Storytelling has been part and parcel of our cultural stock since the dawn of humanity, with fairy tales occupying a central role. In our multicultural and multilingual world, they can become the best allies to bilingual families.
Their feats of wonder appeal to the blessed world of innocence and childhood captivating our children and making them willing to listen to yet another one. Fairy tales are loved because they:
- allow for the possibility of changing everything and everybody, mostly through miraculous transformation,
- endow protagonists of the stories with magical gifts which help them in their challenges,
- show how to solve impossible tasks through the use of cunning and wits.
But why can fairy tales exactly become our great allies when bringing up our bilingual family? Easy: each village, each community, each country has developed their own varied and different tales of wonder connecting them to their system of beliefs, their morals, their customs and laws. Each time we read a fairy tale to our children in their minority language, they join the characters in their quests and are immersed in their culture. And almost as if by magic, by the end of the story both the characters and our children have experienced a series of adventures through which they have gained insights into different aspects of the community. Fairy tales can be used as a painless 'initiation rite' which can show our children the 'appropriate' way to acquire membership in the community of their minority language.
I know that if you live away from the country where the minority language is spoken, finding a tale suitable to your purpose can be quite a difficult task –fit for the hero of a tale of wonder. If that is the case, don’t lose courage! Remember that fairy tales take their stories from real-life traditions and experiences. Start with “Once upon a time…”, include your child in the narrative and weave the tale using your own experience tailoring it to that particular aspect you want to show your children. It is a tale of wonder, so don’t worry about running out of ideas because anything can happen at any time. Use everyday objects for inspiration and don't get shy!
Yet, if your busy schedule --juggling family life, friends, work and countless other tasks you can never say no to-- has momentarily exhausted your creative juices, you can always draw inspiration from games such as “Tell Tale. Fairy Tales” or you can make your own cards (google "fairy tales” in the image section of your browser, print a few of them, glue them to some blank index cards of your preferred size and you’re ready to go!).
If your children are a bit older, you can take turns picking cards from the stack and each can continue the thread left by the other. These collective narratives tend to have even more unexpected twists and, what is more important, they provide an enjoyable family time which will make your children connect their minority language with precious moments. Besides, it will boost your children’s creativity in the process!
If your children are young babies or toddlers, you can still give quite a fun twist to the game by including your spouse in the narrative. If your family uses an OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach to language, turn the tale into a bilingual story! Take turns in taking cards form the stack and continue the story right where your spouse left it. My little daughter loves this kind of storytelling!
And remember, even if you are tired after an exhausting day, make time to share a good bed-time fairy-tale with your children in your minority language: You’ll be thankful for it later!