a colourful choise

handbook for international teaching materials

Auteurs: Ineke Mok & Peter Reinsch
©Parel, Utrecht 1999

Chapter 2

Language Education and Children's Literature

By Mildred de Baas, Anneke Zielhorst, Ria Kwisthout, Rieke Evegroen and Isolde Vega


In the subject areas of reading and language in primary schools the main concern is with learning and extending linguistic competency. It is through education in the native language (NT1), education in Dutch as a second language (NT2), grammatical skills and reading comprehension, along with education in the native language and culture (OETC) that pupils are equipped with the linguistic skills necessary for secondary education.

Grammar and comprehension are the prime targets of teaching. The texts chosen, sentences and words that appear in lessons and practice, must naturally connect with the experiential world of the pupils, but be subordinate to the learning targets.

However, the texts, words and sentences are a major influence on the socio-emotional development of children. Through the content of this material, they receive images of themselves, their group, or others in their surroundings. Also, if people or situations from distant countries are represented, the pupils will be given an image of how the world is shaped and the positions people adopt with regard to each other.

This chapter deals with language education from a multicultural perspective and is divided into three parts. Firstly, Mildred de Baas and Anneke Zielhorst write about the formation of images in language education in primary schools. They illustrate the extent to which lesson materials are a contributory factor in shaping images of ethnic minority groups and the multicultural society. If, through our examples, teachers and authors can hone their understanding of the subtle ways in which prejudices slip into texts and images, then the path will have been cleared for alternatives. For this reason, alongside the 'blunders', examples have been given of ways in which children can be brought closer together and possibilities can be offered for constructing positive images of themselves and others.

In the second part De Baas andZielhorst and gear specifically towards language teaching to multilingual children. Once again, examples are given of classroom material that in their opinion should either be avoided or chosen deliberately. They also discuss integrated language education in classes of multicultural composition and, along with Ria Kwisthout, the teaching of Dutch as a second language.

In a contribution from Rieke Evegroen and Isolde Vega, the reader is taken along on a quest for literature for pupils in primary education. The authors believe that the importance of fiction in intercultural education is often underestimated. They cite many examples that could fill the hiatus.  


2.1 The Formation of Images in Language Education

Old Classroom Material

By about 1960 many schools in The Netherlands had pupils from other cultures: Indonesia, Surinam, Aruba and the Dutch Caribbean, the Molukkan Isles, Spain, Turkey and Morocco. However, the fact that primary schools have been multicultural for three decades has taken a long time to penetrate the awareness of those developing classroom material. Until at least 1980, both the informative texts and fictional material available to school children related exclusively to the reality of the ethnically Dutch. The white, western cultural tradition had a monopoly. In illustrations, all the people in the playground, in the classroom, in the shopping centre or in the street are white.

Unintentionally, this absence of other ethnic groups creates the impression among pupils that only white people and their experiences are interesting enough to serve as examples in classroom material. What black people think and do is apparently not of interest, not of importance and of no value whatsoever to society at large. Among white pupils, this can lead to feelings of superiority with respect to their black fellow-pupils, or, in the absence of the latter, to black people in general. Among black pupils the basis for a negative self-image is laid and a sense of inferiority encouraged. The content of material dealt with in the classroom is not recognisable to them and they cannot identify with the world in the school textbooks.

Here are two examples:

Zulu children in Africa

The lesson, intended for group 4, is about where and how people live. A variety of ways in which people and animals live in The Netherlands is dealt with. The illustrations show only white people. Then there follows a brief lesson on living accommodation elsewhere in the world. The picture shows an apparently primitive village. The people are black, they walk around half naked and build houses for themselves from poles and reeds. The text reads as follows:

'Zulu children live in Africa where it is often warm.

We call a Zulu village a 'kraal'.

Each house is made of wooden poles and has a roof made of reeds.

The people build their own houses.' (1)

At first sight this is merely a factual description of reality. But something noteworthy has happened. Whereas in earlier lessons in which children have become acquainted with different lifestyles in The Netherlands, suddenly the material is about building houses. With this addition, a stereotypical image is used of the primitive lives of black people.

It is important to be aware of those instances in which the lesson material relates the economic under-development of certain peoples to the prosperity here and now. In multicultural societies there are sufficient examples to be found of ways of living in which similarities and differences can be foregrounded.


Themes with a Multicultural Complement

The methods developed after 1980 often offer some potential for intercultural complementation. Many methods are thematically structured and offer concrete possibilities for drawing all pupils into the subject. Mostly this requires some extra work and ingenuity on the part of the teacher.

Here are three examples of situations that are recognisable for children in all cultures that offer the potential for reactions from their own world of experience.

Tom and Said

The subject is how and where people live. First, all the pupils from group 5 can say what their own house looks like. They are also asked if they have ever lived anywhere else, for example, in a village, in a town or in another country. The transition from close by to further away runs smoothly.

