Category Archives: Community Support

The Same but Different: Another Way of Looking at Book Sharing

photo credit: Mary Ann @

“Come here, little huggy bear!”
“Are you ready for bed, my little coconut candy?”
“Let’s put your coat on, my flea!”

If you’ve ever used any of these terms of endearment with a child, English probably isn’t your first language! And if English is your first language, you probably can’t imagine calling your baby a “tiny elephant”, like they do in Thailand, or “breadcrumb”, which is popular in Finland. Whether you are used to calling your loved ones “pumpkin”, “honey”, “babydoll” or “sweetie”, you will certainly understand what the unfamiliar phrases mean: love for a child.

No two cultures do things in exactly the same way, and there’s no right way or wrong way. That’s why the recently-published findings about the lack of “book-sharing” within immigrant families is a bit misleading. The study, completed by the Stanford University School of Medicine, shows that “parents in Hispanic or Asian immigrant families in California were less likely to read…with their young children than non-Hispanic white parents.” It goes on to point out that there may be many reasons for this difference, such as cultural practices and parents working more than one job who therefore have less time overall to spend with their children.

Of course, “’early reading enlarges vocabulary and becomes a tool for many other kinds of learning later on in school’”, as Dr Mendoza mentions in a Reuters article about the study’s results. And it stands to reason that children whose parents and carers never read with them could be at a disadvantage – but does this study show the whole picture?

There are many ways of sharing the content of books. Just because a parent doesn’t sit down in the family’s extensive library with his child and read every word of a book they’ve chosen together, complete with silly voices and long digressions about what’s going on in the illustrations, doesn’t mean that the family isn’t “book-sharing” in their own way.

Different cultures have different ways of teaching and nurturing their children. For instance, some parents prefer to tell stories, rather than read them. What better way to respond to your child’s environment and enrich his or her vocabulary with practical, useful words than to spontaneously break into a tale that fits what he or she is interested in at that moment? No searching for the perfect book, no worries about finding a perfect spot to plonk down and read: just you, your child, and the magic of a story. Of course, having a varied library of books you’ve shared in the past might help fuel your imagination as you spin your yarn or relate a story passed down through generations, but telling a story without the physical pages of a book will still support your child’s language and literacy development. Singing songs and sharing rhymes will help accomplish the same goal.

Most educators would agree that it is beneficial for educators to make a classroom library available with bilingual children’s books in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and other languages represented in the classroom, allowing children to take the books home to read with their parents. That said, supporting parents to build on their own interests and to make use of their own skill set is a way of getting them more involved in home literacy activities, rather than trying to get all parents to do things the same way.

Wordless picture books that children can borrow from the class library are a good way to start, and there are lots of interesting ways to use them ( has some great ones!). Think about taking a few of these ideas and putting them onto a (bilingual) sheet which could be stuck into the inside covers of all of your classroom’s wordless picture books. There’s no reason to force the view that all families should read together in the way that we are accustomed; rather, wordless storybooks might give some families another option for book-sharing in their own way with their loved ones.

For families in which parents simply work too much to be able to sit and read with their children, making recording equipment available to them at the beginning or end of the school day could really help get them involved. Creating a cd or mp3 of a parent reading their child’s favorite book (in any language!) would only take five minutes and could be quickly accomplished at pick-up time. At home, the child could listen to the recording while looking through the book as the parent rushes out the door to work or cooks dinner – and it would still promote his or her literacy and language skills, besides strengthening a parent-child bond even when the parent can’t actually be present!

Some parents may merely need to be introduced to the special bond reading with their child creates, and they’ll want to bring the practice into the home. If it’s something they never experienced with their parents, they may not be aware of how wonderful it can be! Preschool teachers can make parents reading with their children a fun and comfortable prospect by creating a special Parent-Child Reading Corner somewhere in your classroom. Fill it with your students’ favorite choices, fun posters, comfy cushions, and maybe even some snacks and drinks. Then encourage parents on the school run to take five minutes to relax with their child and share the books that have caught their interest that day. It’ll be infectious and will soon turn up in the homes of many more of your students.

