Bilingual Storytime: Tips for Using Dual-Language Books to Learn English

Dual-language books offer a great starting point to help introduce the English language to your child. They are especially effective when combined with your child’s favourite stories or books they are already familiar with. Using the dual-language versions can help your child interpret vocabulary in the new language, introduce them to sentence structures, and open the opportunity to discuss early comprehension questions without being too challenging.

If you are considering incorporating bilingual stories, then take a look at these top tips for using dual-language books to learn English.

Text reads "bilingual storytime: tips for using dual-language books to learn English. Plus free PDF download of 30 websites with resources to help bilingual learners". In the background is  a picture of a bookshelf with children's books.

Table of Contents

Understanding Dual Language Books

Dual language books, also known as bilingual or parallel textbooks, are books that contain text in two languages. This can be presented either side by side or on alternating pages.

The books are designed to support bilingual readers or those, such as your children, learning a new language. Each page shows the text in one language, often your native tongue, with the next page sharing the story in the language you are learning, in this case, English.

Dual language books, particularly picture books, are ideal for your children learning English. With the translation shared side by side with their native language, it helps to familiarise them with the new vocabulary and format, whilst making language learning less intimidating.

Compared with traditional storybooks, bilingual books also cater for language learners offering additional tools to aid their learning experience. From vocabulary lists to pronunciation guides, these extra features will support your children and improve their language learning experience and retention from dual-language books.

Man (father) and boy (son) sat on a beige sofa together looking through a book.

Advantages of Using Dual Language Books for Language Learning

Exposure to Both Languages: Dual language books provide your children with exposure to two languages at the same time. With their native language offering support alongside new English words and sentence structures, they can help build your child’s confidence whilst being exposed to English in a fun, child-friendly format. Bilingual stories help strengthen language skills, including reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Building Vocabulary: By encountering words and phrases in context in both languages, readers can expand their vocabulary in a natural and meaningful way. The parallel text format allows learners to easily identify corresponding words and phrases, making it easier to learn new vocabulary.

Improving Comprehension Skills: Reading dual-language books helps improve comprehension skills by providing readers with opportunities to compare and contrast the text in both languages. This process enhances understanding of the content and reinforces language structures and grammar rules.

Cultural Awareness: Dual language books often feature stories, themes, and characters from different cultures and regions, allowing readers to gain insights into diverse cultural perspectives. This exposure promotes cultural awareness and appreciation, enriching the language learning experience.

Flexibility and Adaptability: Dual language books can be tailored to suit the individual learning needs and preferences of readers. You can choose books that align with your child’s language proficiency level and interests, making the learning process more engaging, effective, and relatable for your child.

three children laying on the floor together looking through a picture book

Selecting the Right Dual Language Books

It is highly beneficial to use dual-language books with your child and support their English language learning journey. However, the amount of progress made and the effectiveness of bilingual stories can depend greatly on ensuring you select the right dual-language books.

Here are 5 tips to consider when choosing bilingual books:

Consider Your Child’s Age

Use dual language books that are age-appropriate for your child. Look for books with themes, language, and illustrations that are suitable for their developmental stage. Younger children may benefit from board books with simple, repetitive text and vibrant illustrations, while older children can explore more complex stories with richer vocabulary and deeper themes.

Assess Language Proficiency

Choose bilingual books matching your child’s language proficiency level. For beginners, opt for books with basic vocabulary, straightforward language structures, and picture-heavy. Intermediate learners may benefit from books with slightly more advanced vocabulary and sentence complexity, whilst still incorporating some pictures to support language learning. Advanced learners can explore more challenging texts with complex language and literary techniques.

Consider Language Pairings

Take into account your child’s native language and the target language they are learning. Select dual-language books that feature translations between these languages to maximize language exposure and comprehension. Ensure that both languages are represented equally in the book to provide balanced learning opportunities.

Explore Interests and Themes

Consider your child’s interests, hobbies, and favourite topics when choosing dual language books. Select books with themes and storylines that will interlink your child’s interests, as they will be more motivated and engaged in the reading process. Look for diverse genres, such as adventure, fantasy, science fiction, or non-fiction, to cater to different preferences.

Review Content and Cultural Sensitivity 

Prioritize dual language books that promote cultural diversity, inclusivity, and positive representation. Check the content and illustrations to ensure they are culturally sensitive and respectful of diverse backgrounds. Select books that offer authentic cultural experiences and perspectives, allowing your child to gain insights into different cultures and traditions.

Here are some dual-language books recommended for children to use that can help them at home:

Usborne Dual Language Books: Usborne Publishing offers a wide range of dual language books for children, featuring popular titles such as “First Thousand Words in English”. Their books include colourful illustrations and simple vocabulary to help young learners build their language skills.