The illustration shows different parts of an interior without people. The three texts following are about those things for sale in a furniture shop. Then there is a text with questions about Said's house. Said and Tom meet each other and Said takes Tom home. One part of the text is as follows:

"Tom looks around. The room is not big, but very cosy. There are prettily coloured cloths and lights hanging on the walls. On a low table there are some very small cups. Said's sisters look at Tom and the beautiful red roses. 'These are for my mother' Tom says. 'Because tomorrow is her birthday.'

Further on:

"Tom looks around the room. There are no chairs. Only cushions on the ground and a low sofa.' (...) 'Tom looks at Said's mother. She is pouring tea into three small cups."(2)

In this story it is clear that Tom and Said are from different ethnic origins. But they both live here and the story takes place in the present, making it recognisable for all the pupils in the class. The two children know each other and one can constitute a positive relationship. In Said's house an ethnically specific situation is introduced. Tom notices a number of differences between his own house and Said's. The text gives a genuine image of a person from a particular ethnic group, without generalising. The similarities and differences in the story can be lead into a further discussion about the children's own experiences. In the illustrations, Said's family life is depicted. His mother pours tea and his sisters sit on cushions and sofas. The multicultural society is presented in this lesson in such a way that it helps to reduce the distance between children from different cultures.



From:·J. Davies, University of Manchester, Centre for Primary Education

Source:·Fuzz Buzz Reading Scheme, Oxford University Press, Walton St., Oxford OX26DP, 1990

Opinions will always differ about certain books. How do you deal with a book in which a 'black' is introduced with either a predominantly or an exclusively negative connotation? The following book could prove material for discussion, though one could always chose to play safe. Over-sensitive?

Davies:·"These books form part of a reading scheme designed for children who have experienced some difficulty in learning to read and are based in Scotland with Scottish characters.

These two particular books have been considered to have negative overtones, which might be offensive because of the way the character is called black and exhibits the personality grumpiness[]. The illustrations reinforce this view. Consequently, Manchester Education Authority recommended that these books should not be used in their schools. Some people might argue that this is an oversensitive responce.

For myself, as an ex-primary teacher and headteacher, I would not wish to use these books (9 + 12) because of the correlation made between blacks and grumpiness as this is an unnecassary correlation and could cause offence to some people."

On each page the character is referred to as Black Angus and it ends with an assignment for which the children are required to write two sentences beginning with the words "Black Angus".


Sentences, Vocabulary and Fill-in-the-Gap Exercises.

The tendency to associate black children with poor people far away can also be found in material that is not geared to a specific theme. It can be found in example sentences, vocabulary and in fill-in-the-gap exercises.

The President and the General

In a passage concerning 'The President and the General' the difficult words given in italics, 'perspective' and 'yonder'are cause for concern. Coincidentally, 'yonder' is associated with poverty. Further on there is a sentence that is intended to indicate the correct use of the verb: 'A black farmer, far away and with a very low income'. The guidelines for teachers deal solely with grammatical skills the children should be learning during this year. The content is merely an example, not essential.(3)

The implicit message is: far people...poverty. White and black children are imprinted with a tacit understanding that there are barriers between them.

Naturally, the teacher's immediate concern is the grammatical component of the lesson. Moreover, many practical examples will be needed if the pupils are to understand the materials. An alert teacher should pay attention to sentences of this type and those words with which pupils are presented that could have an effect on the formation of negative images. The teacher can leave out or replace odd words or sentences. However, while dealing with such material, the teacher can choose to take time out to make a critical appraisal with the pupils. S/he can ask: Is 'yonder' always a place of poverty? Do you know anything else you can tell us about 'yonder'. A positive addition to the meaning of 'yonder' on the part of the teacher puts pupils on the right track.

Here are a few fragments in which 'close by' (western) and 'far away' (non-western) can be used together in a positive manner.

Always and Everywhere

'Dancing is something people have been doing for centuries. You can see this, for example, in pictures on old vases and in paintings. (...) Throughout the world, in every culture, people dance. In The Netherlands dancing is something people do for pleasure, but in some other countries you dance to show that you are sad, or angry or scared. In Africa and in Latin-America, for example, people dance at every opportunity: the birth of a child; when children become adults; when people marry; at a relative's funeral; when the farmers sow their seeds and bring in the harvest. Dancing is a very important part of life. (...) Another example can be found in refugee camps in Thailand. Due to the war in Cambodia, many Cambodians were forced to move to neighbouring Thailand. In the refugee camps performances are given by groups of dancers. These groups tell stories about daily life in Cambodia so that the children will not forget what their country was like.' (4)

Language in The Netherlands

In this lesson the children do research into the languages spoken in the different regions of The Netherlands and in the class itself. Afterwards, a number of texts are read. These contain letters from nine children who were born in The Netherlands in which they write about the country where their parents were born.These descriptions of the nine countries (The Netherlands, Suriname, the Caribbean, Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia, China, Italy and Spain) are objective and factual.They evoke no negative images. The correspondents all speak another language or dialect at home beside Dutch. (5)

 The entire story exudes an atmosphere of the 'genuine' old tales of voyages of discovery found in the history books of the father land. The explorer is, of course, a white man who 'discovers' strange, dangerous, unknown, black and primitive peoples. The text is written from a distinctly white-western perspective. 'We' have discovered something that is a curiosity. The only possible point of identification is the 'white observers'. The story itself is subordinated to the linguistic competence the pupils must prove they command.

