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Dual language books offer diverse research opportunities

Research into dual language books

Scope for research

There is little research available in the use of dual language books in the classroom, in early years settings, in complementary schools or in the home. 

There is a great deal of scope for research projects by practising teachers in a variety of settings as well as by undergraduate and post-graduate/research students in the Cass School of Education and Communities.

Undergraduates and postgraduate/research students in education programmes with interests in Early Years, Language Use, Children’s literature, Language and Identity, Children reading with parents and Language Teaching in schools and the community would all benefit from research into dual language books.

Sample areas of study that can be focused around the use of dual language books (and related multimedia and other materials), for example in ED 3000 projects include:

  • Bilingualism and literacy in the primary school curriculum
  • Bilingualism in Early Years settings
  • Bilingualism in family and community
  • Bilingualism and personal identity
  • Awareness of languages in Early Years settings/primary schools
  • Negotiation of meaning with multilingual texts

The large number of bilingual students in the Cass School of Education and Communities currently make little use of their skills in the languages spoken in the wider community in the course of their studies. The dual language book collection provides an opportunity for them to explore the use of their languages in educational settings with children who share them.


Using and Researching Dual Language Books for Children

Recent and Current Research

Learning to be Biliterate in English and Malay Using Dual Language Books (2013-2014)

Principal Investigator: Mukhlis Abu Bakar, Research Assistant: Nurul Taqiah Yussof, National Institute of Education, Singapore.

The research study was funded by the Ministry of Education of Singapore with the following aims:
  1. What are some of the strategies used by children who are learning to read their languages using dual language text?
  2. What are some of the strategies used by parents and guardians in working with children who are learning to read their languages using dual language text?
  3. What is the nature of the transfer of strategies, concepts and skills between languages?
  4. What is the impact on metalinguistic understanding and comprehension of reading a story simultaneously in two languages?
  5. What is the effect of reading activities on children’s evolving personal and learner identities?

The language-in-education policy in Singapore is officially bilingual, with English the medium of instruction for most subjects and mother tongue studied as a subject. The three mother tongues on the syllabus are Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. The study was designed to explore whether the use of dual language books might encourage children to use more mother tongue in view of the fact that language use by school children was shifting towards English as a result of the primary role of English in the curriculum.

The study refers to the work of Ma (2008) and replicates the methodology of Sneddon (2008), both described below. The participants were children in Kindergarten 2 (aged 6), learning Malay and English in four settings. Families were given dual language books in Malay and English to read at home with their children. It involved interviews with parents and teachers and extensive videoed observations of parents and children reading both in school and at home. The results (at the time of writing in the process of preparation for publication) demonstrate positive attitude changes towards the learning of Malay as a mother tongue, with children more willing to use the language to speak and to read at home.

(Sneddon, R. 2012. Telling the Story of the Computer Geek- children becoming authors and translators. Language and Education, 2012, 1, p1-16)

The paper offers a case study of two bilingual girls aged 10, born in London, of Albanian-speaking families who arrived in the UK as refugees. 

Following on an earlier study of two Albanian-speaking girls aged 6 learning to read with their mothers in Albanian using dual language books (described below), the opportunity arose to study them as they developed into authors of their own dual language book, working together in a primary school in East London that values the bilingualism of its pupils. 

Based on observation, recordings and transcription, the study follows them as they compose a joint story in English and translate it into Albanian. Through an analysis of transcripts and observations, the paper explores how the girls face the challenges of translation. Working together in school, without a dictionary, they use their own linguistic resources to negotiate meaning and to achieve the close translation that they know is expected in a dual language text. In the process, they reveal to the researcher their understanding of how their languages work. In a reflection on their journey towards bi-literacy, they acknowledge the important role played by their teachers in encouraging their bilingual development and reveal their pride in becoming authors.

The study was followed up by interviews with the girls in which they discuss the process of developing their identities as Albanian/English bilinguals and how they found their voices as writers. This is published as Two languages – Two Voices: Magda and Albana become authors  in The Student Voice Handbook (Eds Gerry Czerniawski and Warren Kidd). Emerald, 2011.

As a result of research findings from her work with the Gujarati/Urdu speaking community, Raymonde Sneddon has a particular interest in exploring the way in which meaning is negotiated and interpreted in the context of dual language books. Through individual case studies of children who are bilingual and have aural/oral skills in a home language and English and are learning to read, reading with an adult who is familiar with both languages, the following issues were explored:

  1. metalinguistic understanding through close observation and analysis of children who are being taught to read their home language and/or English through the use of dual language books
  2. the impact on comprehension of reading a story in two languages from the same book
  3. the strategies used by children if they can read one language and are learning the other, and evidence of transfer of reading skills
  4. the value of using dual language text, the benefits or drawbacks compared to using, for example, parallel texts and how the difference in scripts and language relationship affects the language learning process (for example English/French, English/Turkish, English/Arabic, English/Chinese).

The study followed the following children as they learned to read in the language of the home:

two six-year-old girls learning to read in Albanian with their mothers, as part of the Redbridge Project described above
one girl aged 7 learning to read in Urdu with her mother
two children, aged 7, teaching each other to read in Turkish
one trilingual girl (Lingala, French, English), aged 9, teaching herself to read in French
one boy aged 7 learning to read in Gujarati with his mother

An article outlining current findings in this project, Young Bilingual Children Learning to Read with Dual language Books was published in September 2008 in the NZ journal English Teaching: Practice and Critique, Vol 7.n.2. The study is reported in full in the book Bilingual Books - Biliterate Children (Sneddon, 2009) Published by Trentham Books.

