My love of writing bilingual stories for children

Guest post by Tania Czajka (Le Petit Monde Puppet Theatre)

First of all, I want to say that since the day I have learned, I’ve always loved reading and writing. I remember very well the day when I could finally read a whole Oui-Oui book (Noddy in English). I was so excited!! I was going to learn lots of new things, enter worlds of stories I didn’t know! I also remember practising writing the letters of the alphabet in my special book. Fascinating it was!

With reading and mastering writing, came ideas which I put in short poems and I also illustrated them. By the age of 10, I had a wee collection of hand made books which I absolutely loved. This love for writing and reading has never left me. So when I moved to Scotland and – very gradually – improved my English, I naturally started writing children stories using both French and English. I had this strong desire to share my French language with young children but didn’t want to become a teacher.

So in 2008, I set up Le Petit Monde Puppet Theatre and decided my puppets would speak French. By then, I had a good understanding of both languages and could easily ‘jump’ from one to the other – like bilingual children do. So I wrote full bilingual scripts for my shows starring Lapin and his friends.

It has always been very important to me that the stories should be accessible to all very young non-French speakers. So:

  • I carefully choose French key words – usually nouns – that are easy to guess or identify (e.g.. une carotte, une tomate).
  • I then draft a story around these words and write a full script with the French words coming from the puppets.
  • There is usually a period of playing with the script as I want it to flow naturally between the two languages, without translations.
  • For very young children, I minimise the use of verbs and emphasise the noun key words.

I also believe the use of another language should be justified through the story, I have seen shows where suddenly, the audience is asked to count to 5 in French and nobody knows why. As a writer, I find this quite annoying, I must admit. In my case, I am French, I come from Paris and so do my puppet friends. So it is totally justified and naturally makes sense to use the French language.

I also carefully avoid mixing both languages in the same sentences. That’s why in my scripts, the puppets only speak French and I speak both. Lapin is the only character who does not understand English so I speak French to him, while I can speak English to the others. This, I believe, gives the right balance of both languages in order for the story to still be understood and enjoyed by audiences.

My love for bilingual writing is stronger than ever as I am getting ready for new challenges!  The first one will see me going back to my childhood dream of writing books with a Lapin Picture Book. 🙂 Secondly, I want to create a new bilingual show based on one of the Fables written by Aesop  and translated in the 17th century by the French poet la Fontaine…  So… as we say in French  “J’ai du pain sur la planche !’ (‘I have bread on the board’) meaning ‘I will have lots to do!’ Lots of words to play with!

The wonderful world of words…

A Bientôt


The Wonderful World of Lapin is showing at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 (Aug 19-20, 26-27, 10.30am) at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

‘The perfect introduction to a foreign language for tiny ones’ (The List)
‘Such a well-crafted, attractive and absorbing show which will always be well-received wherever it goes’ 
(Sylvia Troon, storyteller)



Celebrate Bilingualism & Languages at Edinburgh Fringe

The largest arts festival in the world is kicking off this weekend here in Edinburgh!

We’re excited that two of our directors at Bilingualism Matters have fantastic shows as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas that will challenge some commonly held notions about languages in modern society. Catch Antonella Sorace on 14th August ‘In Praise of Useless Languages‘ and Thomas Bak on 23rd August, ‘Is Monolingualism Making Us Ill?’.

For those of you looking for even more language treats, we’ve also been through the Fringe Programme in search of more shows that aim to celebrate languages and bilingualism, although be aware that inclusion doesn’t imply endorsement – so take a chance or check reviews!

Use the hashtag #bilingualfringe17 on Twitter to make more recommendations!

Lost in Translation: A Bilingual Journey (Aug 4-6, 8-13, 16-21, 23-28 at 16:00)
What happens in the mind of a bilingual person? Lose yourself in a joyful and intimate journey celebrating languages, cliches and pop culture. Interactive and thought-provoking: a performance like no other, pushing and questioning both theatrical and European frontiers.

The Wonderful World of Lapin (Aug 3-15, 19-20, 26-27 at 10:30)
Tania has just arrived from Paris for a very special occasion: The World’s Tastiest Carrot competition! In her leather trunk, she carries her very own garden, from which a whole world is revealed… A world of Tania’s animal friends, each of them desperate for a taste of her prize carrot… The Wonderful World of Lapin! Narrated in English with French sentences from the puppets, the show is a fun and heart-warming bilingual piece of theatre, with a big surprise ending. Accessible to all non-French speakers. Made with the support of Creative Scotland.