The content of this kind of story can obstruct the learning-process in black children, as a result of which they may score lower than their usual level of competence. In a recent exam, one should not expect to find stories of this kind.

In Conclusion

This society pays too scant attention to racism and systematic disadvantaging. There are subjects that are seldom discussed openly, honestly and without bias: why people come to this country; that there is an unwillingness to make space for other languages in education and social intercourse; the ways in which rejection of different cultural and religious values lead people into isolation and loneliness; how people are systematically located in run-down areas.

In educational circles it is usual to reason that 'children are not racist and it would be wrong to put ideas into their heads'. In our opinion, addressing the issue of racism from the appropriate vantage point is intrinsic to the role of educator.

Authors and those who develop school textbooks and methods are in the majority of cases of white, Western origins. They write 'about' rather than 'from' the multicultural background in question. If people from other ethnic groups could participate more in the development of methods and materials, or if they were asked to comment on the material, then there would be a gradual move towards a more balanced perspective on the diversity of ethnic minority groups in society.

Ultimately, what is of utmost importance is the critical evaluation of lesson-material. The following recommendations are the most important from the chapter above.

Reading lessons in language and comprehension teach children more than linguistic competence. Through stories and poems the children are learning not only language, but seemingly innocent fantasies and nonsense poems will influence their social and emotional development. They will relate the content to themselves and utilise reading lessons to form images of 'other' people.

Teachers should be careful with lesson-material and look to see if the material proposed for use in reading lessons is not inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes. For this reason, almost all of the language and reading books written before 1980 are unsuitable. They fail to take the reality of a multi-ethnic society in The Netherlands into account. There is no reflection on the cultural similarities and differences between children in the present day. They only offer stereotypical images of the peoples and countries outside The Netherlands. Moreover, from the didactic perspective, they are dated.

Chose a method the allows the pupils to make a positive recognition of situations and that invites them to react from their own world of experience. The crucial test lies in whether or not the method embraces all the children in a multicultural and multilingual class.

Look to at the glossary at the beginning of a theme lesson and prepare additional terms. If critical references to a multicultural society are absent, encourage the pupils to think up ones of their own. For example, make us of a 'word-field'.

Also, look at the ways in which people from different (ethnic) groups are depicted in so-called intercultural methods. Are they 'different' or 'strange', or are they 'ordinary' and can all the pupils recognise something of themselves in them? Do they appear in ethnically-mixed or ethnically-specific situations?

Children often become very emotionally involved with hunger and poverty in the world. Often school textbooks reinforce the association between poverty and pitiable, dark people because they base stories on the contrast between children in rich and poor countries. Keep an eye on so-called fictional stories and stories that are set in the past. Fiction and reality blend easily with one another, even for very young readers. These texts convey images as well.

Texts with stereotypes can be skipped, or the teacher can ask the pupils if the image is correct: are all people 'there' poor; are all people 'here' rich; is 'there' really so far away and where exactly is 'there'? In this way the teacher can refine generalisations about a group of people.


2.2 Language Education for Multilingual Pupils

Integrated Language Education

Given the multicultural composition of many schools, there are often multilingual children in the class. Integrated language education is education in which attention is paid to the various native languages spoken by pupils alongside Dutch. Generally speaking, this is quite rare. The various native languages are seldom brought into play in the lessons. Teachers are faced with considerable organisational difficulties if they are to pay attention to other languages. They do not speak the languages themselves, and feel as if they lose control of the group when pupils communicate with each other in their native language.

Besides this, there is an ethnocentric attitude towards education that assumes it should be conducted exclusively in Dutch. Native-speaker methods, whether old or new, are essentially the same; they fail to help teachers cope with multilingual classes.

This is a great pity, because the chance to profit from the implicit knowledge and experience of all the children in the class is missed. For children who are native-speakers of Dutch, the relationship between the linguistic usage within and without the school and the knowledge and experience related to that usage is a close one. To take away that native language is to dam up, cut off, negate a part of the development of children.

Schools that seek to accommodate the various native languages in the class, incidentally or structurally, have only had positive experiences to date.2 Some teachers work along with OETC-teachers (Education in Native Languages and Cultures). Others use classroom materials that can pay (incidental) attention to multilinguality, such as 'This is Who We Are' and 'Grandma Never Lets You Down'. The following examples will give an impression of this type of material:


How Many Languages Do You Speak

In the story about Hanan it appears that she speaks better Moroccan-Arabic than Dutch. It also appears that she speaks a different language than Fouad, who is also of Moroccan descent. Through this situation the link is made to the classroom situation: 'Which languages are spoken in the class?' After an inventory is made, the children are divided into groups in which they make a list, in two of the languages present, of those words which are useful in class or at school. By compiling the lists, the expertise of multilingual children is used. Dictionaries are only used as a backup.(6)

This entails a positive approach to the native languages of multilingual pupils. Children who seldom play a leading role in linguistic activities are now pre-eminently the experts. Children who only speak Dutch make an effort to find and pronounce words in an unknown language and realise how difficult it is.

