Being Bilingual with Betty and Cat books



What makes a good bilingual book for children?

I get a lot of requests from various companies to partner on my blog, or to have me promote their services or products. I rarely do so, because I rarely find anything worth sharing. But every once and a while I get an email about a service or product that I really like, and I’m happy to talk about. So today I am introducing you to Betty and Cat, who share books but not a language.

Betty (who is a dog), originally speaks Dutch, and Cat (who is a cat!), originally speaks English, are housemates and friends. Betty and Cat have adventures together, each speaking their own language, but understanding each other. The vast majority of children’s books that are identified as bilingual are actually parallel monolingual; they are the same text, translated and put in a dual-language format in the book. While these can be used for some purposes educationally, they don’t represent the reality of bilingual children, who interact with most people in their lives in only one of their languages. The back and forth between the two characters allows bilingual children to use both their languages in reading or listening in an integrated manner, not translating but continuing the story. A side positive note aside from the educational value is that the illustrations are lovely!


Author Hennie Jacobs became bilingual at the age of six years old, when she moved from the Netherlands to Canada, and her journey inspired these delightful books. They have now been interpreted into other language pairs, including English-French, Dutch-French, English-Spanish and Spanish-French. Click on either illustration to visit the website.


Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success (Amsterdam)

It’s that time a year again… once the school year is up and running, parents start thinking about how things are going with their little bilingual children. I meet more parents in the Sept-Nov block than at any other time of year! I visit many schools to provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about how to help their children become successfully bilingual. For readers who have children in schools that I don’t visit (sorry!) there is an open-invitation seminar next week in Amsterdam as well.

My “Raising Bilingual Children” seminar is one of my favourites; I’ve been working on it for years, and each family I meet contributes to my understanding on bilingual/multilingual families and adds to my “book learning” and research background. I pack as much good information as possible into the 2-hour session, along with some moments of humour and time for asking questions. So if you are raising your children with two or more languages, this session will give you a solid understanding of the elements for success, and how to consider your family situation to make the best plan possible (and then how to change the plan when you need to….).

Thursday, October 15, 20:00-22:00 at the Jacaranda Tree Montessori – you can register at the link below.

Raising Bilingual Children Seminar at the Jacaranda Tree

New Seminar Date: Raising Bilingual Children (Amsterdam, April 16)

It’s Spring time (even if it doesn’t feel like it yet…) and that means it’s time for my semi-annual trip to the welcoming Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam. This seminar is for parents who are thinking about, or have already chosen bilingualism/multilingualism for their children. It’s a little bit of theory (but fun, I promise) and a lot of practical information on ways and means to pursue bilingualism, including different approaches and family language planning. This jam-packed seminar is the constantly-evolving product of over a decade of working with families and continuous integration of new research knowledge, all tied up in a two-hour bilingualpalooza. It’s a great way to learn a little more about bilingualism, get direction to set you on the right track or correct course if necessary, and to connect with other families in AMS who are on the same journey.
You can register via Jacaranda Tree Montessori

Feel free to email or post any questions you many have.

#IMLD: Books for kids

Firstly, I’d like to say that I think there should be more books for kids about being bilingual. I’ve had an idea in my head for years for a children’s book, but it’s still in my head…
Bilingual books are important not only to help children achieve literacy in both languages, but also to help them integrate their two (or more worlds) and see them represented in the same stories and books – much as the two or more sides of themselves, culturally, are integrated into one person. They are also very important for showing minority language speakers that their language has as much value and use as the school language, and for helping parents participate in the literacy process in their own language.

Diglot Books, make great bilingual books for kids, including an outstanding alphabet series – what bilingual child has not been confused when faced with a monolingual alphabet book? The unfortunate thing is that there are not so many books and languages available through Diglot – developing these books and getting good translations and getting them printed is all expensive in an increasingly digital world. So, if you are looking for books with Cornish (yes, really!), Dutch, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish or Welsh, this site is for you.

Nik Nak is a Belgian organisation that produces bilingual books in Dutch and other languages. They have quite a wide range of languages, many of which are minority languages, which is great. I’ve heard (anecdotally) that some of the translations are not fantastic but in my opinion, a bilingual book in the hand is worth two in the head…

Readers – please comment on this if you know of other bilingual book resources for children – I’d like to build up a hopefully-comprehensive list on my resources page.

“A” is for airplane. But “V” is for vliegtuig… the beauty of bilingual resources from Diglot Books

The question of reading – who reads what and in what language? is a common one in bilingual families. Should each parent only read books in their own language? Is it okay to read books in the other language? What if your accent is terrible? What if you only want to read in *your* language but your tantruming toddler wants the favourite book in the other language?
My standard advice is that you can “read” a book in any language you want, especially kids’ books which are not, let’s face it, very challenging in terms of vocabulary and content. So, I can read an English book to my kids in French, and my husband can read a French book in English. It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Of course, nothing in life is always that simple. And that realization led to a great idea. In 2010 two friends, Alison O’Dornan and Wilma vanRiel were having coffee and chatting and Wilma brought up and issue she was having with her daughter and books. Sophie was being raised with two languages, Dutch and English. And she was finding alphabet books confusing, because words do not always start with the same letter in both languages. This led Wilma to the idea of writing an English/Dutch bilingual alphabet book with only words that work in both languages. From this idea, Diglot Books was born.
These books are fantastic resources for bilingual families. Not only is it easier for children to manage one alphabet, but it also demonstrates to them bilingualism in action – you can read in two languages, and you can use both to say the *same* things. Some of the books are available digitally and some in print version, and the selection of books varies by language pair. Right now they have resources available in Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Welsh and Cornish, all paired with English.

You can browse the store or find out more at Diglot Books

Author’s Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am blogging about Diglot Books because I believe they are a great resource for bilingual families, and I am not getting any compensation, either monetary or other, for this post!