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Vickie Tsui

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Growing up bilingual is becoming more common in certain areas of the world.  Recently, the minority population of the United States reached over 50% for the first time partially due to increasing Hispanic, Asian and multi-racial populations.  In addition, recently scientific studies showing advantages of bilingualism to brain development have rushed eager parents to attempt to raise their kids bilingual.


However, truly bilingual children are still a minority.  At this young age, being different from most of your classmates often leads to negative feelings like embarrassment and shame, no matter how much Mom and Dad say that this difference is actually a gift.  Why should the bilingual kids not feel isolated?  There are few children’s role models either in real life or in the media who are truly bilingual.  You may be asking, “How about Diego and Dora?  How about Kai-Lan?”  Give me a break.  Those shows and books are aimed at the wide English-speaking audience, with a few basic Spanish or Chinese phrases inserted to make parents feel like their children are learning something useful.  For a truly bilingual child, these characters can look more ridiculous than admirable.


So here is my plea to all authors out there who can write in multiple languages: please consider writing children’s books that are truly bilingual, or contain bilingual heroes and heroines.  We all know the benefits of having a child identify with a character in a book, both for increasing their love of reading, and for improving their self-esteem.  Harry Potter is the best known example, but there are thousands more.


These books can be realistic and about a child’s daily life; except the child may be speaking English to his teachers and Chinese to his parents.  To be even more realistic, he may be speaking a mix of both languages to his siblings.  There may be times in which he forgets a phrase in a language, leading to some embarrassing situation; yet later on he might help as a translator to resolve some communication issues and feels like a hero.  Alternatively, these books may be completely fantastic.  For example, what if the famous Chinese Monkey King accidentally landed in the world of Star Wars?  Would Darth Vader try to lure him to the Dark Side while Yoda is convinced the Monkey King must become a Jedi?  Imagine how helpful C-3PO would be, being able to also speak Chinese to the Monkey King!


These books are certainly targeted towards a very limited audience, so major publishing companies may be reluctant to such ideas.  However, in today’s world of easy self-publishing, there must be a way to get these books out through other means.  The community of bilingual children, immersion schools, and hard-working parents are in desperate need of such children’s books for a wide age range.

Juliet Menendez

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I am happy to read your post and comments about the state of bilingual children’s books that are presently available.  As someone who taught as a bilingual teacher in a public school in NYC, I think I have been to every book store in NY in search of authentic characters that are truly bilingual and not designed to make English speaking children feel they are learning about “Latina culture.”

I am currently working to get two bilingual books about bi-cultural children published.  I am a writer and illustrator and am just starting out, but I will let you know if I find any new books that are more genuine.  If you would like to see my work, you can visit my webiste:

Thank you for your post.  

Be Bilingual

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I often hear people talking about “true bilinguals” and am not sure what they mean by this. Most seem to refer to people who speak both languages with what seems equal ease, but this indeed is quite rare. Bilinguals have different needs for their languages and thus they develop in different ways.

What to me is the most important thing for my children’s bilingualism is that they be active bilinguals. With this I don’t mean that they speak both languages perfectly, but that they actually use both. I feel that in cases like the one you mention, where children don’t want to be different from others, we as parents haven’t created for them a need to use the non-community language. We can try to do this for example by meeting other children that speak the language so that they meet others who are like them.

Immersion is one of the best ways to motivate children to use the language. If you’re unable to travel to the target country, you can immerse the children in the language through literature also. I personally prefer the monolingual literature written for native children as it immerses the children not only in the language, but also in the culture. This way the stories are not only translations or “copies” of stories in the majority language, but original works.

We have a facebook page with resources for multilingual families in many languages, please stop by to take a look or let us know your best suggestions: or contact us at [email protected]


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