Language and culture go hand in hand, and one important way to share them is through books, especially bilingual books. Bilingual picture books feature stories written in both English and another language, generally by displaying both languages side-by-side on the page.
I asked a linguistics expert what they considered the main benefits of sharing bilingual books with children. Their response may surprise you, as these books help those who don’t speak a second language, but also those who do.
'... If your child doesn’t speak a second language, reading bilingual books will show them that there are other languages and ways to write (even finding that letters and words come in different scripts), something that is valuable to learn at a relatively young age. If the book is about another culture, they will also get to learn about that, too, through exposure to people who have different ways of dressing, who look different, and so on, but are otherwise the same. This is important in developing an understanding of the world and conceptualising what is “normal”.
Reading bilingual books will not necessarily teach a child another language - they need other language learning opportunities, too - but some words might stick, and perhaps even develop into an interest in learning languages.
When children do speak both languages, bilingual books help them get them used to literacy in two languages. When a bilingual child has a dominant language (e.g. English) it’s common for them to only develop literacy in that dominant language, so fun literary experiences in another language will encourage them to continue experiencing their other language in books. It also shows them some of the differences and similarities between the languages, and when read in each language, it offers them a different experience ...'
So how do you find bilingual reading material? Most libraries will have bilingual books of one kind or another, usually found either on the non-fiction shelves (look for the 400s), or as part of a separate language collection. Some libraries also have bilingual story time sessions which share stories in English and another language.
If you’d like to explore some research into bilingual literacy, you can read: The Importance of Literacy in the Home Language: The View From Australia.
Sarah Steed is our Consultant Librarian and reviewer. A former Children's and Young Adult Librarian, she has more than 18 years' experience working in public libraries. Sarah comes from a family of readers and has shelves full to bursting with books.