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…]

How do people agree on when to switch between languages?

Research Digest by Michela Bonfieni

A recent study reveals how bilinguals who speak the same two languages implicitly agree with each other on when to switch between their languages. The study also shows that switching between languages in the middle of a conversation is as natural and systematic as any other aspect of language.

Bilingual speakers often use bits of their two languages in their sentences. For example, speaking about taxes and savings, two Spanish-English speakers may go about like this:

Speaker 1: “qué dinero?” (‘what money?’)

Speaker 2: “el dinero ese que nos van a dar with the taxes.” (‘the money that they’re going to give us with the taxes.’)

This behaviour is very frequent among bilinguals who live in contexts where both their languages are used. Researchers on bilingualism refer to this as ‘code-switching’, and have dedicated a lot of attention to understand the way it works. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

Irish Gaelic: political football or treasure?

Post by Dr. Mimo Caenepeel

A few weeks ago, a sideways reference in a larger news item about the current crisis in Northern Ireland caught my attention: the newsreader reported that  ‘support for the Irish language’ was one factor in the complex breakdown of relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP. A quick online check gave me a bit more information. Just before Christmas, the DUP’s community minister Paul Givan decided to withdraw £ 50,000 in funding for an Irish Language (or ‘Irish Gaelic’) bursary scheme. Although that decision has since been reversed, Sinn Féin at the time called it ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.

While arguably small fish in an ocean of news, this struck me as an interesting example of the impact of community language issues, not just on daily life but also on political processes. A ‘community language’ is a language used as their primary language by a community of people on a daily basis. While the number of people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who claim to have some knowledge of Irish is increasing (especially in urban areas like Dublin), the use of Irish as a community language is contracting; in fact, Irish is expected to disappear as a primary language by 2025. That puts Irish Gaelic (together with Scottish Gaelic) on the list of UK languages that are ‘definitely endangered’. [Read more…]

Not only the quantity matters: the importance of quality of input in language development

Sharon Unsworth talks about linguistic input in bilingual development

Post by Michela Bonfieni

Last week, the Linguistic Circle at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) at the University of Edinburgh hosted a talk by Sharon Unsworth, Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at the Radboud University, the Netherlands. Born in Lancashire, Unsworth completed her PhD in Utrecht with a dissertation on the differences between adults and children in language acquisition. Aside from teaching, she is now the head of a research project exploring the cognitive and developmental aspects of multilingualism.

Sharon Unsworth’s research is aimed investigating which factors contribute to the successful acquisition of two or more languages in childhood. [Read more…]

Being bilingual is magical

I was born in England and moved to Pakistan aged 3. I guess I must have started school aged 6 or 7.  In Pakistan I was educated in the national language of Pakistan (Urdu), and speaking the regional language at home (Punjabi). Here I must point out that Punjabi is also the language of the Punjab region of India. The difference in between the Pakistani and Indian Punjabi is that, in Pakistan it is only spoken, where as in India it is a complete language. Almost every child with my background would be  learning to read Arabic (as the Holly Book Quran is In Arabic and is read by many who do not understand the language), often without having any or very little  understanding. Therefore any child with Pakistani background in the UK, would either be speaking Urdu/Punjabi, reading Arabic and speaking, reading and writing English. [Read more…]

Skye is the limit – or, the power of mad ideas

Dr Thomas Bak Thomas H Bak is a reader in Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. In addition to his work with Bilingualism Matters, he is a member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing & Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (CCBS).

Have you ever had an idea that seemed to you great but scarily mad, something that really excited you but you didn’t dare to share even with your closest friends? Well, that’s how I felt two years ago, when it suddenly crossed my mind that we could test attention in people attending a one-week Gaelic course on the Isle of Skye. The idea did not come out of nothing: by then, we had already analysed the data from a study subsequently published in Cognition [1]. There we found that first year students of modern languages and of other humanities (English literature, history etc) performed equally well in a test of attentional switching at the beginning of their studies. However, by the end of the fourth year the language students, by then quite fluent in their chosen language, outperformed their colleagues from other faculties. [Read more…]

Research is not only sitting in front of your computer for hours

I am doing my PhD in Linguistics at Edinburgh. However, I’ve just found myself travelling to a big island in the Mediterranean Sea, meeting people with striking linguistic backgrounds and chatting about my research with enthusiastic listeners. I also happened to eat ravioli with mint and cheese (“culurgiones”), and sweets made of boiled grape (“thiriccas”), and of ricotta and saffron (“pardulas”). If any or all of the above sound appealing to you, here’s how I came to Sardinia to test bilingual speakers of my own language – Italian – and their own – Sardinian.

Scotland or Sardinia? Sheep grazing in the countryside

Scotland or Sardinia? Sheep grazing in the countryside

[Read more…]