Teachers notice that pupils find more to say in Dutch if they have first been allowed to speak or consult with each other about a subject in their native language. It is noteworthy that the Dutch sentences become more complete, more complex and are also more creative. Recent research indicates that multilingual children with a dominant native language (in comparison with the second language) learn much quicker if the educational material connects with both languages. Experiments are being carried out in this field in The Netherlands, the intention being to offer support to schools and those developing teaching methods. Effectively, integrated language education should be implemented if all children in the educational system are to be given the most favourable opportunities.



Source:·Odeyssea: acceuils et approaches interculturelles by C. Perregaux (Corome, 1994). The quotations are based on N. Decourt et al, Dites-le en 20 langues (Paris: CNDP, 1991).

"Le fascicule se définit comme un outil de dialogue 'pour aller à la rencontre des personnes qui sauront parler et faire parler les langues présentées et bien d'autres encore.'" (Perregaux 1994:128)

Translation:·The fascicule is defined as a dialogue tool "used to meet people who can speak, and can encourage the speaking of, the presented and other languages." (Perregaux 1994:128)
The following seven formulations are, for example, given in twenty languages.

Dites-le en Turc

Dites-le en Créole (Martinique)




Comment çava


Sa ou fé



Man la




Comment t'appeles-tu

Adin ne?

Ki manniè yo ka krié

Je m'apelle Benoît / Amélie

Benim adim Mehmet? Gül

Yo ka krié moin Jean/Marie

Au revoir

Güle, güle

A plita

A teacher does not need to know all the languages spoken by her/his pupils. However, by learning certain common phrases the teacher is giving recognition to the multilingual children in the class.

"L'ouverture réelle de l'école au plurilinguisme demande de modifier le monolinguisme trop affiché du système scolaire afin d'intégrer une reconnaissance légitime, une curiosité et un intérêt certain pour les autres langues." (p.128);

"L'accueil d'un nouvel élève ne demande pas que l'enseignant connaisse sa langue mais qu'il ait une attitude d'ouverture et de reconnaissance de la langue de l'autre." (p.128)

"Il n'est pas question pour l'enseignant ou l'enseignante de connaître toutes les langues que parlent les élèves. Le nouvel élève ne s'attend certainement pas à ce que l'enseignant puisse s'adresser à lui dans la langue mais l'essai parfois malhabile qu'il sent chez l'accueillant pour lui dire 'bonjour' ou lui adresser deux mots dans sa langue, peut faciliter les premiers moments, détendre l'atmosphère et dissiper l'angoisse. " (p.128)

Translation:·"The genuine opening up of schools to plurilinguism requires modification of the strong affinity of the school system to monolinguism in order to foster legitimate recognition as well as a curiosity and certain interest in other languages." (p.128);

"The language of a new pupil does not require the teacher to speak his/her language but rather to have an attitude of openness and recognition of the pupil's language." (p.128)

"It is not a matter of the teacher knowing all the languages spoken by the children. The new pupil certainly does not expect the teacher to be able to speak to him/her in his/her language, but even a clumsy attempt by the recieving teacher to say "good morning" or to speak a couple of words in the pupil's language can ease initial contacts, relax the atmosphere and reduce anxiety." (p.128)


Education in Dutch as a Second Language (NT2)

It is the purpose of native language education that children who speak Dutch as a native language when they enter primary school should be able to continue to develop their command of that language. The two main areas to which native language education gears itself are linguistic communication and linguistic competence. The former is concerned with listening, speaking, reading and writing for communicative purposes and for the assimilation of knowledge. The latter concerns itself with the rules and regulations of the language (spelling, grammar, vocabulary and idiom) that help improve linguistic communication.

Learning Dutch as a second language means that children must acquire Dutch at school and pursue the acquisition, while linguistic development up until that point has taken place in another language. It is noteworthy that in the didactic aspects of learning Dutch as a second language little use is made of the progress already realised in the first language. Rather than noting what the child already knows about its own language, the point of departure is what the child lacks in Dutch.

Often, multilingual children are still given language education through the usual methods without any adaptation. In this case, a certain level of linguistic competence in Dutch is taken for granted, a level that has often not been acquired by multilingual children. This creates situations in which non-native-speakers of Dutch are set to work on texts and fill-in-the-gap exercises that they barely understand.

Schools can buy special teaching methods for second-language acquisition that can be applied to Dutch as a second language. Native-language methods can also be adapted so that they are more suitable for multilingual children. This does require certain skills on the part of the teacher along with insights into the process of second-language acquisition. Moreover, a proficiency in selecting and re-planning lesson-material using the different methods is important.

