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Review of The Toolbox for Multilingual Families – by Ana Elisa Miranda & Ute Limacher-Riebold


In Autumn 2020, I was asked to be one of the beta-readers of The Toolbox for Multilingual Families partly due to my familiarity with two languages that the authors did not know. I reviewed it during the lockdown of 2020. I mention this point because while I was reviewing it, I started to make a list of activities we could play on video call with my mum, who lives in France, and my brother’s family who lives in Japan.


I am therefore going to answer two main questions that you might be asking yourself:

  1. “Is this book helpful to foster MY home language(s)?”

  2. “Can I play these games on video calls?”

The short answer to both these questions is “YES”, but let us explore both these aspects a little more.


Technical details:

  • Language: English

  • Number of pages: 127

  • Size: 15.24 x 0.74 x 22.86 cm

  • Number of activities included: 123

  • Formats: paperback, kindle

  • Age: The activities described in this book are suitable for children aged 0-15.

  • Additional resources (sold separately): The Toolbox for Multilingual Families Workbook


An Actual Toolbox!

Ana Elisa Miranda and Ute Limacher-Riebold work daily with children and families to help them foster their different languages harmoniously. And what I mainly like about this book is that we feel the hands-on experience of both authors. The book is an actual handy tool to help you foster your languages on a day-to-day basis. It is full of practical activities, and each one is explained succinctly, very rarely going over a page. It is therefore easy for anyone to have a quick read of an activity that could be fun to play, and to be playing it a couple of minutes later.


As the authors mentioned, they have not reinvented the wheel. They have collected many known games that you might have played yourself, or that they have used themselves in their lessons. In this book, you will understand how to play the games (that you are not familiar with) and understand what they help develop / consolidate.


What I particularly like is that each activity comes with a “tips” section that helps you vary and adapt each one to your circumstances.



Making Your Languages Part of Your Daily Life


As you can imagine, the part that particularly resonated with me is the one on reading and writing.

They remind the reader of the different things we can include in our daily lives to help our little ones become little readers, writers (and speakers). The section titled “Supporting motor skills development” for example explain that cooking (and other activities) with your child helps develop their fine motor skills. Throughout their book, the authors show you how languages are / can be part of your daily life, and how you can maximise every opportunity to foster your home languages.


This book will help you rethink your daily routine, tweak it a little to provide more opportunities for your child to read, write and speak in your home languages – a way to foster home languages as I love!!


In this respect, The Toolbox for Multilingual Families Workbook is an amazing addition to this book as it helps you focus more on the way YOUR family can foster YOUR home languages, with activities that help you put down, clearly, your family situation.


Have a look at the table of contents.


“Is this book helpful to foster MY home language(s)?”

Each language has its own particularities, and it is normal to wonder if the activities would be suitable for your own situation / languages.

Between the two of them, the authors speak Portuguese, English, Flemish, Dutch, German, Italian, French, and Spanish. Along with other beta-readers, we have been able to check that the activities work with Danish, Swedish, Polish, Romanian, Arabic, Japanese, and Korean.


If the activities worked with all these languages, it is fair to say that it is highly likely that you will be able to benefit from them to practise your home languages.



“Can I benefit from this book if my children don’t speak my language?”

At the time I was reviewing the book, I was also teaching my sons a little bit of Japanese. Japanese is one of the two languages I grew up with, but I have only passed on French to my sons. They have however picked up a few expressions from my mum whenever they see her (E.g.: good night, enjoy your meal, wait, be careful, see you later, etc.)


In other words, Japanese is a heritage language, but primarily a foreign language to my sons. For those of you who have children who speak only a little bit your home languages, I would like to reassure you regarding the fact that there are some games and activities that do not need much knowledge of the language to be played. Of course, the more your children know your language, the more activities you will be able to play.


Here are a few activities we have enjoyed playing to help them with Japanese (complete beginner level).

  • 15. All the colours of the rainbow

  • 18. Finding the object

  • 19. Guessing the object

  • 31. Aunt Mary

  • 36. Password Game

  • 45: Can you count until 100?


We have used them to repeat the words and embed them in their memory in a fun and engaging way. For example, 15. All the colours of the rainbow is a where you ask your child to find objects of a certain colour.


With my sons we played a variation of this game and called it “the colour detector” where one of my sons would have to choose a coloured cloth (or sock!) to put at the end of a stick (the detector) and then be blind-folded. The other one would repeat the colour over and over. He would say it louder if the stick was getting closer to the colour chosen, and quieter if it went further away. The aim was to touch the colour with the stick.

This enabled my sons to learn the colours by repeating them many times (too?!) loudly.



Can I play these games on video calls?

There are plenty of games mentioned in this book that can be played on video calls. Any spoken game and activity can technically be played, as well as some reading and writing ones. (For ideas of games you can play to practise reading and writing on video calls, check my previous post Please note that the games mentioned in the video are not part of The Toolbox for Multilingual Families)


When spending Christmas 2020 at distance with my family in France and Japan, we played a few games.

  • 58. Tongue Twisters was a game we all enjoyed, and that we played with our different languages (that we each speak at different levels of fluency).

  • The game my sons loved the most was a simpler version of 45. Can you count until 100 (we only played up to 20 in JAPANESE!) In this maths game, the players decide to replace certain numbers by a sound (e.g.: saying “oops”) or gesture (clapping). For example, if every multiple of 3 is replaced by “oops”, the players would say: 1, 2, oops, 4, 5, oops, 7, 8, oops, 10, 11, oops, etc.



Any recommendation for reading and writing games/activities?

Everyone has their favourites. One that I found particularly useful (and enjoyable) was 23. Sound - Letter Chain. Although in the category Understanding and Speaking activities, it has proven very useful to play it in a written way in our three languages – Korean, French, and English)


Here is a video where Ute Limacher-Riebold explains the game.

In French and English, it was a particularly useful way to talk about silent letters, and different ways to write the same sound.




KEY POINTS:

  • Very handy book for busy parents with mostly zero/little prep time needed.

  • A book that will help you incorporate practice of Understanding, Speaking, Reading, and Writing in your daily life.

  • A fantastic workbook (sold separately) to help you plan and reflect on your languages, as well as foster them in a pleasant way.


If you want to know more about the authors, click on the links below:

Ana Elisa Miranda

Ute Limacher-Riebold



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