The last few years, Betty & Cat has come to the attention of several academics – full-blown professors like Joël Thibault at the University of Ottawa, and Elodie Combes when she was at the Université de Montréal. Lately, a number of young people studying language have stumbled on Betty & Cat and included the books in their studies.
Academics refer to Betty & Cat as an integrated bilingual book, as opposed to the traditional ones that are translated. My own feeling, based on my own character and experience (no patience to read the same thing twice!) is that integrated is the way to go. For kids who are studying another language, integrated is more fluid. The story doesn’t suffer from repetition. It’s also more rewarding – when you’ve finished the book, you’ve read a story in the target language, with only context and illustrations to point the way.
Here’s a blog by Joël Thibault on his latest study:
A little while ago, I offered the French/English series to an acquaintance in Tokyo for his young son, Kai, aged 6 (while apologising that I still haven’t been able to find a publisher to do a Japanese/English version – arrgh!).
The book went home and into Kai’s hands – he speaks neither English nor French, but he connected right away with the illustrations: in his thank you note (bless him!) he managed to draw Betty with a droopy ear – something his dad hadn’t picked up on. Kids are awesome (I’m old enough to remember the original meaning of this over-rated word and this is the perfect spot to use it!).
I regularly come up against parents who find the fact that the books aren’t translated too intimidating for their kids, or the language “too complicated”. Rubbish. The children’s author Sandra Boynton, whose board books for small children have sold 75 million copies (I can only dream of such numbers), had to fight to have the word “intone” remain in one of her books. Her response: “We’re reading this to a zero-old. All language is new to a kid. Why not invite them into a vocabulary that’s special from the beginning?” Yay Sandra Boynton. (From an article in the November issue of The Atlantic)
I’m proud of my Betty & Cat books and I’m even more proud of the little readers and their parents who “get” them .
Here’s a link to a recent review by Eowyn Crisfield, a well known educator and champion of bilingualism. It always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when someone *gets* the concept. Given Eowyn’s credentials, I feel even more chuffed!
This past Saturday I had a stand at the salon de Livres Jeunesse at a village near us. An amazing number of people turned up, people bought armsful of books, and the whole atmosphere was one of amazing interest.
The people who saw my bilingual books (there were only two of us flogging bilingual books!) more often than not approached with a certain diffidence. Teachers and librarians were more open, as were the kids themselves. I had two girls – 11 year-olds – read me a sample page, each taking a part. The one reading the English part was amazed at how well she understood the text, even though she didn’t know every word on the page (probably not even half!). What a kick for me – and for her. Nice to know you’re on the right track. The interview below is interesting. A researcher explains how kids are perfectly capable of learning two languages at once, from day one. Have a listen.
For five years now I’ve been bringing my French/English books to the local post office here in France. OK, I’m no JK Rowling, so we’re not talking thousands, but we are talking a steady stream. Not once did someone ask me what the books were about.
Change of village. The post office in the mairie is suddenly allowed to dispense the coveted Tarif Livre et Brochure (yet another way for France to spread the French language abroad; the rate is not available domestically). My first trip in last Thursday, I sent two sets of books – one to England and one to Canada.
Today, I went in again, and sent a bunch of books. I took one to show, and maybe display at the Mairie. When I showed the secretary the book, she said, “Oh, I know! I was curious and so I went on line and had a look at your books!” She then said some complimentary things which I’ll spare you. I was chuffed.
But here’s the thing: This woman had lived for six years in Italy. She had had a daughter in Italy and lived there till the child was six. They’re both bilingual. So, does being bilingual make you more curious about other languages, other cultures? I feel the answer is “yes”, and am often confronted with what I consider as proof.
We now share a warm fuzzy connection, as well as Chez Betty & Cat At Home. I gave her the book for her daughter – once you’re bilingual, what’s a third or more languages!
The debate continues: are you doing your kids a favour by encouraging them to be bilingual – or even trilingual – or are you risking what Victorians used to call *brain fever* (I think you can see where my sympathies lie!)
Of course, all kids are different, and respond to the idea of bilingualism in different ways. I often hear people say that their child picks and chooses when to speak the target language. Often the child will only in the right context.
For instance, a child who knows that her Dad speaks her native language may ignore the bilingual experiment with him. But change the context, and off she goes, nattering like a native: maybe in the other country, maybe with a grandparent or other relative, or maybe even with a doll she associates with the other country.
Other kids are born communicators from the first oo and ah. I know a boy whose parents immigrated from France to Australia. At four years old he came back to France for a visit. Somehow he knew we’re native English speakers (although he’d always spoken French with us), and asked in English for a glass of water. He was thirsty. I told him in English that he knew where the glasses were, and to help himself. Only thing was, the cupboard was too high for him to reach. So, instead of saying “I can’t reach”, or grunting on tiptoe, he said, “I can’t actually reach them.” Not a phrase he would have picked up from his parents. From where, then? This child loves language, loves communicating, and instinctively made the target language his own – from day one. I love it!
What to do? You don’t want to push too hard, you don’t want your child left behind, and you don’t want your partner or your parents or in-laws left behind either. Any thoughts?