Many teachers know from their own experience which words are worth learning and which are not. Taking this into consideration, it might be more appropriate to waiver the use of the usual exercises in favour of finding an alternative that is related more closely to the needs of the child. Relevant words are those words that are necessary for communicating about things in the child's immediate vicinity, for the expression of thoughts and feelings, for functioning in the various classroom activities and for the child's future education at primary and secondary level.

In methods designed for teaching the native language the meaning of words is often not made clear. By taking words out of their context and isolating them in language lessons, children can miss an insight into their effective usage and the relationship between words and other notions. It is more effective to offer words in the more meaningful context of a particular theme.

In order to introduce a theme and activate any existing knowledge, a vocabulary lesson can begin with the class compiling a 'word-field'.

            sink                                                                                           washing up
KITCHEN tap food
                                                          pan           oven          table


When offering new words one should take into account that in some households children might learn some slightly different terms to children in other households. For example, some people might prefer to say 'sink' and others 'wash basin'. Surinamese people are more likely to 'do the dishes' than the 'washing-up'. Moreover, words can evoke different associations. These associations and meanings are called concepts. Concepts vary from person to person and from culture to culture.

Various concepts exist for a word such as 'yoghurt'. Dutch people think of a dessert, but in other cultures it is often seen as a side dish or a sauce served with vegetables. There can be a significant difference in the way a word is filled in by native-born Dutch children and children from ethnic minority groups.

By making these 'word-fields', the differing associations found among the children can be compared and in this way the words can be connected with the experience and knowledge of all the pupils. Children from different linguistic levels learn from each other. It is important to start off by grouping these 'word fields' around a theme, by means of which the children can make free associations. This exercise can take place with groups of mixed levels.

Children can be taught certain strategies by which they can derive the meaning of a word. This can be achieved by exploring the context, by unravelling words made as compounds of two or more words together, or by using illustrations and dictionaries. The teacher can make sure that there are plenty of photographs and illustrations for the various themes. S/he can present a notion and let the pupils copy it, but it is important to use the word in a sentence that makes the meaning clear. In a vocabulary lesson geared to Dutch as a second language the aim must be the communicative function; ultimately the words must become part of the active linguistic capacity.

The usual approaches to teaching Dutch contain a great many written exercises. The following is a typical example.

Written exercise

Fill in the correct form of to lay or to lie:

1. The brush ..... on the table (present tense)
2. The hen ..... an egg (present tense)
3. Mary .... down on the grass (past tense)
4. The conductor ...... his baton down (past tense).
5. The boy ..... to the teacher about his homework (past tense).(7)

Written exercises take up a great deal of time and offer very few opportunities for repetition. Many non-native-speakers of Dutch need repetition; for example, in the case of frequently recurring sentence structures, verbs and idioms.

It is more effective to do certain exercises orally. This can be achieved by copying the exercises and allowing the answers to be filled in on the copy. The pupils can then use this answer sheet to do oral exercises in pairs.

Many non-native-speakers of Dutch are also not ready for composition assignments. An open assignment such as 'write a story about the Vikings' is easily set but difficult to carry out if you are not very linguistically adept and have no idea what a Viking is. It requires a great deal of preliminary practice before a pupil is ready to start on composition. The productive written skills must be practised step by step and extended. Half-open assignments incorporating some sections with questions and short assignments are more suitable.

The teacher could also learn a few words in the child's native language. By showing an interest and respect for the language the teacher can make a contribution to the child's development of a positive image of her/himself. For assignments such as 'talk about what you did in the summer holiday' a child starting on second-language acquisition could use her/his own language now and again. More advanced pupils can eventually function as simultaneous interpretors. In this way children who do not (yet) have a command of the Dutch language can still feel at home in a group. Their own language can also be used in class when reading bilingual books. These books should have, for example, a Dutch and a Turkish version of the text, while the illustrations remain the same. There are also opportunities here to work with OETC-teachers.

Because all of this costs such a great deal of time and energy, and the desired result is not always achieved, the plea for an integrated language-teaching method increases in volume. What is required is a teaching-method in which elements of second-language acquisition (NT2) along with the didactics of second-language acquisition are integrated so that the problems experienced by non-native-speakers of Dutch can be adequately accommodated in native-language classes.

In Conclusion

The teacher must dare to make priorities. Non-native- speakers of Dutch must learn the language to a high level in a short space of time. It is impossible to teach them all the subtleties of the Dutch language so rapidly. The usual methods should be examined critically: composition assignments and spelling exercises should be left out if the children are not up to them and more oral practice with sentence structure and verbs should take their place. Schools can also make use of the so-called zip-models. A zip-model is a plan which lays out in detail the exercise material from the native language that can be replaced by exercises from a special NT2-method for advanced pupils.

In the SLO-project 'Multilinguality and Language Development' different combination-proposals are tested in schools. The zip-models are geared to schools with different numbers of multilingual children. The following are relevant combinations of NT1 and NT2: 'A Language Racket' and 'All Language' or 'A Language Racket' and 'Going on with Dutch'. As schools use different methods in native-language teaching it is important for teachers to develop a proficiency in selecting and planning from among the wide range of lesson-material from the various methods. The SLO has recently offered a training course on which teachers can develop their advantages.

