What are dual-language books and why are they crucial for schools?
Dual-language books are bilingual books that present the same narrative in two different languages. In most cases, the whole book is written in two languages throughout: one side of the text in the English language, with the other side of text in a second language. There are a wide variety of languages that accompany the English text in rendering the story. Such books mostly present children’s story books that contain illustrations as well as the two texts. Dual-language books are typically read out loud by one person who has proficiency in two languages or by two people (Sneddon, 2009). These books are becoming increasingly popular in use among parents and children, as well as in immersion and bilingual schools.
A dual-language book in Russian and English. Publisher: Mantra Lingua.
There is a growing body of research that looks at the incorporation of such books into classroom spaces. Recent studies have reported that using such books in lessons helped students to learn new words (Read et al., 2021) empower them (Cun, 2022) and increase metalinguistic awareness (Zaidi, 2020). Metalinguistic awareness, which involves the knowledge of the language structure and its form, can be significantly improved as the students compare the two texts’ language structures and word choices (Sneddon, 2009). These books serve as great teaching materials that can be helpful in bringing the students’ home languages into the classroom, thereby creating an inclusive learning space that sees all languages as equal.
‘Bilingual books serve as great teaching materials that can be helpful in bringing the students’ home languages into the classroom, thereby creating an inclusive learning space that sees all languages as equal.’
One way of incorporating such books into bilingual or even multilingual classrooms is by inviting a guest reader who is proficient in one of the languages presented in the book. The guest reader could be one of the student’s parents who would read the part of the text in his or her language while the teacher reads the same part in the English language. By conducting such lessons, teachers will not only increase parents’ involvement but also help immigrant or newly arrived parents feel less marginalised.
One of the studies conducted by Ma (2008) has identified that the parent’s role in reading dual-language books can be transformative. In Ma’s (2008) study, the parent who was fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese and her daughter studying in English were able to teach each other unknown words from the texts and thus co-constructed meaning. The parent explained the story’s meaning and cultural relevance and the daughter clarified unknown English words. This way both the parent and the daughter participated in the process of teaching and learning.
Through the facilitation of dual-language book readings, teachers can make an impact on the students and their parents. As dual-language books are a great resource that can be used to enhance the teaching and learning processes, it is crucial for schools and teachers to incorporate their usage into classroom spaces.
Cun, A. (2022). Interactive digital book reading in families with refugee backgrounds. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 36(4),1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/02568543.2022.2028944
Ma, J. (2008). ‘Reading the word and the world’: How mind and culture are mediated through the use of dual-language storybooks. Education 3-13, 36(3), 237–251. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004270802217686
Read, K., Contreras, P. D., Rodriguez, B., & Jara, J. (2021). ¿Read Conmigo?: The effect of code-switching storybooks on dual-language learners’ retention of new vocabulary. Early Education and Development, 32(4), 516–533. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2020.1780090
Sneddon, R. (2009). Bilingual books, biliterate children: Learning to read through dual language books. Trentham Books & Mantra Lingua.
Zaidi, R. (2020). Dual-language books: Enhancing engagement and language awareness. Journal of Literacy Research, 52(3), 269–292. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086296X20939559
The author would like to express their gratitude to Mantra Lingua for granting permission to use the cover image of the Russian/English edition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The publisher’s cooperation is sincerely appreciated.
Mantra Lingua is a UK-based publisher specialising in dual-language books, talking pens, and audio resources that are aimed at promoting language awareness and cultural diversity. Website: www.mantralingua.com.