How we’re supporting children with additional languages on their reading journeys

Published on: 03 January 2023

“Refugee families feel welcomed and valued when they receive a book in their own language."

We’re celebrating the fantastic work our partners do to support children and families who speak English as an additional language, read together and share storiesWhatever your backgroundbooks and reading can be an important tool to support children and, in many cases, can help newly arrived families feel settled in their new communities.  

At BookTrust we’re committed to supporting all children on their reading journeys and providing extra support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Many of the families we support through our work with partners across England, Wales and Northern Ireland speak English as an additional language, whether that’s families with different backgrounds and heritage or migrants, refugees and asylum seekers 

Families who speak another language are encouraged to talk and share books with their children in their home language as well as English and so we offer our partners dual language books and resources that they can use to engage families locally.

In the year up to 30 October 2022, we’ve sent out over 36,500 dual language books to children in 38 different languages, including Somalian, Dari and Pashto and Ukrainian.  

By offering dual language books, we can encourage families to share stories together even if they are not confident doing so in English.Our partners tell us how the dual language books and resources they receive from BookTrust play an important part in the support they offer families, particularly those newly arrived in the UK. They tell us how reading can help children to deal with traumatic experiences they may have had in their past and feel settled and adjust to their new homes and communities  

Vicky Hough, Early Years Coordinator for Bristol Librariessays  

Refugee families feel welcomed and valued when they receive a book in their own language. They feel valued because their own culture and heritage is being acknowledged instead of disregarded. The dual language books from BookTrust are so important. I hear this time and time again.  

“A Somali woman at one of our events recently had a son with additional needs. She had four childrenand her youngest boy didn’t speak at all, understandably she was very distressed about this. She listened carefully to everything I had to say about the library: that it was free, how she could join, I gave her some forms. She was on the verge of tears about her little boy. He was possibly traumatised. She could see that her son really did like books. He wanted to handle them because they were touchy feely. I packed up a bundle of BookTrust books and said: “You can get loads more from the library, but here's some to keep you going – and it’s all free.”  It was very moving; she was desperate to help her son in any way she could, and she was very thankful for the BookTrust books.

“I think for the very little ones who aren’t reading yet, focusing on something other than trauma - the singing, the books, just looking at the pictures, feeling textures, sharing an activity that’s not aggressive, confrontational or asking anything of them I think that’svery important. At this stage, it’s about turning reading into a game, not to ask anything of them, just to be there and share the joy of books. 


Margaret Holt, Bookstart Coordinator for Cardiff Libraries delivers story and rhymetime sessions to a wide range of families, including those at breast-feeding workshops with health visitors, families visiting parents in prison through PACT, and families supported by Welsh Refugee Council.  

It’s about trying to work alongside families to try and break down barriers they might have to sharing stories, learning rhymes and playing with language. It’s about targeting all families but particularly communities most in need who might not access libraries and books. 

“The rhyme and story time sessions are all about playing with language and are also important for the social aspect for families. Parents often come to the sessions looking really stressed when they first sit down. By being there with their baby or toddler and singing, they hopefully start to feel better. They can meet other mums and dads, have a bit of a chat.    

“Having the lovely high-quality books that we get from BookTrust is so important. I’ve recently ordered some Ukrainian, Pashto books, and Dari books. The child will remember the repetition, the good, clear illustrations and proper storyline. I think it's so important to get the right book to the right child at the right time! 

One lady who came to a session was feeling very isolated and she was keen for us to try and get her a book in an Eritrean language. Through BookTrust, we were able to do that – and passing on a book in her native language helped reduce her feelings of isolation.” 

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