Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How to find books in your family language

Reading is good for the development of a child's literacy. 2012 is the National Year of Reading and a collaboration between the state libraries is promoting many events across Australia to enjoy reading as a daily activity. The enjoyment of books, literacy rich environment and positive interaction between young children and adults are essential elements of early language and literacy development

It is easy to get picture books in English, our majority language in Australia. But for many multilingual families sourcing books in the family language is not as easy and often a quite expensive adventure. Finding books in Mongolian or Serbian is basically impossible in Australia and families often resort to ordering books on the internet or asking family members to send books over in the mail.

Best is to purchase books at your local book store, as you can take your child along to select a book the child is interested in. In Perth there are two foreign language book stores which offer a variety of books in other languages. Check out the Language Centre Bookshop in Leederville and the All Foreign Languages Book Shop in Perth.

Purchasing bilingual books over the internet is another option. Some internet book shops even post books and games free of charge, so at least the costly transport charges can often be prevented. Gerbers from Itzehoe in Germany ( is one of these book stores that sells books in German, English, Spanish, French and Italian, available without transport cost if the books are sent via sea mail.

Make your own bilingual book
An easier and cheaper option is often overlooked. I am talking of altering an English book to become a bilingual book by simply writing in the words on each page or through adhering stickers, handwritten or neatly typed, with the respective translation in your family language. You can pick up second hand picture books in English at any opp-shop or second hand book shop. Also try the second hand bookshop os the State Library of Western Australia which has a good selection of English picture books and and as well foreign language picture books for sale.

Why is it important to read and not just to tell the story as you go along?
What counts as literacy in early childchood has been the subject of many academic papers. According to Professor Catherine Snow from Harvard University one of the most robust long-term predictors of good literacy outcomes that can be measured in early childhood is vocabulary. Children with large oral language vocabularies are very unlikely to have problems learning to read.

When telling stories you are using the vocabulary that you always use with your child. Reading does something else, it introduces the vocabulary of the author which expands the vocabulary of the child. You get the best results in both languages when you therefore try to translate the words and the meaning of the author to the best of your abilities into your native language. This allows you to always use the same words for that specific page which over time builds the memory and vocabulary of your child. Use a good dictionary to find the right translation if you are unsure. I am fond of the DK visual dictionary that shows mostly accurate translations into five languages and used it as a picture book in its own right.

What to do if books in your family language don't open like English books?
If books in your family language open the same way as English books this works very well. If your family speaks Arabic or Farsi the use of English books is more difficult, as these bnooks open from the other side. However, there are soultions. One is to photocopy a book and put it together the other way round. Black and white photocopies are a cheap option and the book can double up as a colouring in book for your child.

Here are two examples: The first one is from the book 'Picture Book' by Ian Beck. Each page just has simple words. I wrote the translated words next to the English words on each page.

The second example is from the book "Wee G." by Harriet M. Ziefert. I translated the sentence on each page and hand wrote the translation next to it.

Many families are having great difficulties discovering interesting reading material for their young ones. With a bit of creativity it is easier than you think to make your own bilingual book. Give it a try and please tell me how it went.

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