June 2014 UBFP Column – The Benefits of Bilingual Picture Books


I write for the UBFP Newspaper!


I wanted to share the article I wrote for the Upper Bucks Free Press (the newspaper I write for) for the July 2014 issue! The print version was just published. To see the online version of the newspaper, click HERE (check out page 16), or read it below!

I hope you like it!

The Benefits of Bilingual Picture Books

I got the idea for this article when I reviewed C.L. Murphy’s picture book “The Adventures of Loveable Lobo: Lobo visits the Barnyard” and saw that the book is also available in Spanish (“Las Aventuras Del Adorable Lobo: Lobo visita la Granja”). In the book, a friendly wolf is visiting one of his friends at the barnyard. He proceeds to get a tour of the barnyard and meets lots of animals. I looked at both English and Spanish versions of the book side by side and before you knew it, I was learning the Spanish words for barnyard animals. Because of this, I did some research on using picture books to learn other languages. I found that learning a second language can really help kids in the future. An article on Scholatic.com states the importance of learning a second language. It says; “Research shows that students of foreign languages tend to score higher on standardized tests and demonstrate improved school performance overall. Additionally, evolving opportunities in the global workplace make knowing an another language a significant advantage.” Learning a foreign language gives kids more opportunities.


Picture books are a great tool for helping kids learn to read in any language. An article on the Reading is Fundamental website says “Picture books help young children understand that words convey meaning, well before they are aware of the text. Pictures can help increase vocabulary, an important building block for reading. Books can help young children identify colors, shapes, numbers, and letters, as well as names of people, places, animals, and everyday objects.” Because of this, picture books are especially helpful to learn a foreign language no matter what age you are.

Bilingual picture books can help make this happen. Picture books are usually less than five hundred words long and therefore can be used to learn simple phrases and words in a foreign language. A pamphlet published by the National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness (NCCLR) called “How to Use Bilingual Books” names three types of bilingual books that are useful for teaching second languages. One type has the words in both languages next to each other in the text. This type of book may have a line that reads “Bonjour!” dit la fille. / “Hello!” said the girl. Another type of bilingual book is having the same book printed in two languages (like the Adventures of Loveable Lobo books I wrote about earlier). I find having the same picture book in two languages is very helpful in learning words from a foreign language. The third type of bilingual book is one where there are some words in another language sprinkled within the story. For example, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of acqua” (Italian for water).

A 2007 study published by the National Education Association called “The Benefits of Second Language Study” shows that exposing kids to bilingual books and other languages helps them become better learners in all kinds of subjects. The study shows that teaching kids a foreign language helps “higher order, abstract and creative thinking” and achieve higher scores on standardized tests.

Teachers can use bilingual books in their classrooms, too. The NCCLR pamphlet suggests that teachers can pick a paragraph from a picture book or even just one or two words from a foreign language and read and talk about the words in the foreign language as an introduction for students to different languages.

Even if it isn’t the goal to become fluent in the language, exposing kids to words and phrases from different languages helps them become better learners. Picture books can help you do that.

For more on books and reading go to / For mer om bøker og lesing går til (Norwegian)


Categories: Newspaper Columns

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27 replies

  1. The more we know about other cultures, languages and people, the more we appreciate and respect them. Great article

  2. Wonderful article, SuperKid! Great insight! Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Great observation, Erik! This was a wonderful article, and I enjoyed all your research. I have a pb with some Korean words I’m trying to submit to publishers. [fingers crossed]

  4. This is great Erik! We read a lot of books with Spanish and English words. They are fun! Thanks for sharing your article!

  5. Erik, you are the ROCKINEST writer I know! YOU ARE FANTASTICAL! These books are so important. This post is so insightful!!!! I wish there were more on the market. Maybe because of this post there will be.

  6. There is a saying in Spanish, “El que habla dos idiomas vale por dos;” A man who can speak two languages is worth two men.” As an ELL [English Language Learner] Teacher, my students and I celebrate diversity in our classroom as we learn and grow together and become more proficient in English as their second language. We honor each others’ native language and culture and become more understanding of many countries. I am so fortunate to learn along with my ELLs from the following countries: Cambodia, Columbia, Germany, Mexico, Guatamala, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, and many more. Cultural awareness and understanding of the world are so valuable. Excellent post, Erik. I agree, there are many benefits of being bilingual or even multilingual. ~Suzy Leopold

  7. You are quite the writer, Erik 🙂 And yes, I agree that if there’s a way to help young children become bi-lingual, it’s great! Honestly, I think it would be wonderful if they were taught when they were VERY young—like 3 years old or sooner! They learn two languages with ease at that age 🙂

  8. Very good column, Erik. I’ve always felt picture books help kids pick up words using the illustrations. Having two languages side-by-side would be just as beneficial. In reviewing several bilingual books, I think it is easier to learn both languages if the picture books are short. A few tried to put large paragraphs on the page in each language, plus an illustrations, way too much for anyone to concentrate on. You are so right about short is better. I love your article. You seem to have done a great job researching the subject. 🙂

  9. Great article. I really enjoy reading spanish books to my children – like El Loro Tico Tango. I think it’s important for them to hear the words and understand other languages exist. They can still understand the story from pictures and intonation, even if they don’t understand the words.

  10. I know this is an old post, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks for pointing it out. We don’t get to read the Free Press anymore, since we moved out of the area 🙁

  11. What a great write up about bilingual picturebooks, Erik! 🙂 Love reading your detailed thoughts. So insightful! 🙂


  1. Perfect Picture Book Friday! My First Book of Chinese Words by Faye-Lynn Wu | This Kid Reviews Books

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