James Ma: 'Reading the word and the world' how mind and culture are mediated through the use of dual- language storybooks. Education 3-13, Vol. 36, N.3, August 2008, p.237-251.

Abstract: This article presents a socio-cultural study of parental involvement in reading by examining the reciprocal mediation between a Chinese mother and her daughter in the reading of a dual-language storybook. The findings reveal a child learning in the 'interplay of her contexts' that reflects dynamics of collaborative involvement in meaning-making. With the aid of the dual-language storybook, the mother, not literate in English, is enabled to scaffold her child's learning in ways that enhance both the child's understanding of the English text and her knowledge of their heritage language, while the child herself assists her mother's learning of English. The article provides detailed explanations of ways in which inter-subjectivity (mutual understanding) arises from interpersonal communication, i.e. how 'reading' becomes transformed into a meaning-making activity from what can be a decontextualised task. The article includes implications for developing approaches that minority-ethnic parents can use when reading with their children, alongside reading strategies that can be adapted for use by monolingual teachers and bilingual assistants in mainstream schools. 

Developing Reading Skills through Home Languages Project
This project was developed by the Minority Ethnic Achievement Service of the London Borough of Redbridge. It was designed to promote and maintain the use of children’s home languages. Schools’ own reading programmes were complemented through providing resources to support pupils in developing reading skills in their home languages with the help of their parents. Dual language books and associated resources were made available to schools. 

Update: January 2016: The Teachers' Pack, previously on sale for £50, has now been made available free to download. 

The pack contains six case studies of how schools supported children's reading in their home language, an analysis of key issues and a wide range of classroom and teachers' resources, both in print in the book and available on two CDs. The resources include story prompts, parent guidance leaflets, phonics charts, high frequency words, all available in a wide range of languages to accompany a selection of dual language books. The pack also includes advice and resources to support teachers in running their own reading in home languages programme.

Dr Leena Helaavara Robertson of Middlesex University has studied children learning to read in English, Urdu and Arabic in school, community classes and mosque and how they switch strategies according to the learning context.

Leena describes children learning to read in Urdu using the English/Urdu version of Lima’s Red Hot Chilli (David Mills, 2000, Mantralingua). Both the teacher and the children switch between languages, translating words and discussing similarities and differences between the languages at all levels: lexicon, syntax, phonology and orthography; levels of metalinguistic awareness are high.

Leena concludes: 'The children learn to read in English whilst switching between different literacy systems. In each class they talk about their literacy learning in terms of ‘how you do it properly’. They are keen to demonstrate what they can do. Rather than finding the different languages and scripts, or classes, confusing, they have a powerful impact in inspiring the children to show that they have learnt what counts as ‘proper’ learning and ‘proper’ reading in all their classes…' (p.58)

The study is reported in Learning to Read “Properly” by Moving Between Parallel Literacy Classes. Language and Education, 2006. Vol.20: 1; pp 44-61.

Using home languages in Foundation Stage One. Linda Mullis, 2004.

An exciting and very successful action research project was carried out in a nursery school in Newham and written up as an M.A. dissertation entitled: What will be the impact on children, their families and staff as a result of the development of the use of home languages through the “Language of the Term Project”. How will this enhance children’s progress towards the Early Learning Goals of the Foundation Stage.

For this project, Linda Mullis adapted Joe Debono’s “Language of the Month” to a nursery school. She focused on one language each half term. Each key group was provided with words and phrases, pictures and activities to use. With the help of parents, LM provided practitioners with songs, captions for displays and number lines in different languages. A large board was allocated in a central position and children were encouraged to bring in photographs, pictures, artifacts and information about their country of origin for display.  

Initial languages involved were Bengali, French, Urdu, Tamil and Spanish. A thematic approach to teaching took place, whereby each half term a different topic was chosen and a number of ‘core books’ were selected to form a basis for planning different activities. The use of dual language books meant that the children had a good knowledge of the stories in their home languages and therefore showed a greater interest and level of participation in the related activities. This in turn improved the quality of the observations and subsequent assessments which the practitioners were able to carry out.

The year-long project had a very significant impact on the overall language skills of the young children which was noted and praised in an OFSTED Report. The project was written up for an M.A. dissertation (unpublished). The project took place in a nursery school in the London Borough of Newham throughout the academic year. Its aims were:

  • to show respect for other languages and cultures
  • to give children the opportunity to speak and hear their home language in the nursery
  • to enable families to become more involved in their children’s learning
  • to enhance the status of languages other than English
  • to give everyone the opportunity to develop their knowledge of other languages
  • to develop an interest in different countries and cultures
The work considered the value of the project in terms of the aims outlined above and the importance of incorporating children’s home languages to help them progress towards the Early Learning Goals defined in the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage. After making observations of children taking part in the daily activities in the nursery and holding discussions and interviews with the parents and staff, it was concluded that the inclusion of the languages of young children can bring about a positive impact on their learning and on the involvement and attitudes of staff and parents.