If you have more than one language and have decided to share it with your kids, well done you! There are all sorts of benefits to being multilingual: you’re more likely to be open to other cultures, to travel and embrace opportunities (professional or otherwise), to fight off the onset of dementia, and so on. It’s also a lot easier, once you learn one extra language, to pick up more along the way.
But it can also be quite the challenge to keep up the ‘minority’ language going. When kids start preschool and school, it gets even harder, as they spend most of their day talking, listening and learning in the majority language. English (or Irish) becomes the language of play, of friendship, of learning, and it spills over into the home through homework or simply when you ask your child what they’ve done all day. Chances are they will answer in English, or using English words. And as this is happening, there is a risk that the minority language will become that of chores and ‘clean up your room’ and ‘eat your dinner’ and all sorts of things that will give it a bad name.
How to keep it alive? How to keep it fun? There are a few organisations out there that might be able to help. Mother Tongues is an Irish organisation that aims to raise awareness of the benefits and challenges associated with bilingualism. Among other things, they run workshops about raising bilingual babies and kids, and list language classes on their website. The embassies are another door to knock on, as they tend to know about language groups and relevant cultural events. Your local library is also worth checking out, as it may have group meets and workshops in the language you’re looking for, from storytelling to coding to Lego building.
And of course, there’s all you can do at home. Watching movies in your chosen language, listening to songs, singing and telling stories, anything that is going to get you and your little ones talking is valid. As always, tap into your kids’ interests and run with it, in your language!
As much as you can, and as early as you can, read to your kids in your language. If sourcing the appropriate books is tricky, there are a few options. When your children are very young, just make up the text of the book in your own words. Your audience won’t complain that you’re not reading the words on the page or criticise your translation! Many public libraries stock books in a range of languages, all free to borrow, and as all the library branches are connected across the country, you can order any book from anywhere. Chat to your librarian! With older kids, you could offer them to read the same book in both languages. Many bestsellers written in English are translated into other languages, so that your bookworm could enjoy, say, Harry Potter in English and in Italian, Russian, Japanese, and so on. Comics and mangas are brilliant too, especially as your child’s reading age in the minority language may be slightly lower than in English. The pictures, the limited text, the sound effects … it all helps conveying meaning even before you need to read the words. You could also look for bilingual books, where alternating chapters are written in English and in another language.
The titles in this month’s selection are all books in translation and come from the four corners of the world. You can find more over here, and more great books from around the world in their own languages there. Enjoy!
Juliette Saumande is a writer and translator who spends a lot of time devising cunning ways for her own children to speak more of her native French, from running a cine book club with them to pretending Asterix doesn’t exist in English. See how she does it here: www.juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.
2-4: Poo Bum, by Stephanie Blake, translated by Linda Burgess, Gecko Press
Once there was a little bunny who only ever said one thing: Poo bum! When his mammy asked him to brush his teeth: Poo bum! When his daddy asked him to finish his dinner: Poo bum! When the big bad wolf threatened to eat him: Poo bum! This is our bunny’s undoing, but also his salvation! Hilarious and with very simple text, this originally French story also boasts bright, bold illustrations. Expect plenty of re-enactments and don’t be surprised when your toddler takes over the reading. A joy! (Country of origin: France)
5-8: All Better! by Inese Zandere, illustrated by Reinis Pētersons, adapted by Catherine Ann Cullen, Little Island Books
A collection of light-hearted rhymes for every medical emergency! Whether you suffer from toothache, have a nasty cold or are awaiting an X-ray or surgery, you’re sure to find here something to help the medicine go down. The illustrations are big and warm, and go a long way towards making scary tools and complex procedures seem less frightening, more helpful and understandable. The poems explore the range of feelings associated with poor health, giving young readers a chance to express themselves and realise they’re not alone. (Country of origin: Latvia)
7+: What a Wonderful Word! by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, 360 Degrees
This is a wonderful book, that will take you on a linguistic tour around the world as it looks at nearly thirty untranslatable words from twenty-eight languages. Those are words for which there is no simple equivalent (in this case in English) either because they simply don’t exist, or the cultural context is different. Either way, it takes way more than one word to translate those untranslatables! Through words and pictures, discover the meaning of the French ‘retrouvailles’, the Arabic ‘ishq’, the Icelandic ‘gluggaveđur’, or find out how to say in one (Swedish) word ‘to wake up early in the morning so you can go outside to hear the first birds singing’. A delight!
9-12: The Story of the Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly, by Luis Sepúlveda, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, Alma Books
The story of this book is in the title, but it is so much more than that! Set in the German port of Hamburg, it tells of the fate of a mother gull who knows she won’t live to see her egg hatch. She takes a gamble and gives the fragile bundle to a local cat to look after. The cat’s initial moral dilemma, his subsequent practical challenges, and the truly lovely cast of port characters make this a must-read for animal lovers who enjoy a short enough read. (Country of origin: Chile)