Neither the usual teaching methods nor NT2 methods on their own prepare the pupils sufficiently for the texts they will be obliged to assimilate for their subjects such as history and social studies. In these other subjects there will be words and sentence structures that they will barely have touched on in their native-language classes. For these subjects they will need to use communicative linguistic skills such as listening, speaking, reading and writing integrally within the same assignment, while in the language-teaching methods this is not the case.

Even if a child can deal with the exercise material in the usual language-teaching methodology without much of a problem, this is still no guarantee that problems will not arise with other subjects. In these subject areas the material is not drawn from the child's direct environment; everyday, general linguistic skills (DAT) are not sufficient.

Some of the usual methods used to teach language and reading skills have been screened for intercultural content. The criteria used for the screening are stereotyping, representation, positive images, breakdown of role-patterns and ethnocentricity. The screening reports contain recommendations and suggestions for ways to complement methods with more intercultural substance.

The point of departure for integrated language education is its ability to make use of the multilingual class. Give the pupils the opportunity to prepare a theme in their own language, and then in Dutch. This approach often has a positive effect on the capacity for assimilating Dutch.

A few methods use the multilinguality of the pupils, but generally the teacher will have to do some extra work. Find out which exercises are suitable for use with the languages pupils speak at home, including regional languages and dialects. All pupils come into contact with people who are multilingual. They can all learn playfully how to say something in another language.

When introducing a new theme, a 'word-field' can be a useful resource. A 'word-field' can also be made in other languages. The advantage of a 'word-field' is that new Dutch words can be introduced inter-relating with one another in a very clear context. Make sure the words mean the same to all the children (remember the variety of associations applying to 'yoghurt'). With the 'word-field' you can find out what the children already know about a subject.


2.3 Children's Literature

The Importance of Children's Literature

Everyone would agree that it is important to encourage children to start reading at as early an age as possible, because reading is a way of acquiring knowledge. In books children are offered the means to expand their horizons and extend the boundaries of their experience. In a relatively easy way one gets to know other people, opinions, cultures, customs, other countries, and discoveries or developments in countless areas. Reading stimulates the development of language and obviously contributes to literary development in children. And, last but not least, reading is a very pleasant way to spend one's leisure hours.

Gradually, the point has been reached when it is no longer necessary to discuss the fact that reading habits can best be encouraged by offering a broad choice of books, nursery rhymes, poetry and short stories, at home, in the creche as well as at school.

While reality itself is not being described in a work of fiction, the connections and relationships being displayed are recognisable on the basis of a familiar reality. It is never possible to keep society, reality, outside the domain of stories. We can only identify with characters in a book because we see recognisable bits of the world, even in science-fiction. A book is pre-eminently a means to empathise with someone else, to enter into their being. Children can learn this through books.

We have looked for children's literature that is suitable for use in intercultural education with children of twelve or thirteen years of age. This means that we are dealing with books which make a contribution to the aims of intercultural education and which enhance the pleasure to be gained from reading by children from different cultures.

We restricted ourselves to children's fiction, non-fiction, fairy tales, short stories, books on tape and poetry. We have also paid attention to nursery rhymes, verse and stories from the oral tradition, because these connect with a literary culture with which all children have experience, even if the oral tradition in schools has been watered down.

Where possible we will indicate if a book is available in more than one language.

Suitable books, in our opinion, fulfil the following criteria:

1. They should not be injurious to any ethnic group whatsoever. Injurious statements or denigrating language are easily recognisable. It is more difficult to read between the lines to see if various ethnic groups are treated paternalistically.

2. A white, western culture should not be held up as the ideal for which one should strive, automatically rendering other cultures inferior.

3. The books should promote the pleasure experienced in reading. Illustrations should clarify the text or add an extra dimension. Pictorial material can serve to support first or second language acquisition. When illustrations are used to help children understand the book, they will find it easier to talk about the book.

4 .The book must connect with the children's experience of the world in accordance with their age group. Children should be able to identify with the characters in the book.

5. The language must be correct (good Dutch, Turkish, Moroccan, Chinese etc).

The books discussed here have been divided into six categories. Some overlap can be seen in the divisions, but it has proved to be a good basis for use in a school library. The system is also used by the Educational-Audio-Visual Service in the public library in Amsterdam.

Books with an Intercultural Orientation

In these books the stories are set in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. The stories and illustrations give a realistic depiction of the everyday lives, the religions, the manners and customs of various groups in our society. It is essential that such books should be available, but unfortunately there are still too few on offer in the Netherlands.

Books suitable for the higher levels of primary education are: 'Rosa' written by Mary Hoffman and splendidly illustrated by Caroline Binch. This book was awarded the alternative children's book publishers' prize in 1993. It is really superlative. The full-page illustrations, executed in poster paints, depict a black girl of about twelve years of age, full of self-confidence and with a high level of self-esteem. She comes from a socially-conscious family in which she is parented by her mother and grandmother. The illustrations contribute further information to the text as a whole. Rosa's attempts to get the leading role in a play are dealt with thoroughly and in spite of some initial scepticism on the part of her classmates, eventually she gets the role.

