ game involved a bit of reading, but just simple words and phrases that Lulu and Roy could produce easily. My friend, though, seemed impressed: “Wow, how did you teach your kids to read?”

The truth is, I didn’t really have to “teach” them. If you read to your children regularly enough, from the time they’re newborns, they’ll start to pick it up on their own, very naturally. (If a learning disability is suspected, it’s a different matter, of course.)

That said, I did make use of an excellent series of small books that formed the foundation of their independent reading—it’s called Now I’m Reading!—and I recommend it very highly, if English is your target language, too.

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