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…
I know this is easy for me to say—especially since books in English, our minority language, are so plentiful—but I would first encourage you to be even more proactive, more resourceful, in your quest to find resources. Where are the books you need? How can you get those books into your hands? Who could help you?
There’s no getting around the fact that obtaining resources—in any language, really—costs time and money, but the payoff in stronger language ability is well worth the investment, in my opinion. Skimp on that investment and you undermine the conditions that can maximize your children’s language development.
As I suggested in There Are More Resources in Your Minority Language Than You Think, once you put additional effort into searching for suitable books, you may be surprised at what you find.
Wordless picture books
One type of children’s book that can be “read” in any language—and I do mean any language—is the wordless picture book. Wordless picture books, which convey stories through illustrations alone, have long been one of my “secret weapons” for nurturing language ability in my kids and my students. A more versatile resource than you might imagine, these books can be used in a variety of ways, and even with older children, to nurture a wide range of language skills.
For parents struggling to locate resources, a supply of wordless picture books can be extremely helpful by providing a springboard for storytelling in the minority language. Just turn the pages and talk—it’s as simple as that. And because you aren’t bound by written text, the experience can be even richer, linguistically, than “ordinary” children’s books. In fact, research has demonstrated that wordless picture books can generate more “complex talk” from parents, and more meaningful interaction with children.
To find wordless picture books (there are hundreds of good titles out there), you might start with these links…
For more information on ways to use wordless picture books, these articles are highly recommended…
Wordless Picture Books at Children’s Books and Reading
An excellent post, with a range of good ideas and a list of favorite titles.
One more thought: Because these books lack text (or have very little text), when you want them to “model” written language for your kids, you could write out the story yourself—at whatever level of complexity suits your needs—and then (temporarily, perhaps) affix this homemade text to the pages in some fashion.
Majority language books
Of course, books in the majority language can also be “read” in the minority language: just tell the story in your own words. As with wordless picture books, you could affix your own text to the pages, too, effectively replacing the majority language text and turning them into minority language books.
Your own books
Another possibility is to create your own simple books, perhaps recounting stories from your own childhood or spinning lively adventures featuring your kids. This obviously takes more time and effort, but the results could be very rewarding and might even turn into family keepsakes. Maybe your children can be involved in the creative process, too, helping you imagine the story or provide illustrations. Who knows? Your creations may even become published books!
For inspiration, see my step-by-step process for generating original stories, shared in Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with This Fun, Simple Strategy.
The hard truth
Yes, addressing the need for children’s books in a less-common minority language can be a challenge, but there’s no alternative, really, except to lower your expectations for your children’s language development. The hard truth is, if books and reading don’t form the core of your efforts, it will be hard for your children to advance to higher levels of proficiency in the minority language during childhood.
But if you give extra effort to obtaining needed resources, and supplement your minority language books with wordless picture books, majority language books (used in the target language), and books that you create yourself, you’ll surely raise the odds of achieving your highest aim for your children’s bilingual ability.