Articles Tagged with books

Dilemma on Reading

maclaryWe have books for Nina in all three languages that she’s growing up with. So far, Nicolas and I stick to OPOL (One Parent One Language) quite religiously, which also applies to the book reading time. It means that when I read a book with Nina I read in Chinese, and when Nicolas reads a book with Nina he reads in French.

So here is the dilemma. When we read a book that’s not written in ‘our language’ basically what we do is speaking ‘our language’ (by live translating or simply improvising) while looking at the written language of the book. One of Nina’s favorite books at the moment is ‘Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy’, a picture book in English about the little hairy black dog Maclary going out and about running into other dogs. It’s a beautiful book both in drawing and in text. The text rhymes, but of course it rhymes in English only! So when I read – meaning Speaking by half translating half improvising the story in Chinese – the rhyme is totally gone!

While it serves the purpose – from linguistic point of view – on providing Chinese language input in this case, it loses the beauty of its original language (in English in this case).

So I wonder if there are times, such as reading books, when it’s better to just follow the language that the book is written in?

<update on Oct 19th>

I shared my dilemma with ‘Raising Multilingual Children’ group on facebook, and got some fantastic insights from the members there! It’s relieving to read that I am certainly not the only person with the dilemma – there are many others out there facing the similar challenge and come up with their own solution with trials and errors. A more popular practice through these comments is to eventually read the book in  the language that the book is written in. However there is one practice that I particularly like, which is to make sure at least certain amount of time every day (20 minutes in that case) to read the ‘minority language’ books. I like this practice because: 1) it ensures the quantity of the exposure of the minority language (in reading/speaking/hearing)  on regular basis; 2) it respects all the languages that the books are written in, hence ensures the quality of exposure of all languages by helping the children to build the connection between the written form and the spoken form of these languages.

So I decided to give a try this morning – not live translating non-Chinese books into Chinese, and read only Chinese books in Chinese. Nina picked up one of her favorite French books (Tchoupi Part En Vacances), and came sitting next to me signaling me to read the book to her. I have read this book many times with her in Chinese, but this time I started to read … in FRENCH! After I read the first phrase or so, I saw Nina literally turning her head from the book to me, looking at me … puzzled/surprised. Did she realize that I was not using the ‘normal’ language? Did she notice something different? Was she saying ‘why are you reading this book like papa’?

It’s absolutely fascinating to see how much a child at her age (merely 21 months, who has only less than 2 dozens of vocabularies) is aware of what’s going on around her, from linguistic perspective. She knows what mama is talking about in which language, and picks up immediately when mama starts to do things differently. They are exquisite observers, which make them the most exquisite learners.

Now what’s left to do is to make sure we build a good collection of books in Chinese and French (the more difficult ones being in Australia), and read English books in English.

Bilingual Story Time

I came across this artilce ‘Bilingual Storytime: What Is It? How Do I Do It? Will Anyone Come?’ . The author talks about her experience of launching a bilingual (French-English) storytime activity at local library in Lille (a city in Northern France, not far from my hubby’s hometown!). I am very impressed by her idea as well as her action to make it happen/work.

According to her, there are five ways to make the bilingual story time work:

  • One page, one page: This works well for shorter books with little dialogue and where reading a page in French and then the same page in English aids in comprehension (but doesn’t bore the kids because the book is too long). This works well with books like Willy the Dreamer or My Mum, both by Anthony Brown.
  • Split reading: This works best for stories with short, repetitive lines where the French and English can respond to each other without losing the coherence of the story line like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, by Eric Carle.
  • Split dialogue: This is similar to the above, but works in books where there is dialogue that can be split between the languages without losing the meaning. This works for books like Le Machin, by Stéphane Servant or some of the stories in Yummy, by Lucy Cousins where the dialogue repeats throughout the story. When read bilingually, the repetition happens once in each language.
  • Two voices: Perfect for books with two characters: One character speaks French and the other responds in English. Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggy books with their repetitive text, written for new readers, works perfectly because the sentences repeat in each character’s voice.
  • Bilingual text: This is the easiest method since it requires no preparation at all. Although there aren’t many stories that are bilingual in the text, books by Kris Di Giacomo are good examples.

And she also gave the reading list on, which is a good reference.

I would love to find some stories I can read in Chinese/English or Chinese/French. Well I already talked about Le Petit Prince. But what else?