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How we organise our children's multilingual bookshelf

When we are raising multi-literate children, we are bound to create a bookshelf with books in multiple languages. In this post, I am taking you around my sons’ bookshelves and will explain the logic behind our organisation.

Let me know in the comments how you organise your children’s bookshelves.

Multi-literacy as a tool to access more books:

As mentioned in a previous post titled The home language as "a key opening doors" as opposed to "a restriction" we want our children to see their languages as a tool that will enable them to access more books. Unless it is for study purposes for example, children are unlikely to think “I want to read a (*insert language) book right now. Which book could I read?” Instead, their first thought might be “I want to read a book that is going to make me (*insert feeling). Which book could I read?”

This is why we do NOT categorise our children’s books by language. We keep similar books together: fairy tales, comic books, magazines, etc.

Easy access:

The more accessible a book is the more likely it is to be picked it up. Here are ways we make access to to books in our home languages easier.

  • Behind each of my sons’ bed, there is a shelf where there is a small selection of books. These are the “books of the moment”. They are therefore either new books we bought or they got from the library, or books they/we read at night before going to bed. We try to keep the selection relatively small so that they can properly see them and have more chances to read them (but not so small that they don’t find anything to read).

  • Next to our sons’ desks, there is a big bookshelf where there are books in Korean, French, and English. As the language they find the most difficult to read is Korean, we have made sure that the shelf that is at the same height as their desk (i.e. eye level when they are sitting) contains interesting books in Korean. Thanks to this strategy, the amount of Korean books my sons pick up (often in the middle of doing their homework!) has increased significantly. They are children’s books and comics. So they often read only a little and look at the pictures, but they are still reading. And more importantly they are interested in Korean books. It is very important to keep their intrinsic motivation up, so that once they can read more fluently, they read more complex books in Korean.

Always “new” books to read:

One key part of our organisation for our children to carry on exploring books in all their languages is to keep our books “moving”.

What do I mean by that? They have a BIG bookshelf full of books. By definition, many get lost. This is why we use the space on top of their desks and behind their beds for the “books of the moment”. They keep the books they want to read in the coming week there. And when there are too many, we put back on the bookshelf those they don’t want to read anymore (They often exchange them with others they are interested in).

This way, no books gets forgotten, and they can rediscover books all the time.

One trick I have to get them to read books in French is to start reading a book with them one day, and leave the book on the shelf behind their bed (where they are more likely to see it, and pick it up). Very often, as they want to carry on reading it when I am not available, they pick it up where we stopped and read on their own.

Our sons read much better in English (their school language) than in French and Korean (minority languages). Although in Korean, their main issue is their fluency, in French, it is mainly the lack of vocabulary that constitute a challenge to access the meaning of the text. By starting a book and explaining to them the difficult vocabulary – that is often repeated in the rest of the book – they are more equipped to understand the rest on their own. (Check this video on Scarborough’s Reading Ropes for more details regarding the different levels on which we need to work on to help our multilingual children read in all their languages).

How do you organise your multilingual bookshelf? What are the reasons behind this organisation? Let me know in the comments.
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