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Issues to explore

The use and research of dual language books creates a number of issues.

Issues to explore around dual language books

Issues in translation

There is a lively debate about the language variety that is best to use when a book is translated. The intended audience and purpose of the book will determine this.

If the purpose of the book is to help children understand a text in English, it needs to be translated into a language variety that the child will understand. For example, translating a text into Bengali may not help a Sylheti speaker very much and a standard literary variety (such as modern standard Arabic) may be difficult for children who have been brought up speaking regional varieties of a language.

If the purpose of the book is to support the development of literacy, then the standard literary language is the appropriate variety; the language of translations cannot be literal. It needs to flow and reflect the narrative conventions of the culture.

Issues in presentation and production values

Issues in language and presentation

Issues in language

The presence of two texts on the page raises issues of language status. Questions arise like: Which language will come first, and what message will that convey? Which way will an Arabic/English book face? Can two texts be fitted on a page without crowding it or adversely affecting original artwork?

Likewise, can teachers and English publishers be sure that the translations they have commissioned are accurate, of good quality and suitable for the target audience and purpose?

Issues in presentation - choice of texts and media

The most comprehensive discussion of the nature and use of dual language books in the English education system since the early 1980s can be found in a book. It provides guidance for teachers on a range of resources designed to encourage the use of languages other than English in the classroom. The views of children and teachers were sought regarding different materials and their use in a research project based at the University of Reading (The Multilingual Resources for Children Project, 1995).

The teachers who were consulted noted that, whereas books in a single language could only really be used by readers of that language, dual language books were accessible to a much wider range of pupils. Teachers reported feeling confident about using them for raising awareness of languages and encouraging children to share their languages and promoting pride in language skills and cultural identity. Children who used the books shared these views and were particularly aware of the positive effect their presence in the classroom would have on children new to English faced with unfamiliar classroom materials. 

Teachers reported that children new to English who were literate in their first language could use the books to support their understanding of the English text and to help them develop new vocabulary.

Multimedia research opportunities

Language, illustration and production values

As well as the choice of media, of language variety and illustration, production values are a rich source of research. There is need for evaluation of recent developments in the range of media in use.

There are many different purposes for using dual language books in educational settings. A research collection, such as the one being built up by the Cass School of Education and Communities, should encompass a range of texts suitable for different purposes and different areas of research. However, as resources are limited, there is an initial focus in the collection on texts for younger children that reflect the languages and cultures of their families, in the current East London context.

While printed texts have great value for familiarising young children with different written codes, recorded and interactive texts are particularly useful in contexts where children (and their teachers) may lack literacy skills in the languages used. The collection will include examples of the increasingly diverse and experimental material available on CD and DVD.

The work carried out by the Dual Language Action Research group at UEL in conjunction with the publisher Mantra revealed the value of games and artifacts associated with texts; when possible these will be included in the collection as they can stimulate the production of new and innovative materials.

Issues in the use of dual language books

Issues to consider

Issues in use

Issues that arise about the use of dual language books include: Will the presence of two texts encourage children to read the one language they are learning or just read the one they find easiest? How will they negotiate meaning between both languages to understand the text?

Issues in economics

It is a fact that because the market for any given language is small, dual text books are expensive to produce and schools in which many languages are spoken cannot afford to buy a range for each language. 

There are few books published for the upper primary and secondary range and there are few non-fiction books published. A few primary schools make a point of buying as many as possible of their picture books in dual text, so that all children can experience different languages and books are now becoming available on CD and DVD; but, while these are a popular and economic resource for schools, they are less popular for children reading alone or with friends or parents.