My name is Camille. I’m a primary school teacher in France. I started teaching in 2016 in a school with non-English speaking children, ages 8 to 11. Since 2019 I started teaching the CLIL curriculum (Content Learning Integrated Language) with children ages 8 and 9.
What I usually do, whatever the child’s age, is start the afternoon with a reading. This is just for fun and pleasure. I, or the children, pick up an English-language book and we’ll read it every day for a week. It sounds like a lot, but children love repetition, the expectation of hearing something they know, and anticipating something that will create emotions they like. Repetition is key in teaching!
Our very first experience with a Betty and Cat book was with children who had probably never heard a word of English before.
I began simply by introducing Betty, the dog who thinks in French, and Cat, the critter who thinks in English. This is the interesting feature of the book. The languages themselves become characters in the story. Betty is not French because she is “from France” but because of the language she uses. Same for Cat. He is not “from England”. Cat is the language he uses. More than just animals, Betty and Cat are languages. The children picked that up much more quickly than it takes to explain it!
With non-English speaking children, I show the pictures while I am reading. In this way they can use all the clues in the book to help them understand the story. They really enjoy the pictures, especially little details like spotting a mouse on the pages.
The story makes sense to children very quickly as they use the language they know to build up their understanding of the other one. Obviously, the children don’t understand every word, however, they make links and connections very quickly. They understand what’s happening. They also implement specific strategies very quickly: obvious words, expected actions. In my experience, the balance of English and French is just fine. The books are not too long, so the children don’t give up. They know that what is coming next will help them understand what happened before.
One last, very important feature is that Betty and Cat is a real story: you don’t read the same simple phrases in English then in French. The children are not bored by it and they are involved in the story’s energy and events. So far their favourite, whatever the age and the language, is Betty and Cat In the Snow.
My second experience with Betty and Cat is with children already playing with both languages. What makes immediate sense to them is that what is going on in the book with both languages is exactly what is going on in their brain. It is how they live and learn. The book builds on their vocabulary and grammatical structures and makes them feel more confident in the target language. They also like reading and role-playing with Betty and Cat. Every time I start reading one of the books, they ask for the other ones!
In conclusion, I highly recommend the Betty & Cat books for classroom learning.