This month sees the opening of The Bilingual Bookshop, www.thebilingualbookshop.com. Cheryl Sánchez, Founder, describes the idea behind the enterprise, and how The Bilingual Bookshop is helping families across the UK.
Being a teacher in a multilingual school and mummy to my gorgeous 2 year old daughter, who we are raising bilingually with English and Spanish, I have always been so disappointed with the lack of good quality foreign-language materials here in the UK to use with my classes and my family.
Until now, our summer trips to Spain have followed the ritual familiar to many bilingual families: spending hours traipsing round various book- and toy shops in the pursuit of foreign-language products for our children, to take back with us for the coming year. For those of us that do not travel ‘home’ regularly, we try to predict the interests and abilities of our children for the whole year ahead and then stuff our already overweight suitcases with as many books/CDs etc. as we can carry. And worst of all, if we don’t make it to the shops because we value the time spent with family and friends (after all, spending time with native speakers is the best way to encourage our child’s language development), we may settle for any old rubbish we can find in the local supermarket as long as it presents the target language in some way!
Let’s be clear here: I am not looking for resources for teaching languages such as flashcards and textbooks, nor am I looking to buy ‘whatever I can get my hands on’ – I am looking for authentic, good-quality products from well-established, reputable publishers and manufacturers in the country in question, so that my child has the same access to these materials as if she were living there.
Now, of course it is possible to gain access to these materials in certain circumstances: internet shopping is possible, but often requires an address in the foreign country and maybe even a credit card registered in that country. Even if the products are available to UK customers, the delivery times are often long and frustrating, and they do not meet the needs of a bilingual family as they are presented with no guidance on how to use them with a bilingual child.
Then there is the question of the use of readily-available dual-language books – those where both languages appear on the same page. Colin Baker, author of the successful Multilingual Matters publication A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism, states that ‘Dual language books are not without controversy. First, children usually only read the story in one language in the book, and may ignore the other language. Having understood the story in one language, it may be tiresome to read the story in another language. The child ends up reading half the book rather than the whole book. Second, the presence of a majority language such as English tends to remove the desire to read in a minority language.’ As a professional in education, I echo this view, and am completely convinced that children need authentic materials from the foreign country: they represent that country’s literary culture, customs and traditions, and provide a complete immersion which is absolutely necessary if a child is to become truly bilingual. Translations often fail to capture the essence of a story or an idea and this is at the very heart of what we are encouraging when reading with our children.
I set up The Bilingual Bookshop to put an end to the crazy summer book-searching ritual. Working with excellent, well-known publishers and manufacturers across Europe, and using our years of experience in education, learning and language-development, we have selected a wide range of products to suit the specific needs and interests of bilingual children aged 0-12 years. We offer the staples of every native speaker’s bookshelf: atlases, picture dictionaries and information and activity books, which are particularly useful as they contain short, easily accessible snippets of language. We complement these products with a wide range of fiction titles for independent reading or, as is often the case with bilingual learners, for sharing with parents.
Despite the fact that we now offer these products in the UK, it remains a hard task for one to gauge which books will suit YOUR bilingual child. At The Bilingual Bookshop, we have responded to this by featuring guidance alongside our products to support parents in choosing appropriate materials, and our community pages feature a whole host of articles, tips and advice on raising bilingual children. Our inspirational family profiles provide an insight into the huge diversity in approaches to raising bilingual children, and our forums offer a means to ask questions and share experiences with others on the same journey.
To fill one’s home with language, and create a real bilingual home environment, is in my view one of the best ways to develop a bilingual family. Come over to The Bilingual Bookshop to see how we can support you in your family’s bilingual adventures – we’re sure you won’t be disappointed!
The Bilingual Bookshop (www.thebilingualbookshop.com) is open now!