Milet Publishing: Milet Publishing specializes in bilingual children’s books, offering dual language titles in various languages, including English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and more. Their books cover a range of topics, from classic fairy tales to contemporary stories, catering to diverse interests and language learners of all ages.

Eric Carle Dual Language Books: Renowned author and illustrator Eric Carle has produced several dual language editions of his beloved children’s books, such as “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” These books feature colourful illustrations and simple, repetitive text, making them ideal for young language learners.

Language Lizard Dual Language Books: Language Lizard offers a curated selection of dual language books in over 50 languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and more. Their collection includes multicultural stories, folktales, and bilingual dictionaries, providing valuable resources for language learning and cultural enrichment.

Girl leaning against a banister, looking at many wooden shelves filled with colourful books, presumably children's books and in a library

Incorporating Dual Language Books into Storytime

Dual-language books become even more effective when they are incorporated into daily routines and expanded upon outside of simply reading the story together with your child. From matching vocabulary words with pictures in the book to acting out parts of the story post-reading, there are many ways to engage your child’s attention with bilingual stories.

Establish a Regular Reading Routine

Set aside dedicated time each day or week for family reading sessions. Consistency is key to building a reading habit and reinforcing language learning. Choose a time when everyone in the family can participate, such as before bedtime or after dinner. Including the whole family provides a positive experience for your child, both educationally and emotionally.

Create a Cozy Reading Environment 

Designate a comfortable and inviting space for family reading sessions, such as a cozy corner with cushions, blankets, and soft lighting. Make the reading area visually appealing by displaying dual language books on accessible shelves or in baskets. This invites your child to access and explore bilingual stories independently outside of your routine.

Select a Variety of Dual Language Books

Build a diverse collection of dual-language books that cater to different interests, themes, and language levels. Rotate the selection regularly to keep the reading experience fresh and exciting for everyone in the family. Encourage your child to choose books that they are interested in exploring.

Engage in Interactive Reading Activities

Make storytime interactive and engaging by incorporating various reading activities that involve both languages. Encourage children to participate actively by asking questions, making predictions, and sharing their thoughts and feelings about the story in both languages. By incorporating your native language, you also help to remove pressure on your child to only use the new language when they may not be completely ready to or able to form their understanding of the story in English.

Act Out Scenes from the Story 

Bring the story to life by acting out scenes or role-playing characters with your children. Use props, costumes, and simple gestures to enhance the storytelling experience. Encourage your child to express themselves in both languages as they reenact their favorite scenes from the book.

6 children in a line dressed similarly in blue tones appearing to act in what might be a drama class. They are showing a range of expressions looking shocked and/or surprised

Discuss the Plot and Characters 

Stimulate critical thinking and language skills by discussing the plot, characters, and themes of the story in both languages. Encourage your child to share their interpretations, make connections to their own experiences, and ask questions about the text. For higher-level children, encourage them to compare and contrast cultural elements and perspectives presented in the book.

Practice Vocabulary and Language Structures

Use dual language books as a tool for language practice and reinforcement. Identify key vocabulary words, phrases, and language structures in both languages and discuss their meanings and usage. Encourage your child to repeat and use new words in sentences to reinforce learning.

Encourage Language Switching 

Create a supportive environment where children feel comfortable switching between languages as they engage with dual language books. Emphasize the value of bilingualism and encourage your child to express themselves freely in both languages without excess correction.

Celebrate Achievements and Progress 

Recognize and celebrate your child’s achievements and progress in language learning during family reading sessions. Praise their efforts, perseverance, and willingness to explore new languages and cultures through dual language books. Create a positive and uplifting atmosphere that motivates your child to continue their language-learning journey.

Extend Learning Beyond Storytime 

Encourage children to explore dual language books independently and incorporate language learning into their everyday activities. Provide opportunities for your child to practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking in both languages in real-life contexts, such as cooking, gardening, or playing games

a mum sat down in between two children, a boy and a girl, who all appear happy and are drawing together

Overcoming Challenges with Using Dual Language Books

As with any method of learning something new, there can be challenges you may face with bilingual books. Using dual language books to support your child’s English language development can be difficult if you aren’t able to access the right materials, your child isn’t interested in reading, or perhaps you have an irregular schedule.

Let’s take a look at some of the common challenges you might encounter when using dual language books and how to overcome them:

Difficulty Finding Appropriate Resources 

Depending upon where you are located, it might be difficult to get hold of bilingual stories. Instead of focusing on what you can’t access, try to utilize a range of resources such as online bookstores, libraries, and educational websites that focus on dual language resources for children. 

