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Dual Language Books

Using and Researching Dual Language Books for Children

Multilingualism in Education

Dual Language Books

A Resource for Teachers and Researchers

What are Dual Language Books?

Dual text books are published in two languages. Texts for children may have both languages on one page or two languages facing each other on alternate pages. Books published in the UK generally have English as one of the languages.

The Cass School of Education at UEL has built a substantial collection of these books for teaching and research to promote the use of dual language books and other language materials in the classroom with a view to creating a bank of shared ideas and resources for teachers.

We encourage undergraduates, student and trainee teachers and postgraduate and research students who have an interest in bilingualism and multilingual issues to explore the potential of such materials as part of their research projects and to make their findings available to others. We work with publishers to evaluate multilingual materials and to stimulate the publication of new resources to meet the needs of pupils, parents and teachers.

Why use Dual Language Books?

More than 300 languages are spoken in London (Eversley et al. 2010) and there is a growing interest in building on and developing the language skills of London children. The value of community languages is being increasingly recognised in education (See Positively Plurilingual). 

Language teaching is a statutory requirement at KS2 and at KS3 and any modern or ancient foreign language can be taught. Although languages are not compulsory at KS4, schools are encouraged to teach them and they are included in the e-Bacc. 

Although no longer active, the Primary National Strategy’s 'Learning and Teaching for Bilingual Children in the Primary Years' (DCFS 2006) supported and encouraged the development of children’s bilingualism as does the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. A range of languages are available at GCSE, A Level and in MFL PGCEs and it is important to maintain numbers to ensure that the qualifications remain available and the DfE recognises the important role played by complementary schools in developing community language skills. You can also visit the site of the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education

CILT is a valuable reason for using dual language books, and reading simultaneously in two languages is a very under-researched area of language and literacy development and multilingualism is good for you!

UEL ran a successful small action research project carried out by MA students and interested teachers in the Cass School of Education (2002-2004) which built on the extensive language skills of the School’s student body and made use of the multilingual schools in east London. This stimulated further practitioner and academic research in the area.

Find out more! 
If you have examples of work using dual language texts that you would like to bring to our attention, if you have information or experience of interesting projects to develop bilingualism and multiliteracy, or you require further information about the Cass School of Education’s projects, please contact Ratha Perumal or Dr Raymonde Sneddon


Using Dual Language Books effectively

There are many different ways in which dual language books can be used for different purposes and to support the understanding of children new to English. For example using a Turkish/English version of the Three Billy Goats Gruff with an audio recording will help a Turkish-speaking child to follow the story when it is used in class, to participate in activities and to start reading in English. The two written texts will be particularly supportive if the child is already literate in Turkish.

Providing familiar texts for children new to the English class and finding a story to read or listen to in a familiar language can be a very comforting experience for a child bewildered by an all-English environment. Many children gain pride and confidence from being able to demonstrate their understanding and literacy skill and introducing children to new languages and scripts encourages curiosity and language learning. Many teachers have found this one of the most valuable uses for dual-language books. 

The books also encourage bilingual children to read in the language of their community. Opportunities to become literate in the language of the home are very limited in this country and unless children have been educated overseas, they may have very limited literacy skills. Often the only teaching available is for two or three hours a week in a complementary school (also known as supplementary schools, mother tongue schools, Saturday schools) or in the home. 

Using a dual language book can help children who are more confident in English to read in their home language. Sending the books home for parents to read with their children has been popular with many families, as access to children’s literature may be limited. Some parents have reported that they particularly value the books, because they can improve their reading in English while teaching their child to read in their home language. The Ethnic Minority Achievement Team in the London Borough of Redbridge involved parents in a project entitled Developing Reading Skills through Home Languages (2008).

The most common ways of using the books in the classroom include bilingual staff, parents or visitors reading to children and/or making audio recordings. Children reading with support from audio recordings, a friend in the listening area and using the books in conjunction with drama, games, masks and puppets are a good basis for cross-curricular activities in the classroom. 

Teachers making books with pupils and their families to explore personal heritage and experience have used some of the following ideas: 

  • writing and illustrating a personal version of a favourite family story from the home country 
  • writing about a significant event related to family history or moving to another country 
  • writing about a visit to the “old country”
  • writing about a photograph (or a sequence of photos)
  • constructing a family tree together
  • writing about significant artifacts and their uses


CABDI AND THE HYENA – Somali/English - A Home-School Project in Bristol

Teachers experimenting with the use of dual language books have come up with many exciting and innovative ways of using them and making new ones, such as writing and illustrating a personal version of a favourite family story from the home country.

The making of the book formed part of a home-school project with parents and children at St Barnabas CEVC Primary School in Bristol during 2002. A Somali parents’ group at the school suggested the story of Cabdi and the Hyena – a fable similar to that of ‘the boy who cried wolf’. One of the parents wrote it out in Somali and a teaching assistant at the school translated this into English.  

A group of Somali children from several year groups, who had expressed interest in the book, then spent the spring term working on the illustrations. They talked to parents, relatives and friends who had lived in rural Somalia and consulted published literature in order to research the background to their illustrations. The children’s illustrations and text were then collated by a professional designer who worked closely with the school throughout.

The home-school project culminated in a memorable Somali cultural festival which was largely organized and run by the parents themselves. During the two-day festival the entire school, parents and friends participated in a varied programme of cultural activities (including the erection in the school hall of a genuine Somali Akul, or tent, along with associated accoutrements for daily nomadic life). Cabdi and the Hyena was launched at the festival. Its production was funded entirely by the school, from which copies may still be available.