Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kidding Myself

About two weeks ago, I discovered just how wonderful children's literature can be. Not only is it exactly at my reading level. It is practically designed for teaching languages. I'm not talking about your 'Young Adults' fiction like The Boxcar Children or Black Beauty. I'm talking about books where the text is more of a footnote to the picture than it is essential content. I refer in particular to The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Chú Sâu Róm Quá Đói) by Eric Carle (translated by Van Nguyen. Granted, my enthusiasm for children's literature as a vehicle for language learning is based on my experience with one book only, and therefore has little to no statistical rigour. To this, my response is: I do not care.

Dual-language children's books are helpful for the following reasons:

They are short and written in large font, so they are easy to read out loud for pronunciation practice. Reading a Vietnamese-language children's story out loud is harder than you might expect. We anglophones tend to emphasise certain words or create certain moods by changing the pitches of our voices. Vietnamese does not give the freedom to do this, because a given set of letters pronounced with different tones produces different meanings. So I've tried to inject life into my reciting by changing my voice's volume and speed. Whether this makes me sound as skilled as Mr. Dressup, I don't know. Overall, I think that my Vietnamese reading sounds like the equivalent of the following said by a freakishly-anthropomorphic robot going through puberty: " ERROR";

Pictures illustrate everything which goes on. This makes remembering the definitions of words rather easy. Whenever I think of how to say "strawberry" in Vietnamese (quả dâu tây) I think of the picture of the four strawberries in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Frankly, the pictures make the book. The caterpillar is so cute! And he chews holes in everything;

The vocabulary is very simple as well. Writers of children's stories do not use words like "gourmandise" or "partake of". This gives me the security of knowing that I can use a certain word to express a certain thing without implying all kinds of other things. If you want to know how to say "to eat" with no fancy-schmancy connotations, look no further than children's literature (by the way, "to eat" is "ăn").

I borrowed this wonderful book from the OISE library (252 Bloor Street West). That library has a big section of dual-language children's literature. If you are a University of Toronto student, want to help yourself learn another language and don't want to pay a lot of money to do so, then you will find the OISE library's children's-literature section very helpful. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is published by Mantra Lingua, which specialises in dual-language children's books. I know that some of you IDSers will be going to Tamil-speaking areas of India - Mantra has English-Tamil books. Others among you will be going to Twi-speaking areas of Ghana - Mantra has Twi-English books.

Up next is the other Vietnamese-English children's book, which I borrowed, titled The Girl Who Hated Books (Cô Bé Ghét Sách).

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