Here are some websites that incorporate bilingual resources for children:

  1. Language Lizard  –  offers a wide range of bilingual books, multicultural resources, and teaching materials in over 50 languages. They provide dual language books, picture dictionaries, and language learning kits for children of all ages.
  2. Reading Rockets – provides a variety of bilingual resources, including articles, videos, and booklists, to support children’s literacy development in multiple languages. Their resources cover topics such as dual language learning, bilingualism, and multicultural literature.
  3. Barefoot Books – offers a selection of bilingual and multicultural children’s books, storytelling resources, and activity kits. Their website provides a range of dual-language books and storytelling resources for families and educators.
  4. The Global Storybooks Portal – offers a collection of freely accessible multilingual storybooks for children from around the world. Parents can search for bilingual storybooks in multiple languages and download them for free.
  5. Speakaboos – provides a library of interactive storybooks, songs, and games in English and Spanish. Parents can access bilingual content designed to promote early literacy and language development in young children. This is a subscription based app but it does offer a free trial to new customers.

Balancing the Use of Both Languages 

Your child may be conscious of needing to only use English and feeling overwhelmed if they can’t express themselves confidently yet. Try to provide clear expectations from the beginning, ensuring that your child knows it is ok to communicate in their native language whilst encouraging them to use new vocabulary learnt or share simple answers in English. 

Limited Vocabulary in One Language

Following on from point 2, if your child is a young or beginner learner, they may still have a limited vocabulary range. This can then make it difficult for them to discuss stories together with you in English. With each dual language story you use, consider creating a picture dictionary, flashcards, or vocabulary-themed games to help expand your child’s vocabulary range and support vocabulary retention. New vocabulary can also be practiced through different story-themed activities such as storytelling, or role-playing.

Difficulty Maintaining Engagement 

Particularly with younger children, it can be difficult to retain your child’s attention whilst learning. Set realistic expectations and incorporate shorter, more frequent language learning activities throughout the day. For example, you might read a story in the morning, play a game such as tic tac toe using vocabulary from the story at lunchtime, and then use a playdough mat and playdough to make characters from the story and act out scenes. The important thing to remember is to ensure that you offer a range of activities for your child to participate in that are hands-on and multisensory, whilst also remembering that your child will focus best in shorter sessions.

child dressed in a pink t shirt sat at a white table playing with playdough. She has made a friendly monster from red, blue, green, and yellow playdough.

Resistance to Learning a Second Language 

Learning a new language doesn’t always come naturally to children. If they are finding it difficult, or are simply uninterested, then you may come across some resistance from them. Try to foster a positive attitude towards language learning and be a role model for your children by learning English at the same time as them. Show your excitement for language learning and incorporate a range of activities that will help pique their interest. It is also important to remember to praise your child’s effect, no matter how big or small their progress is. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to encouraging your child to try their best and remain motivated to learn English.

Cultural Differences 

I know as a parent it can be difficult to incorporate stories in your child’s education that may share cultures, values, or traditions that are vastly different from your own. However, it is highly important to help your child navigate through the world of the future. More and more people will have the opportunity to travel, and your child will likely come across people from all walks of life. From different countries and cultures, those with different appearances, races, or religions. Utilizing bilingual stories that also cover people from all around the world does not have to replace your core family values, but they will help open your child’s perspectives, and understanding of others, and be more inclusive.

Inconsistency in Language Exposure

For your child to improve and make progress with their English language, it is important to establish consistent routines at home. With jobs and other responsibilities, I understand that this can be quite difficult for many families. That’s why it is best to try and incorporate learning English alongside your other daily routines that are already in place. For example, read bilingual books at bedtime instead of your usual stories. Leave flashcards next to items around your home for your children to refer to when they want to ask for a snack or toy to play with. Provide a set of conversation cards that are rotated each meal time for you to take turns selecting and discussing together as a family. By incorporating language learning into your daily routines, it helps make it much more achievable for you to support your child.

Text reads "bilingual storytime: tips for using dual-language books to learn English. Plus free PDF download of 30 websites with resources to help bilingual learners". In the background is a mum smiling at her son whilst he colours.

Using dual language books at home with your child can have a positive impact on their English language learning journey. With pictures, side-by-side translations, and often supportive materials such as vocabulary lists or flashcards, bilingual books make a great addition to your at-home resources.

When incorporated into your daily routines and ensuring to utilize a range of hands-on and multisensory activities, bilingual story time is a fun and effective way to support your child’s language development. 

Make sure to download this list of 30 websites where you can access bilingual resources and stories to use at home with your children and help them improve their English language skills.

a graphic that reads "free download. List of 30 websites dual-language learning books, tools, and educational resources to help your child learn English. Subscribe to receive your free PDF here"

Related Posts

Unlocking Language with Tales: Benefits of Story-based Learning

Engaging Your Child’s Imagination: Story-Based English Learning Activities

The Power of Storytelling: How Stories Can Enhance English Language Learning

Creating a Storytelling Routine: Incorporating English into Your Family’s Daily Life

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top