Despite what some surveys suggest, we all know that every culture is effective at supporting, nurturing and showing love for children. While it’s wonderful to promote at-home reading, it’s important to consider cultural aspects and promote alternative approaches to building literacy skills as well. After all, what would America be if our founding fathers had just decided to keep doing things the English way?

We’d love to hear about your experiences on this topic – feel free to comment below!

3 Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving…Bilingually!



Thanksgiving is one of the only times during the year when we can all come together and celebrate the beauty in our lives that we experience for free.  We can enjoy our friends, neighbors, and families while avoiding the stress of some other holidays.  Best of all, everyone of all faiths and backgrounds can participate in this truly American holiday.

So how can you use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to promote bilingualism?


Thanksgiving is such a special time, perfect for getting back in touch with family members you haven’t seen in ages.  A great way to reconnect and promote bilingualism is to have children interview family members and friends at the table about what Thanksgiving words they might know in other languages.  You and your children will get to know where people have traveled to learn other words, and you’ll reaffirm connections between family members for whom English is a second language.  In some families there may be those who know more English and want to keep the family’s traditional language as well — and this activity is perfect for them too.

This game could be used to add bilingualism to a book the family makes together of pictures of the holiday traditions and foods in their home.

Time to Digest

After supper and before the apple pie comes out, the kids might be looking for something to do.  Encourage them to put on a performance of a bilingual book they’ve read!  They’ll love entertaining their relatives as they digest, and no-one can resist little ones who are eager to share something they’ve enjoyed.  They can put on the performance in both languages to further cement their understanding.


Cultures all over the world make food the centerpiece of their most important celebrations.  Make your centerpiece something that involves the traditions of the cultures your child is learning about.  You can go further than a simple fall theme, too, and include celebratory food in general.  Families in which children are learning Bengali might want to try a cholar dal, usually served for the festival of Durga Pujor.  Are your little ones learning Mandarin?  Tangerines and oranges are often handed out for Chinese New Year.  Although these holidays aren’t to do with Thanksgiving, the foods traditionally associated with them all have a special quality that will add sparkle – and a global perspective! – to your table.  Add them to a special Bilingual Cornucopia in the middle of your dinner table and give all of your family and friends something bilingual to talk about.

Want more ideas about bilingual kids, different cultures and Thanksgiving?  Check out these great blogs from our archives:



From Summer Slide…to Reading Pride!

photo credit: KOMUnews

“[Here] is what reading is all about: yes, it will make kids smarter and give them a better start in life than non-readers, but for me that’s not the point. The point is that reading is fun…”

This is a quote from a recent article in British newspaper The Guardian by Charlie Higson, author of a variety of YA fiction including the Young James Bond series. Sure, as a writer he might have a vested interest in promoting reading, but there is no denying the inherent truth of what he is saying. To get kids to read, and keep reading, particularly over the long summer months, it must be a pleasurable experience. This is definitely the point that we need to get across to children now that the sound of the school bell has faded and it seems like forever before the leaves start to turn and they’re back at their desks. Summer is for having fun, and that includes reading!

Bilingual Books and the Summer Learning Slide

Many families, teachers, and librarians worry about the summer learning slide, and with good reason. A study done by Reading Rockets found that for “116 first, second, and third graders in a school in a middle class neighborhood …the decoding skills of nearly 45% of the participants and the fluency skills of 25% declined between May and September.” Attention clearly needs to paid to reading over summer vacation if we are to combat this trend.

For families who want to renew their children’s enthusiasm for reading, bilingual books can add a new dimension. For families who speak a language other than English at home, bilingual books can be a comforting way to read in their home language while simultaneously building their English skills over the summer.

Here are some tips to help your children and students use bilingual books for having fun and improving their reading skills before September:

  • Start with an old favorite. A great access point for bilingual reading is a book your child already knows and loves. If he or she is a fan of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, reading it in English and then in French will make the new language seem less intimidating. Kids will enjoy matching up the French vocabulary with the pictures and English words they already know!

