Unlikely Bilingual Children’s Books

Living in a monolingual loving society, you have to go out of your way to find foreign language children’s books. One solution to this problem is creating your own multilingual books- shown here in this post. I have been looking for more ways to add bilingual stories into our life and here are two ideas that my son and a former professor taught me this week:

Unlikely Bilingual Book #1: Cookbooks!

Sometimes we have to look outside of the norm, and this practice in creativity expands our opportunities. Luckily for me, two people helped nudge me towards creativity this week.

I can thank my son for this brilliant and simple idea. He stumbled upon a French cookbook in the closet last week, bringing it to me so I could read it to him. First thing I said out loud was, “This isn’t a kid’s book, you won’t like this book”. I regretted the words as I said them, took the book and reminded myself that he’s allowed to read all books. As soon as I started reading, I realized that he was loving it; another French book just got add to our reading list.

Many cookbooks are straight picture books. He was fascinated by the large closeups of different foods items. I started to point out the ingredients to him and realized this was a perfect children’s book. Since this book is Salads of Summer, most of the ingredients aren’t cooked, just mixed together. This makes it ideal for identification- going through the list of ingredients and finding them in the photos. You can talk about shape, colors and different textures. Which of these foods have you tasted before? Which of these foods would you like to try? For older children, you could read through the recipes, learning different cooking verbs. You can talk about the five tastes and the science of the tongue. Pick out a recipe, shop for ingredients and then prepare the recipe together. Since most nations use the Metric system, this is a good time to talk about this difference and practice math conversions.

I have to be honest, I get bored of children’s books after awhile. Overall they’re wonderful, but reading them over and over again becomes mundane. However food is difficult to tire of, so this is a convenient way of incorporating bilingual vocabulary in food and cooking into your child’s day.

If you don’t own any cookbooks in the target language, I find that as a non-native speaker of French, food vocabulary has always come easy and is a good candidate for interpreting, so grab an English cookbook with lots of pictures and enjoy a good bilingual read with your little one!

Cost: $0 (use cookbooks already on hand, or rent from the library)

Advanced Learning: Shopping for ingredients, imagine what kitchen items you would need for the recipe, calculate recipe in the Metric system (or into the Imperial system)

Unlikely Bilingual Book #2: English picture book + Target Language Audio books

Reaching out to a former French professor gave me the inspiration for the next unlikely candidate for bilingual children’s books: classic tales. As a non-native speaker of French, I can become self-conscious of my language ability and what I am passing on to my son.
My professor reminded me that a variety of language speakers is important for every learner- even those that have a native speaker educating them.

I sometimes play YouTube or Netflix cartoons in French for my son but he doesn’t like watching TV in general and won’t pay attention. While this makes me happy, I do worry about how to incorporate native language speakers into his daily life. I have also read some research on how children can’t process TV and radio programming without having it broken down by someone in real life- overall electronic audio doesn’t help language development in English or in the target language unless it is thoughtfully presented.

Stories that are ubiquitous to many cultures are classic folk and fairy tales. These stories are readily available on YouTube in French and so I decided to get some books from the library and try combining the book with the YouTube audio. It was very easy to follow along between the picture book and the audio.

Overall, I did find that my son got distracted by the sound of the audio coming from a device he couldn’t touch and paying attention to the book at the same time. I made a point of pointing out the pictures and asking him questions throughout the reading. This was a promising activity and I plan on incorporating this into our daily activities.
I do think that this activity will work better as he gets older.

Cost: $0

Advanced Learning: Ask (in the target language) follow up questions after the story is over, talk about differences between the audio and the picture book.