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The Benefits of Comic Books for Multilingual Children

When our children are little, we read books to/with them that have illustrations covering a whole page, accompanied by a couple of short sentences. As they grow up, the illustrations in their books seem to leave more and more space to the text, to end up being only on a few pages out of dozens or hundreds. And although comic books are often part of a young reader’s library, they rarely get the attention needed.

Today, in this post, I would like to point out all the benefits of #comicbooks and #graphicnovels for your multilingual child. Before we detail them, let’s remind ourselves why being able to read can be so beneficial to the development of our multilingual children.

The benefits of being able to read in a home language:

When a child grows up in a country where their home language is a minority language, they have less opportunities to practise it. The vocabulary they know, often revolves around the same daily/weekly activities. Consequently, the gap between the home language and the school language grows bigger year after year. Books as well as films in the home language are an easy way to bring in our children’s lives new words and expressions while exploring topics they enjoy.

Unfortunately, the gap between the home language and the school/community language means that a child would generally be able to access more complex texts in their school language. This can often mean that a child will enjoy more the books in their school language, leaving aside those in their home language. Therefore, it becomes difficult for multilingual teenagers to find a book that they both find interesting AND accessible.

What are the benefits of comic books for multilingual children?

Whether they are comic books, graphic novels, wordless books (also called “picture books”) the illustrations help depict the story with countless details … with a minimal amount of words (that are generally limited to what the characters say and think).

A picture paints a thousand words. - Frederick R. Barnard in Printer's Ink (December, 1921)

Images give the context, clues to the meaning of any word and expression unknown to the reader. Therefore, a reader can potentially access more complex stories when it is accompanied by illustrations.

A comic book is therefore the perfect formula to learn any new word in context.

As a teenager, I, myself, learnt vocabulary related to crimes and murders by reading the Japanese manga Detective Conan. This comic series gave me access to a universe that (fortunately!) was not part of my daily life, and introduced me to the language specific to it.

Comic books, unlike films, also have the advantage of being able to be “paused” whenever. This makes it easy to clarify anything that needs be, by asking someone or checking a dictionary. Please note that many e-readers also provide definitions of words just by clicking on the section that is unclear.

The contextual help that images provide, combined with the small amount of words (compared to novels) make comic books extremely accessible to multilinguals of all ages! Yes, even adults!

Helping our children access the meaning of the story.

When our children are little, helping them access the full depth of a story is (relatively easy) as we generally read with them. As they start being able to read more independently, they will want to read more on their own. It might therefore be less easy to help them.

Adam Beck, the renown author of Maximise your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories recommends pre-reading and preparing books our children are going to read. This consists in checking beforehand to facilitate the access to the full story.

You can, for example, make notes by writing directly in the book, or by writing notes on post-it notes that are left on the page where the clarifications are needed.

These clarifications can take different forms:

- Explanation in the home language: You can explain a complex term with a synonym or definition your child understands.

- Translation: Your child knows another language than your home language. Let’s take advantage of it!

- Questions: Questions are especially useful to guide your child’s understanding of the story by helping them focus on certain details of the story without revealing too much or spoiling any surprising event.

- Pointer: You can point at details in the illustrations that your child might miss, but that would help them get a better grasp of the story.

Of course, do not over do it! If you need to make too many notes, the book might still be a little too advanced for your child.

Here are a few examples in French. (Read the translations below each picture.)

"flipper" and "avoir peur" are synonyms (to be scared)

You are using an expression in the home language that your child already knows.

"Tu as de la compagnie" can literally be translated word for word to get the English expression (my son's school language and strongest language is English) "You have (some) company".

As he might not think of it, I am giving him options for him to think about it. The question here, also helps him notice the expression, that he might otherwise dismiss

. "What do the children do to make the dad go away? Is Igor really hungry?"

Just by looking at the pictures, it is easy to understand that the children are trying to push away the dad. By adding the Yes/No closed question, I am guiding my son to understand better HOW the children are pushing the dad away.


Comic books are an incredible resource for multilingual children, teenagers, and adults!

- Their illustrations make the story and any difficult word, clearer.

- The amount of words to read is not daunting.

- Even if a reader is not proficient yet, they can generally access stories that interest them.

All these elements make comic books very accessible, and therefore a fantastic way to help our children expand their vocabulary.

This accessibility also ensures that they will read more easily books in their home languages.

  • Does your child read comic books in your home language(s)?

  • What about you? Do you read comic books?

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