Saturday, July 8, 2023

A rant on bilingual books for toddlers

My toddler is growing up in a linguistic environment that I call multilingual and some people tell us is "confusing". Growing up with multiple languages is, of course, the norm in many places, and has the positive side effect of children being able to speak more than one language by the time they grow up.

Given my convictions about the benefits of growing up multilingually, I was excited to find bilingual books for toddlers: Picture books with picture names or stories written in two languages. Identical books exist for different languages that are commonly spoken in Germany, such as German/Turkish or German/Arabic. I ordered some books in German/Russian. I would like to note that they were absolutely not cheap, but I love books, I love languages, and I love my toddler, so I figured it's worth it. 

I was disappointed when the books arrived. They were just so obviously written in German and probably google-translated into Russian. There are some blatant grammatical mistakes (it should be "нет", not "не"):

I'm pretty sure this is not even Russian*:

 And things that are linguistically awkward:

(Grandmother, grandfather, and ... grandmother and grandfather.)

Can I blame these books for being, basically, really bad teachers of the Russian language? I guess not, if we consider the probable reason why these publishers publish the books: To teach children with a migrant background better German and integrate them into German society, rather than to support their knowledge of a foreign language. 

And yet, isn't it also very important, for an individual, to have the possibility to retain ties to their culture of origin and to their family members who might not speak German? And for the society, isn't it important to have individuals who speak multiple languages, especially such languages that are spoken by a substantial number of people in Germany? 

And would it really be so difficult to find a Russian speaker in Germany who would be able to write a good translation?

* Edit: So it seems I didn't do enough research before publishing the blog post: "Витать в облаках" is, indeed, a Russian expression that I didn't know ( Just shows the potential that these books have: to also teach new expressions to mummies and daddies.


 I don't want to name-and-shame (because the general idea behind the books is amazing, and I would like to thank both the publishers and authors for taking the step of publishing such books!), but my academic background dictates that I name the sources from which I took the pictures above:

"Wie schön!/Как здорово!" by Petra Girrbach/Schmidt & Cornelia Ries, publisher Bi:Libri

"Bildwörterbuch für Kinder und Eltern Russisch Deutsch", no author listed, publisher Igor Jourist

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