 There are also a variety of folktales and stories from around the world available in bilingual editions (English and another language text on the same page), so children who speak a different home language can also find stories that are familiar to them. A group of parents who want to encourage their children to become bilingual readers could find a set of books to swap throughout the summer, so no-one gets bored!

  • Become the star of your book. Bring your bilingual story to life by getting kids to act it out using words from the less familiar language. Not only is this fun, but the kinaesthetic element will help embed their new vocabulary. The creativity and freedom involved in this activity will go a long way towards helping children understand that reading is enjoyable and reading a new language is even more fun when you practice it together!
  • Make a scene! Why not try using cardboard and found objects to recreate a scene that you see in the bilingual book you’re reading? The kids can go on a hunt to gather what they need and then label the scene in both languages used in the book.
  • Talk it out. Start your own mini-book group, even with your pre-schoolers! This would be especially useful for parents who are trying to encourage their children to speak English alongside a different home language.

At school, children are used to discussing books. The question-and-answer structure will be familiar to them and therefore allow them to feel more comfortable and take more risks speaking their new language. Simple discussions about feelings and plot are great tools to help embed new vocabulary: “How does the explorer feel about the animals at the end of the book? What has changed?” “What were your favorite plants that you saw in the drawings?” See if you can get your children to answer in both languages. They’ll feel more involved in what they’ve read and excited to continue their literary journey!

  • Let a librarian help. Kristina Robertson from, a website dedicated to helping the families and educators of English/Dual Language Learners, writes, “Libraries offer all kinds of resources and opportunities to ELLs and their families, but many families may not know about the kinds of services and programs that libraries offer.” Well, summer is the time to check it out! Head to your local library and see what bilingual resources they have available. Many libraries also hold summer reading challenges (see the next tip) which can easily be adapted to support bilingual reading. Colorin Colorado provides a useful list of links to different programs in major cities – if yours isn’t on here, a quick search on the internet may also provide results.

Are you a librarian? For you, summer is a great time to reach out to the community and welcome ELLs into your stacks. As Robertson writes, many families are unaware of the great summer reading programs and bilingual resources you offer – so get some flyers translated and start sticking them up around town!

…And here’s a list of other great ways librarians are improving literacy for ELLs all over the country:

  • Challenge yourself! Embrace your child’s competitive spirit and let them enter the Scholastic Summer Challenge. Kids log minutes and see “how far round the world” they can read – as a parent, you could log double for bilingual books as they’ve technically read them twice!
  • Banish “Are we there yet?”s. Ah, the long car ride- a breeding ground for “I’m boooored!”s or, worse, long silences broken only by the tapping of little fingers on a Nintendo DS! But it doesn’t have to be this way: find a bilingual children’s book on cd, or record your own as a podcast, and bring it with you on your way to Grandma’s to keep the kids entertained and prevent the dreaded summer learning slump.

Summer is such a perfect opportunity to show kids how much fun bilingual reading can be. How are you planning to use bilingual books to prepare your kids for the exciting year ahead at school?

For more ideas about summer literacy, check out the following Language Lizard blogs:

Summer Literacy Programs


Bilingual Books for Summertime Reading





Bringing up Multilingual Children with Less Common Home Languages

On a sunny day in London, when the streets are crowded with people enjoying the rare warmth, you can hear an abundance of different languages from the majority migrant groups in the city: families discussing the school day in Somali; teenagers gossiping in Turkish; imams greeting each other in Urdu.   But passing by the shop fronts boasting posters in languages from Polish and Bengali, you won’t hear German or Cape Verdean creole – not unless you go to Andrea and Xaxa’s for tea and cake.

