September 26th is European Day of Languages. The European Day of Languages is jointly organised by The Council of Europe and the European Union and celebrates linguistic diversity in Europe. I have compiled a list of some of the picture books that I have used to introduce English vocabulary to non native English speaking children.
We have raised our daughter bilingually from birth and have been consistent in our approach. I always speak my native English, my husband speaks his native German. Our daughter is fairly consistent in the language that she uses with each of us and whichever language she uses to speak we answer in our native languages. The approach has worked for her, she is completely bilingual and wants to learn a third language.
We know families that have taken other approaches. We have friends who speak English as the home language while their children have learnt German in school, kindergarten and through various extra-curricular activities. We also know native German families with a parent who has lived in an English speaking country, that parent speaks consistently to their child in English. I once taught a child with a German mother who made sure that at least one of her daughter’s bedtime stories each day was in English and at the age of six the child’s understanding and ability to speak English was already quite impressive.
Picture books are a great way of introducing children to a new language and brightly coloured pictures support a child’s understanding while they listen to a story read in a language that they don’t understand. I have put together some of my favourite picture books for reading to non native English speakers, both for learning and for enjoyment. Some of them have been widely translated, it excites a child when they recognise the cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from their own native language.
Press Here is the English translation of Un Livre by Herve Tullet and is a great book for introducing colours and commands. I have ‘read’ the book to groups of children with mixed English language ability and they all join in and become involved with the actions from the book. The book is a great icebreaker when you are working with any new group of children.
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh is great for introducing colour vocabulary and the sentences and pictures are simple. It tells the story of three mice who mix the primary colours to make new colours and it’s a great stimulus for art and craft activities.
Dig, Dig, Digging by Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe introduces a range of vehicles. The simple, bold illustrations and the easy to read rhythmic text make this a perfect book to share with non native English speakers. There are other books in the same series.
In Jasper’s Beanstalk by Nick Butterworth the days of the week are introduced as Jasper plants his beanstalk. There is very little text and the pictures effectively tell the story of Jasper’s attempt at planting and tending to his bean.
Another good book for introducing days of the week is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Many of Eric Carle’s books are great for introducing basic English vocabulary. From Head to Toe introduces parts of the body, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and The Mixed-Up Chameleon introduce colours and animals and The Very Busy Spider introduces farm animals.
Another colourful picture book which introduces farm animals and the noises that they make is What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks. This cleverly written story allows a teacher to ask children which noise an animal really makes to consolidate their understanding of animal vocabulary.
Dear Zoo is a great read aloud and also encourages children to interact with the story by lifting the flap to discover which zoo animal is underneath. The repetition allows the child to join in and it is also a great book for helping to introduce adjectives to older children.
Supermarket Zoo is a fun story which includes a variety of animals in a situation that is familiar to all children. Whatever language they speak children find the bird pooing on Mum’s head funny and are always impressed by Mum’s final purchase!
If you need a five minute filler all children will have lots of fun Doing The Animal Bop. Whether waddling like a penguin or mooing like a cow the CD with its calypso rhythm has everybody joining in.
I used The Little Raindrop by Joanna Gray and Dubravka Kolanovic as part of a water topic with a group of children in a language class. Their understanding of English was varied but the simple text and pictures effectively meant they could follow The Little Raindrop’s journey and understand the concept of the water cycle.
As a blog that is written mostly to recommend books to expat readers I always check to see if the book I am recommending is translated into German, Spanish or French for blog readers who have non English speaking children. I can’t vouch for the quality of the translations and would love to hear your opinion in the comments about the translation of a particular book that I have recommended. I would also love to hear other suggestions for picture books that you have used successfully with non native English speakers.