'The Whip' by Nicole Boumaza is of very dubious substance. It gives a very stereotypical description of a Moroccan family in which the father is ready with his fists, the mother watches passively, and the children slowly become the victims of their parents' upbringing. That the author is aware of the tenor of her work is apparent from her preface, in which she admits to having written the book in this way deliberately so that she can cultivate more mutual understanding. In our opinion she has chosen rather for an affirmation of existing prejudices and stereotypical notions of 'the' Moroccan upbringing. She offers no examples of other Moroccan families, nor a broader perspective, and flummoxes her own aim entirely. The book is popular among teenagers, including Moroccans, presumably because this type of social melodrama is popular in this age group. But in an educational context that is multicultural, in which learning to understand each other better should be high on the agenda, this book is entirely inadequate.

Books About Children in Other Countries

While books with an intercultural identity are very important for children, mono-cultural books are often very practicable in multicultural education. Children from ethnic minority groups have often built up enough knowledge of The Netherlands to enable them to understand Western, mono-cultural books. Especially books with a universal theme. In the same way, Dutch children can be interested in monocultural books that are set, for example, in Turkey, as long as there something recognisable in the world that is depicted.



From:·K. van Gorp, Steunpunt Nederlands als Tweede Taal (The Support Centre for Dutch as a Second Language), Leuven.

SourceTaal-Verhaal; prentenboeken, verhalen en drama in de kleuterklas. K. Jaspaert (ed), Antwerpen/Deurne: Plantyn, 1995, p. 115. It concerns the picture book: H. de Beer, Een ijsbeer in de tropen. The Hague: De Vier Windstreken.

With a picture book like Een ijsbeer in de tropen (A Polar Bear in the Tropics) children can learn about travelling and being introduced to unfamiliar food. The book can be used for intensive practice in linguistic competence as well as for forming an acquaintance with new products and objects. These objectives are further explored in one of the extension-activities suggested by the Steunpunt Nederlands als Tweede Taal in Belgium. This activity allows the children to get to know unfamiliar products, just like the polar bear in the tropics. These can originate from all sorts of countries. There can be a variety of vegetables and types of fruit, as well as kitchen utensils (a pestle, a tea-sieve) ready in the classroom when the children enter. They have to look at the things closely with the intention of asking each other the names of the products or objects and how they are eaten or used. The teacher should encourage them to question each other and only step in when no-one knows the answer.



From:·J. Davies, University of Manchester, Centre for Primary Education.

Source:·Mennen, Ingrid & Niki Daly, Somewhere in Africa, Randon Century Children's Books 20, Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V2SA, 1992 (first published in Southern Africa by Songolo Books 1990)

Somewhere in Africa occupies the territory between fiction and non-fiction. According to Davies:

"This book tells the story of a boy called Ashraf who lives somewhere in Africa, not the Africa where lions roam free but the Africa of scorched pavements and constant city bustle. This book helps people to confront the sterotype of the people of Africa living in villages or huts, or wandering as refugees in abject poverty. The words and pictures show the similarities between parts of Europe and parts of Africa in a vivid way. It is a resource in primary schools both as a reading text and as part of multicultural/ antiracist education."



A good series for this primary schools is 'Everyday Life in the Third World'. Short pieces of text accompanied by clearly recent photographs and relevant information about a wide range of countries are offered in a contemporary lay-out.

Books With a Universal Theme

The themes that are broached in these books are so general that they would be recognisable for every child. They deal with feelings like fear, insecurity, jealousy and anger. In this group there is a great deal of choice, for instance 'The Red Princess' by Paul Biegel. The need to go against the grain of acceptable behaviour will the recognisable for many children.

Children's Books in More Than One Language

The importance of a good command of the native language is steadily gaining acknowledgement, both in its own right and as a prerequisite for a sufficient acquisition of a second language. Young children command many words in everyday usage only in their native language. When they are confronted with these words in a (picture) book or in speech in another language, they will fail to understand them. Since 1987 a great deal of energy has been invested in Amsterdam in work with 'intercultural "look and read and listen" corners' where children can look at picture books and listen to the texts translated into their own language.
Other picture books readily available in The Netherlands are 'Ena and the Fish' (mentioned earlier), which can also be obtained in Molukkan, and, somewhat more difficult, 'The King Who Only Liked Purple' by Ismail Kaya (a multilingual edition in Dutch, Turkish and Arabic).

Folk Tales and Fairy Stories

Fairy stories and folk tales are important in many cultures for the continuation of a cultural heritage. The transmission of this heritage from generation to generation is not restricted to the written word, but is also manifest in oral story-telling. Both Dutch children and those from ethnic minority groups will recognise elements of their own background in these stories. Incorporating stories from other cultures and giving them a positive evaluation will enhance the self-esteem of children from ethnic minority groups.
There are many suitable books on the market with Hodja-stories or Anansi-stories, such as 'Anansi the Spider Weaves Himself a Web Around the World', told and illustrated by Noni Lichtveld (for older primary school children) and 'Anansi and the Other Animals' (for lower primary levels).