Andrea and Xaxa met on Cape Verde, an island country off the west coast of Africa.  They now live with their eight-month-old baby, Bruno in London.  London is a city in which there are plenty of services and community groups for more commonly found home languages, like Bulgarian and Punjabi, but little availability of these amenities in less-common heritage languages like the ones Bruno will grow up speaking.  Andrea says she wants Bruno to have “the ability to converse with his family both in Germany and Cape Verde when visiting…and to pick up further languages more easily at school”, so she is determined that he will be able to use all three of his languages even though he won’t hear them spoken by his friends and the people he meets in London.  “I speak German to him when alone with him, singing German nursery rhymes and reading German books.  Xaxa speaks Crioulo to him and sings in Crioulo.”

Valentina, who emigrated from Italy, reads to her son Isaac every day in her native language, Italian, hoping that he will grow up to feel “natural and comfortable” with his two tongues.  She’s gone out of her way to to stock up on Italian books and tries to speak to him only in Italian, even when spending time with her English-speaking friends and their children.    It worries her a little that he will miss out on the subtleties of Italian and that “we could be missing a whole level of communication between us” but overall she feels that “the positives of raising a bilingual child outweigh the challenges.”  She’s excited for Isaac to communicate with his Italian family, have the opportunity to travel meaningfully around Italy, and to have the deeper “understanding of his own heritage” that only speaking the language can really bring.

These kinds of experiences happen in many different countries, including the U.S., and in small towns as well as in cities.  Irene lives in Norwich, a smaller, much less ethnically diverse city two hours’ drive northeast of London.  Her son Matthias is growing up bilingual.  “I want him to love both his languages equally.  But I think it is probably unrealistic because he will probably be exposed to it so little and need it so little.”  She says that though she tries “to speak to him in Danish as much as possible”, she regrets that she’s “not always good at being consistent.”  Her husband Roger is English, so she feels, “I always forget and automatically switch to English.  I know this is not good, but it simply happens.”  Like Andrea and Xaxa, Irene sings and reads to Matthias in Danish, including alternating the language of his bedtime story every night.  But she admits that it’s a “major challenge” not being part of a language community: “I do hope I can find some other Danish speakers at some point – kids he can play with.”

“Research says that growing up with more than one language is like exercise for the brain,” reports national early childhood expert Karen Nemeth of    “It builds thinking skills in school-age children and keeps the brain agile in late adulthood, but meeting the challenge of maintaining home languages is just as important for strengthening the family bond and honouring the family culture.  It really is worth the extra effort,”

This article from the New York Times describes research about the benefits of being bilingual that also supports the efforts that Valentina, Andrea and Irene are making to keep their home language growing with their babies:


So what can Andrea, Valentina and Irene do to ensure their boys feel proud of and confident when speaking their heritage languages?  Nemeth says that these moms and their partners are already doing the right thing by singing and reading to their children in their heritage languages.  This is especially important for Xaxa, whose mother tongue is not Cape Verde’s official language and is only spoken rather than written.  For Matthias, Isaac and other children with one English speaking parent, bilingual books can be a great way to share the same story in two languages with their two parents (or a parent and a teacher)

Bruno, Isaac and Matthias are also benefiting when their parents have conversations with them that are 100% in one language; it’s much less useful to simply identify objects for the child in one language, then another.

To add an extra boost of German, Italian, Dutch or Crioulo conversation power for their children, these parents can also search online for local groups who meet up for chats in their heritage languages.  Valentina’s already looking for playgroups in her area: “having friends who speak Italian too will be invaluable!”  And if they can’t find any ready-made groups, website allows them to create their own local group and advertise it to others in the community.   They could stop into their local library to ask about family activities in different languages too – they may even be able to work with the library to start their own.

As the children get older, their local schools can be a great connection as well.  Parents like Andrea, Valentina and Irene may meet other families who speak their language at the school gates. They can also use their experiences and the books, stories and songs they’ve collected to bring their culture and language to the school as a valuable resource for all of the children.

