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« Women Rock Switzerland » Special Edition of the Sovereign Magazine. JUNE 2019
Build children’s confidence through the power of bilingual bedtime stories
Interview with Marie-Odile Hussain | By Darie Nani
Raising a bilingual child is especially difficult for expat parents who don’t speak another language themselves. It’s possible to give your child the gift of languages even if you can’t speak French? Here is an inspiring story and top tips from a mother who managed to do just that and inspired by her four children became a published author herself.
Marie-Odile Hussain, the founder of Editions Bilingues Hussain, Culture NetWorld, is a mother of four and a woman on a mission to enhance literacy and bilingualism around the world through an innovative and inspiring methodology, helping build children’s confidence.
What inspired you to write books and become a publisher?
I always wanted to write children’s books and my children gave me the inspiration to get going and start my own company. Being a former bilingual teacher of French and English and mother of four children, I decided to write and illustrate a story where children can learn a new language.
Before I graduated as a teacher from Keele University I studied Marketing at Lille II University in France and Global Marketing and International Communication at Staffordshire University in the U.K. This gave me the skills and knowledge to plan and launch my business. My biggest challenge so far was to find the funding to launch my company here in Switzerland, my new home country, where I have been living for over ten years.
What can you tell us about the methodology you have developed?
Since my stories are based on my own concept and methodology on how children could learn a language, I decided to register my own publishing company called Editions Bilingues Hussain, Culture NetWorld. It’s mission is to enhance literacy and bilingualism around the world and I do this through a 3 step process that is easy to follow and gives results.
The first step is to discover the key vocabulary, where the children develop their listening skills in the target language.
The second step is to consolidate their skills needed to engage in ordinary conversations, allowing children develop their reading skills in both languages.
The third step is to develop their autonomy by raising their interest in acquiring cultural knowledge. This helps children further develop their speaking skills in the target language.
At the end of the 3 step methodology, which can be repeated, they will be able to start acting out the story and apply it to real life scenarios. This will enable them to work towards becoming bilingual.
In addition to the stories, I’ve designed a bilingual portfolio and a project book with a range of activities and games to support their learning at home and in school. The stories are well-structured around the A1 beginner level of objectives set in the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).
Importantly, although the stories aim to be educational, they are also fun, colourful, attractive and definitely appealing to children. I gave my characters a Manga style illustration so that the children can easily identify with them.
What can you tell us about the stories you have created?
My stories are set in Switzerland, a small country with four official languages. They are designed for children aged 3 to 10. The mascots are four totem animals traveling in a cuckoo clock. In “Let’s Play with Alligator”, a bilingual pack that appeals more to children aged 3 to 6, the numbers 1 to 12 are used to play traditional games and “make-believe” with their friend Alligator. In “The Magic Puzzle”, a story designed for children aged 6+, each totem animals accompanies each of the four children to help them accomplish their missions. In this first adventure, they are going to enquire about the French and English speaking countries in the world. This story also comes as a bilingual pack for primary schools teaching a language. All stories come with the AUDIO available in both languages.
What has been the reaction to your books thus far?
I was exhibiting my books at the Geneva Book Fair this year, in the “Espace Découverte” (Discovery Space). I was overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedbacks and the people who were interested in buying my books. The children really loved the design and the colourful characters. The parents were very open to this new concept and they agreed that their children could definitely benefit from reading and listening to my stories.
What is your main advice for parents who want to teach their children a second language?
Firstly, don’t over-think it, just start and keep reading even if you aren’t confident to speak another language yourself. Children keep improving their language skills into adulthood and the sooner they start, the better chances of achieving confidence while communicating.
Secondly, remember that words have power, so, avoiding the word “Learn” will make the process more engaging and fun. Associating the language skills with a bedtime story is also a great way to remove some of the anxiety of learning new words. Remember, enjoyable learning is one of the most motivating and empowering gifts you can give a child.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently working on offering French- German and English- German versions by adapting the cultural knowledge of the countries written in the stories to the languages.