Children's Books By Writers From Ethnic Minorities
This category falls into two: firstly, those books written in the language of the ethnic minority itself; for instance 'My Adventures with Abdullah', mentioned above, by Ghazi Abdel Quadir has been translated from Arabic. Secondly, books by English-language authors such as Virginia Allen Jensen and Ezra Jack Keats.

Reading at School and at Home

Teaching children to read to a high level should be indivisible from the goals of intercultural education. In The Netherlands there are numerous possibilities for schools to combine their own activities in the promotion of reading matter with those evolved in public libraries. Moreover, those Dutch establishments specialising in artistic development offer support for many literary activities.

The message that reading begins in the family rather than at primary school is making headway. It is in the family (and in the creche, the playschool and the nursery-school) that the foundation for later development in reading is laid. The process through which young children are made to feel at home in the world of letters is called 'budding literacy'. It entails, for example, learning to work with a variety of writing and reading materials, scribbling and writing in young children, drawing, singing, writing messages with parents, recognising the first letter of the name.
The following factors can have an advantageous effect on reading behaviour:

  • Naturally, the availability of books in the family home and through visits to the library; a quiet environment at home and parental encouragement; parents who read to their children and tell stories; discussions about reading matter; parental interest in what children read and advice about the choice of books.
  • Research indicates that talking about books at home has a positive influence on the reading climate in the family. This should start as early as possible. In concrete terms this means that all the stimulating activities that take place at school have better results if parents pay attention to them as well. This means that playschools, schools and libraries should pay a great deal of attention to the level of literary culture found in the homes of individual families by lending parents collections of books and cassette tapes and by singing 'the song of the week'.
  • Interactive reading to children means inviting and stimulating the child, summarizing the material and giving information. This is important for children who have no experience of parents reading to them at home.
  • Reading outside school is sadly not a miracle cure for children with difficulties.5 It appears that children do read at home, but seldom. Forty-three percent of children in group 6 read less than once a week. The average time spent reading is ten minutes. The burden, therefore, lies with the school. More time will have to be made available for reading comprehension. Nonetheless, reading at home remains important from a cultural perspective, and because lying on the sofa with a book is a pleasant pastime.

    In Conclusion
    Books show you reality. By reading you put yourself in someone else's shoes, form images of people in other cultures and countries and recognise something of yourself. Therefore, suitable literature is important for young people in intercultural education.

    In order to make a definitive choice it is important to make an assessment of the content. What the author intended is not relevant. Keep asking yourself how different children would read the book and use this to decide on its suitability. In this way you can also decide to remove a number or books from the library and not to make them available to the pupils.

    Look to see if the content is hurtful to a particular ethnic group, and if white, western cultures are presented as the norm. This is not always clear immediately and you will need to read between the lines. Then you can ask the following questions:

  • Look at the characters and the plot. Who is the main character? Which character develops during the course of the story? What type of relationship exists between the characters? Through whose eyes do the readers see what happens and with whom will they identify? Who speaks, who is active?
  • How does the omniscient narrator function? Does s/he correct stereotypes, for example, or negative remarks made by characters in the book? Check to see is culturally charged terms such as 'primitive', 'negro', 'hut' appear, and, if so, are they challenged?
  • In what way does ethnicity play a role? Does ethnicity determine a character or are the characters individuated with ethnicity being merely one aspect of their identity? And are the figures boys, girls, men or women? Are they role-stereotypes or do they break the mould? How are diverse cultures depicted? Are they sketchy and stereotypical? Rigid?
  • Pay attention to the illustrations: who is depicted and in what way?

    Finally, you learn to read at school, but the school cannot teach you to read all by itself. It is important that children read at home, too. Look for ways to include parents in reading lessons and find ways for them to play are role in their child's reading habits at home. And see if libraries and institutions for artistic development can play a role in developing reading competency and pleasure along with the school.


2.4 Notes

1 Jouw taal, mijn taal (Your Language, My Language), lesson 14. 1976. p.136.
2 Taalkabaal (A Racket About Language), theme 4. Tilburg: Zwijsen, 1982. p.48.
3 Taal Totaal (Total Language), book 5, group 7. Groningen: Jacob Dijkstra, 1985. p.11.
4 Ik weet wat ik lees (I Know What I'm Reading), group 8, lesson 11. Groningen: Jacob Dijkstra, 1991. p.80 e.v.
5 Leespraat (Reading Out Loud), groep 7. Den Bosch: KPC, 1991. p.137 e.v.
6 Dit zijn wij, de les Talen (This is Who We Are), Language Lesson (intercultural reading file for groups 7 and 8). Den Haag: NBLC, 1990.
7 Taal Totaal (Total Language), book 5b, group 7. Groningen: Jacob Dijkstra, 1985.

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