The work I do coaching parents to boost their success in raising bilingual kids is not only gratifying, it’s revealing. Lately, one recurring theme I see is a lack of resources in the minority language, an observation that isn’t meant as criticism of these families. Because in fact, I would say that all of us, to a smaller or larger degree, never really have enough resources in our target language.
Unless children are schooled in the minority language, and have ready access to a library full of books and other materials (and even a librarian to boot), I think this hunger for resources is unavoidable. After all, our children are continuously growing and maturing and new resources are needed on an ongoing basis to match their age, their language level, and their current interests.
In my case, for example, I’m now constantly searching for books that will fuel my children’s enthusiasm for reading independently. While I don’t always choose winners, my quest is relentless to meet the pace of their daily reading. If I don’t stay persistent by regularly bringing in fresh and fitting resources, their desire to read in the minority language will quickly decline. (It’s times like these I wish we had access to a well-stocked school library!)
There are two rooms
In the long post (with the long title) Why Resources in the Minority Language Are So Vital to Bilingual Success (With 6 Real-Life Examples From My Own Family), I stress the direct connection between the amount of minority language resources in the home and the child’s progress in that language. Although it oversimplifies the issue to say that families with the most resources will experience the most progress, I think there’s some truth in this generalization. After all, the more resources you have, and the more suitable those resources are, the more likely, and often, they will prompt times of exposure and engagement in the minority language. And, in the end, the child’s level of language ability will basically be in proportion to the quantity (and quality) of this exposure and engagement.
Think of it this way: There are two rooms, side by side. The first room is completely empty, barren of books and other resources. The second room is flooded with suitable resources, an inviting wonderland of minority language materials.
Which room would more likely appeal to your child? (At least after the novelty of making noisy echoes in the first room wears off!)
Which room would be more likely to encourage exposure and engagement—and thus progress—in the minority language?
Closer to the second
Now I know this is a whimsical example, and none of us live in homes that match either room—we’re more in the middle somewhere. But my point is, as far as possible, you want to create a home that’s closer to the second room, not the first. And you achieve this by recognizing the overarching importance of having abundant resources to continually stir the interest and interaction of parent and child, and by committing yourself to actively and perpetually pursuing new resources.
Feed the fire
In my work with parents, what I see is this: When they make resources a higher priority, and put more investment of energy and funds into obtaining them (especially books), these fresh resources invariably generate fresh excitement in both parent and child, and produce a very positive uptick in exposure, engagement, and progress. Another side benefit—as I suggest in This Might Be the Very Best Thing About Raising Bilingual Kids (And It’s Probably Not What You Expect)—is the increase in quality interaction that parent and child enjoy together.
Finally, you see, resources in your target language (again, especially books!) are the wood needed to fuel a fire. Give the flame less wood and you’ll get a smaller fire; give it more wood and you’ll get a bigger fire. Thus, hand in hand with efforts to create meaningful interaction with the child, the minority language parent must also faithfully take on the never-ending task of seeking out suitable resources, too, so that the fire of language development will burn as brightly as possible throughout the years of childhood.
How Many Books Do You Have In Your Home?
What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language
There Are More Resources in Your Minority Language Than You Think
My challenge isn’t obtaining physical resources in the minority language – we have a million books, CDs, and access to live and recorded TV programming through the Internet. My challenge is finding real-life interaction with other speakers in the minority language – in other words, a community to interact with. My husband and older daughter don’t speak the minority language, so it’s just me and the baby. I have been trying to find other advanced or native-speaking families to have play time or get together for socializing, and I’ve had very little success. It is discouraging!
Laura, hang in there! I don’t know where you live, but one suggestion would be to join us at The Bilingual Zoo and seek out other parents of the same minority language who may be in your area. Our online community now has well over 300 members, from around the world, and some are also making connections offline. (I’ve already met two other members who live in my area!) At the same time, you would likely receive warm support and more suggestions from other parents. (Membership in this community is free, by the way, though pitching in with a modest annual contribution is encouraged to help maintain and enhance the site.)
As for resources, it’s true that the need for regular additions is less great when children are small, but this changes as they get a bit older and their language ability and personal interests grow. So I suspect this is a challenge you can “look forward to” for the future.
Have you tried minority Facebook groups in your area? You can even create one and get people with your language to join. Then you can organize meet-ups. That’s how it works with us – huge success.
I hear you in your struggle, Laura! Too bad we can’t order native speakers off the Internet! 😉 (Well I guess we sort of can by way of au pairs?) I agree that you should join The Bilingual Zoo, as well as any facebook groups that might help you. Also, think outside the box a little bit. Example: Yesterday I attended an event in my city in France called ‘Speed Language’ which is a free two-hour weekly event for anyone, in any language. Although there was only one other person there, we spoke English together (our family’s minority language) for about 2 hours and my baby was present. Success! Perhaps you could also contact language schools and offer free socializing and practice…
It is a good reminder that I need to get more minority language resources to have at home. Working full time, I find myself falling behind sometimes in terms of keeping up with new books. What has helped me the most so far is our local library. Luckily, we have been able to borrow lots of minority language books from there, and renew them very often. However, I have not seen many series books for when my kids get older (8-10 years old) 🙁 .
Dani, yes, it can be hard to keep up with this need, given our busy lives. It sounds like you’re doing well, overall, and making good use of your library. You’re also aware of the importance of series books so if you can put this on your to-do list (with a little star to make it a priority) and begin exploring possible titles for future use, this would be a positive step.
Keep at it, Dani!
Good reminder. When my older two were little, I made little baskets of books in the minority language and put them in strategic locations around the house—like on the coffee table or in the toilet! It was easy for them to grab a book and I really think it facilitated their reading. I’m going to start doing this again with my youngest, age 5! Thanks for the good ideas and reminder!
Susan, I agree, consciously shaping the environment to our advantage can promote more independent reading and stronger language development. I share similar thoughts in the post Don’t Read These Words!, which encourages crafty use of such tactics.
I totally agree about needing other speakers to interact with…and the number of books needed! I have successfully raised 2 bilingual children (now nearly 12 and 15) and as I had more French books in the house than English books, I decided to buy a mobile library (7.5t) to put them in so I could share them with others, ha!! I work with schools where I mostly read stories in French but am also involved in the local community and will soon be lending books. It is great fun, I am so glad I can help others develop their love of my native language!
Nathalie, your mobile library is a wonderful idea! Good for you! I wish you all the best with it and look forward to hearing how this project continues to unfold. (From time to time I’ve wondered how I might do more to share the many English books I have with the broader community. I’ll now keep your example in mind for the future!)
My minority language is not a world language with many published books. There are relatively few books, and particularly children’s books, and it is very, very difficult to acquire them internationally. I have experience as a professional translator—do you recommend translating books? If I were to read Junie B. Jones aloud in my minority language at breakfast (to parallel your experience) is that good? I worry that it will not create the same variety in style that original writing does, but don’t see better alternatives. In terms of reading together, I am also not sure what to do.
Yes, if you have the energy and expertise, making your own translations of suitable books is certainly one way to maintain an all-important read-aloud routine. At the same time, perhaps this post could suggest some other possibilities…
What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language
I know that finding or creating resources in a “less common” language can be a significant challenge, but I encourage you to give this your best effort as the more resources you have (and the more those resources are used), the more you’ll raise the odds of successfully realizing your bilingual aim.
Thank you so much, Adam. I thought I had read every post on the site but I didn’t yet see that one! I will look at it now.