Making a Signbank Withdrawal (Aug 4 at 13:50)
Jordan Fenlon and Andy Carmichael (Heriot-Watt University) take a light-hearted look at the British Sign Language (BSL) Signbank – the online repository based on the BSL Corpus. Loosely inspired by the TV show Pointless, they’ll keep each other in check while taking the audience on a slightly naughty, irreverent but evidence-based and informative tour of the many vaults contained within the Signbank. Double entendres will abound, alongside puns, riddles and politically incorrect signs as the pair elucidate the linguistic wonders of the UK’s beautiful, iconic, indigenous language. This performance will be interpreted in BSL and English. [Read more…]

Twitter Q&A Session – 25 Aug

If you think monolingualism might be making you ill or you need to know about the hidden talents of minority languages, but can’t make along to our fantastic Edinburgh Fringe Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas shows this year, you can join our live Twitter chat on Friday 25th August 2017 from 4pm to 5pm (BST).

Professor Antonella Sorace and Dr Thomas Bak will be on hand to answer your questions. Use the hashtag #askbilingual to leave your questions.

Follow Bilingualism Matters on Twitter: @bilingmatters
Follow Thomas Bak on Twitter: @thbaketal



Survey – practices to assess bilingual children in UK

Together with colleagues in Bangor, Leeds, Reading and Oxford, we are conducting a 10-min anonymous survey to find out about current practices to assess bilingual children in the UK, in order to identify the needs for adapted tools and guidance. If you are, for example, a teacher, an SLT, a Health Visitor, an Educational Psychologist, or an Early Years Professional, thank you very much to take the time to help!

Please feel free to circulate this.

To take the survey, please follow the link:


Research participants wanted – bilingual adults

We are looking for bilingual participants. If you live in Edinburgh or the Central Belt of Scotland, and you and your partner or housemate are both bilingual and switch languages in everyday conversation, you could help us!

Please contact Dr Mariana Vega-Mendoza at, who will be happy to send you more information. Your help is greatly appreciated! Each couple who participate will receive a £25 Amazon voucher at the end of the study.

Languages: English, Spanish, Polish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, German, Mandarin, Russian, Swedish

Closing date to sign up: 20 June 2017

Healthy Linguistic Diet

Post by Dr Thomas H Bak

UPDATE July 2017: Want to hear more? See Thomas Bak live and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas on Wednesday 23rd August. Click button below for full details.

See Thomas Bak at Edinburgh Fringe 2017

One of the things that I miss most in the current debates on bilingualism is the lack of interaction between cognitive and social scientists. Both disciplines do important work in this field, but it is very rare that they meet, exchange ideas and discuss their respective findings, let alone develop joint concepts and theories. This is one of the reasons why I was so delighted to be invited by the European Commission, Directorate General Education and Culture to join the meeting of the 4th Thematic Panel on Languages and Literacy in September 2016 in Brussels. This meeting as well as the subsequent one in January 2017, at which I was invited to give a keynote lecture, gave me a chance to interact directly with people coming from very different professional background, working with different populations and using different methodologies.

A particularly important encounter for me was that with Dina Mehmedbegovic, who gave a keynote lecture at the September 2016 meeting. Dina’s background is in school education and she has studied in detail the attitudes to minority languages in England and Wales, which she documented in her book published in 2011. One of the concepts she developed was that of a “healthy linguistic diet[Read more…]

Bilingualism Matters at Edinburgh Fringe 2017

We are delighted that our Director, Professor Antonella Sorace, and our Deputy Director, Dr Thomas Bak, are both challenging Edinburgh Fringe audiences this August with surprising findings from research, as part of the 2017 Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, organised by Beltane Public Engagement Network. [Read more…]

Our Annual Event 2017

By: Mariana Vega-Mendoza & Madeleine Long

On Friday 12 May 2017, Bilingualism Matters hosted its Annual Event at the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum. The event brought together professionals and researchers from areas such as education, neuroscience, and policy as well as members of the public.

The programme kicked off with registration and networking followed by a wonderful schedule of short talks hosted by Àdhamh Ó Broin. The first talk was by the Centre Director, Prof Antonella Sorace, [Read more…]

Survey on bilingualism and autism – May 2017

Online survey, the ABC – Autism and Bilingualism Census, designed for any adults (over 16 years-old) on the autism spectrum, monolinguals and multilinguals alike:

Bérengère Digard, a PhD student from the University of Edinburgh has reached out to us to help her with her research project. She is interested in the relationship between bilingualism and the autism spectrum; you can read more about her research on her webpage:

Bilingualism, Autism and the Brain

She just released an online survey, the ABC – Autism and Bilingualism Census, designed for any adults (over 16 years-old) on the autism spectrum, monolinguals and multilinguals alike. If you wish to help her by taking part in her project, you simply have to follow the link below. Completing the survey should take you between 10 and 15 minutes, maybe a bit more if you speak more than 2 languages.

Bilingualism Matters with ‘Little Linguists’ at Heathrow Airport

This Easter, we worked with Heathrow Airport to promote language learning for children, as part of their ‘Little Linguists’ scheme. Our Director, Professor Antonella Sorace, advised in the development of packs of fun flashcards in different languages, designed to spark an interest in language learning for the thousand of families passing through the airport over the Easter 2017 weekend. [Read more…]