What made us look at dual language books?

When you go to a school, you might notice that there are people from all over the world! And people all over the world speak many, many different languages. It’s tough to move, and when you also have to learn new languages and new cultures, it can be even more challenging.

Dual language books are one way for teachers, students and families to talk about different languages, different cultures, different identities and the things that connect us and the things that make us unique.

We started looking at these books and the way they could help in elementary classrooms in the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In some schools in Calgary, more than 40 languages are spoken – and the diversity of people in Calgary continues to grow. It’s estimated that by 2010 the visible minority population will be 25% (City of Calgary, 2003).

What are ‘dual language’ books?

Dual language books let you experience a story in 2 different languages!  You get to see how different languages looks – different scripts, different layout, different length – and sometimes you can even get people to read them out loud in the different languages, and you can hear the differences, too!

Where did our research start?

We started by asking questions like:

• What dual language books are available?
• What kinds of dual language books do children respond well to? • What are some ways teachers might use dual language books in their teaching?

This was our Phase One research. We developed a database of dual language books, we came to understand that children liked books with contemporary themes, and we started to imagine (and witness) ways that teachers could use these books. We also saw that these books could open a bridge between home and school, one that hadn’t been there before.

What did we look at next?

Next, we asked ourselves “Do children who get to experience dual language books improve their literacy?” and “Can we measure these improvements?”

We have spent the past 2008-2009 school year gathering just the sort of data that might allow us to answer such questions (and we’re doing this for 2009-2010, too). What we are finding, as we work with this data, is that dual language books really help emergent literacy, especially metalinguistic awareness. Dual language books let teachers and students explore other languages, scripts, texts, and written conventions, not to mention cultures and ways of being, on the road to literacy acquisition

We’ve also identified lots of new and engaging ways for teachers to interact with learners through the use of dual language books – see the spotlight example below!

Spotlight on Pedagogy

Some ways that teachers use dual language books to inspire and engage learners and literacy:

  • Trip plan projects
  • Identity texts
  • News from around the World project
  • Quilting a window on the World project
  • National Symbols project

What questions are we asking now?

Because all of our questions have been asked in the classroom, now we’re interested in seeing how dual language books are experienced by families at home. We are interested in questions like “Do dual language books affect how families engage in literacy activities in the home?”

For two months this past year we followed one family’s journey with dual language books. This family is bilingual (Urdu & English), and we asked them to document their literacy journey with a variety of sources, like diaries, photos, drawings and we even video-taped reading sessions.

We are looking forward to sharing our new insights in the coming months!