Visiting the home country on holiday, or another country where the minority language is spoken, is a great opportunity to stock up on resources. Below are a few tips on what to look for when stocking up on resources in the minority language when abroad, whatever your target language.
Books are by far the most important resource. Reading and being read from an early age, getting familiar with the words’ graphism and phonics, cultural references, and eventually develop literacy skills, is incredibly valuable and there’s nothing quite like it.
Even if you’re not expecting your children to become biliterate in the target language, it’s still important to have plenty of books and read together – that way they get familiar with the language’s grammar and vocabulary.
Within the books category, it’s good to have a range that is age appropriate for each stage of development and child ability. There are a variety of books for different situations and skills development, for example picture books, fiction and non-fiction books and chapter books.
Having a wide range of books offers variety and excitement and helps motivate both the reader and listener. Sometimes one is in the mood for a short story. Other times may call for a chapter book that the family can work through together over a number of days or weeks.
Try to look out for the following, considering age appropriateness and child readiness:
- Board books and picture books for first words and concepts for young learners
- Interactive books with flaps and pop-ups
- Good engaging stories that entertain and intrigue. Is it funny? Does it challenge the child? Does it makes them think?
- Funny books – if it makes the child laugh, chances are it will become a favourite
- Children are often drawn to TV character books which can motivate them but it’s good to also offer different styles of illustration which educate visually in terms of aesthetics and diversity
- Small books, big books, short stories, long stories
- Non-fiction books, for example, about feelings and emotions, about the world, science and history provide the vocabulary for a variety of subjects that the children are also learning in the community. It brings both languages on a par. If the child is not in mainstream education yet, such books will foster curiosity and understanding about themselves and the world around them.
- In terms of font and artwork, you want to look for contrast between the font and the background, and a good sized and legible font style. This makes for clearer and more accessible reading, and therefore easier learning and word recognition
- Keywords highlighted in bold can be helpful in learning
- Chapter books and books series are great for older children
- Comics might be enticing to some older children as well, and they can easily read it by themselves
The more books you have at home, the better. Studies have linked a home library to future academic success.
It’s great to have plenty of books in the target language, ideally as many, if not more, than in the minority language, bearing in mind that you can easily borrow or buy locally books in the community language. Remember that the child will have plenty of exposure to the community language when they start nursery or school, and there’s no risk of missing out on that.
If you’re unsure of what to look for, look out for books from well-known authors, and authors who’ve been recognised with awards. Books with recognition stamps, such as a ‘Bestseller’, or the Portuguese ‘Plano National de Leitura’ can be reassuring.
Tip: don’t forget to point to the words as you read them to your child, to support sound and letter recognition
Working within a budget
It’s all very well saying the more the better, but the reality is, books are not cheap. Some people just can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros on target language books. So here’s some advice:
- Look for books that you can envision your child ‘begging’ you to read to them, either because they like the character, because it’s a subject they’re interested in (for example, trains or princesses), the story resonates with them and their experience, or simply because you know they will find it funny. The first step is for them to enjoy reading and being read to. It’s ok to have fewer books that the children love. Just select them carefully and make it count!
- Find books that will withstand the test of time. Good quality books, well written, about universal subjects children love, have longevity and will stay in the family for many years. Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls is one of our favourite books and I was ecstatic to get it in our target language. I know it will have an impact and stay with us for a long time.
- When in a shop, it’s easy to be seduced by all the wonderful books available. I often get carried away with a gigantic pile and then have to slowly shortlist them until I get to a feasible number. It’s then easier to realise that some of the books have a similar subject or perform a similar function.
- Get the children involved in picking the books. With their buy-in, they will become more invested in it
Tip: If possible, read the book in the bookshop before you buy it. Are you happy with the message? Does the child sound excited about it or indifferent?
I am yet to meet a child who doesn’t love stickers. They just love sticker books!
Nice activity books with activities that involve stickers are good, though they are likely to require assistance from a grown up in the earlier years to read the instructions – so be ready to be available to assist. Even just a sticker book with a few words in the language already helps expose to a different script.
The main idea here, though, is for you to sit with the child, engage with them in the minority language and allow them to use and apply their language skills through a different medium.
We can find hundreds of sticker and activity books in the UK which I will happily let the girls play with by themselves. Such books in the target language are much harder to come by, so I keep them out of their reach and they only play with them when I am available to engage fully. Personally, I also like to keep these sticker books well after the stickers have been used, just to jog the children’s memory.
If you want your child to be biliterate, you need to actively teach them to read and write. Even if you enroll them in target language lessons, follow up is needed at home.
There are study and exercise books for the children studying in the country of the minority language. Buy some so you can sit down and have ‘learning time’. If your children are perfect bilingual, great! If the target language is a little behind what would be expected of a child their age, no worries, just get exercise books for children one year younger, or whatever level you find suitable.
Bilingual book author Adam Beck advocates getting into the habit studying or doing homework from a young age, even before the child is alphabetised in the community language to create a solid habit, because later on it, as they grow up, it becomes harder to get older children to do so willingly.
DVDs in the minority language
These days services like Netflix offer programmes in different languages and films doubled in other languages as well. If you have a DVD player, you can bring those from home as well.
Games & Puzzles
Games from the community country can be played in the minority language. However, it requires discipline from the parent to remember to play it in the target language if they are not in the habit of doing so. It can help to get board games in the visit abroad if those games have prompts in the target language. If they don’t, such as games like noughts and crosses, there’s obviously not much point to it,
Other games are more targeted to developing literacy such as this one from Clementoni:
The right puzzle can be a good aid as well. It’s just a different way to apply knowledge, if the right imagery and words are included such as in this puzzle with the Map of Portugal.
It can be a challenge to find books and other resources in the minority language. Yes, even in a huge and multicultural metropolis like London!
If you don’t have an opportunity to travel abroad as regularly as you would like, you might find these tips to overcome lack of access to minority language groups useful.
You can also order books in Portuguese, English, French and Spanish safely online from Wook, who delivers worldwide. Search in the banner below to get started.