 The cultural and linguistic make-up of diverse cities like London is constantly changing — and maybe one day you’ll be able to hear Dutch on the street corners and Italian in the cafes.  But until then, kids like Bruno, Isaac and Matthias will continue to be special and unique, and lucky to be growing up with parents who are so invested in ensuring they grow up multilingual.




Grants and Funding for Bilingual Classrooms

Grants and Funding for Bilingual Classrooms

As we all know, many teachers have a hard time finding funding for all the books, materials and resources they need for their classrooms. For teachers of English Language Learner (ELL) students, access to quality resources, materials, and training is especially important, as ELL students need bilingual books and materials to improve their literacy and language skills. Yet obtaining these resources can be a difficult task for teachers and schools when local funding is not available.

As reported in Ed. Department Awards Grants to Improve ELL Teaching, the U.S. Department of Education is aware that bilingual programs rely on funding simply to exist, let alone thrive. Resources are available through both federal and state government grants as well as private funding. The key for teachers and school administrators is to find out how to tap into these available resources.

To help teachers find ways to purchase the bilingual resources they need, we have compiled a comprehensive (although by no means exhaustive) list of available grant and funding opportunities. This article comprises:

  • tips on how to search and apply for funding as well as sources for where to start looking for grants.
  • a list of federal and state government grants. (Many of these government grants will help pay for materials and resources, so make sure you include those in your proposals.)
  • a catalog of private companies and organizations that provide funding. Private sources can be less restrictive than public ones, and may include financial support for items such as bilingual books and resources.

(Please note: the links in this article were current as of the initial writing of this article.  Links and grant opportunities change over time, but we believe this article will provide a good starting point for your research.) Continue reading Grants and Funding for Bilingual Classrooms

Bilingual Children & Summer Literacy Programs

Bilingual Children and Summer Reading Programs

Summertime is upon us! The school year is coming to an end and our favorite summer activities are right around the corner: Running barefoot through sprinklers, savoring a neon-colored snow cone and sitting in the shade of a favorite tree with a good book. What could be better?

Even though school is letting out, children can strengthen their literacy skills with summertime literacy programs, available through local libraries, community centers, schools, bookstores and even online. Bilingual children, in particular, can significantly improve their literacy during the summer by reading bilingual books in both of their languages.

As we mentioned in our previous article, literacy can grow and develop regardless of language. The most important thing is that bilingual children are provided with quality reading materials and an incentive to read them. Instilling a love of reading should always be the primary goal for our students.

Here is a list of programs that can help students strengthen their literacy skills this summer:
Continue reading Bilingual Children & Summer Literacy Programs

Supporting Bilingualism: 4 Reasons Parents Should Speak Heritage Languages at Home

Although the United States has been dubbed “the graveyard of languages” for its lack of heritage language support, today’s children’s futures need not be so bleak. Given the right encouragement, immigrant families can pass on the best of both worlds to their children: a home language in addition to the community language.

For many decades there has been a common misconception that immigrant families will help their children most by completely switching to English in the home. The belief is that the more a family uses English together, the stronger their English language skills will become.  While it is true that family members can help one another by practicing English together, English should not supplant the native language in the home. In fact, dropping the home language in favor of English can end up having many negative consequences.

Why would a family do this? A strong desire to prepare children for a competitive education system is one very common reason. Continue reading Supporting Bilingualism: 4 Reasons Parents Should Speak Heritage Languages at Home

Support Early Childhood Literacy in International Preschool Classroom

We’d like to share with you a great opportunity to support early childhood literacy and language development to children in need with bilingual books and educational supplies!

Our friends at Give and Surf Inc. are starting a preschool for ages 3-5 in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  The preschool will be educating children from the indigenous Ngobe villages of this underserved area. Their preschool will be the first of its kind in the area.

We all know the importance of early reading for children, and Give and Surf is currently collecting books and any supplies necessary to start the preschool.  They have an empty classroom and an open canvas to build the ideal preschool!  The children of Bahia Honda have had limited exposure to books and would benefit greatly from any support. Continue reading Support Early Childhood Literacy in International Preschool Classroom