By Dennis Abrams
The older one gets, it is said, the more difficult it is to learn a second language. And that’s where b small publishing, which specializes in trade and e-books that bring bilingual parallel texts to budding young linguists, comes in.
And it is the UK based company’s e-books, available globally on the iBookstore for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, that are garnering attention The format is simple: bilingual stories with parallel texts — one line on the side of the page in French, for example, the other in English. Each one has “Read Aloud,” (or ‘Leer en vos alta’ or ‘Lis a haute voix’) buttons on each page, which allows the reader to hear a native speaker read the story in English as well as in the chosen foreign language — English/Spanish for the US market, and English/French for the UK market.
For Catherine Bruzzone, MD and Publisher at b small, it was an idea whose time had come. Barron’s (which handles the U.S. and Canadian distribution of many of b small’s books) wanted foreign language picture story books with more texts. Catherine had learned the ins and outs of parallel text foreign language books while working at Pan, and knew that there was nothing similar on the market for children. Commissioning the stories was the challenge — 32-page stories (16 in each language), with proper stories in the present tense, with the right vocabulary to tell the story and teach the language at the same time.
So taking the popular parallel texts digital was a natural progression. Bruzzone said, “Here at b small we’ve always sought a bright, fun, colorful and personal approach to supporting parents who want to bring foreign languages into their homes. These versions, with their bright illustrations, exciting stories and in-built bilingual audio, are the perfect package. I’m especially excited by what this could mean for other languages close to our hearts for which UK print quantities are often quite low, such as German, Italian, or even Chinese. These languages could easily be made available in this digital format with a native speaker.”
There are currently eight titles in the Let’s Read! series, all of which will be released as audio-enhanced versions in English-French and English-Spanish throughout 2012, along with ten titles in the I Can Read! series for younger readers. Bruzzone’s long-term goal? “We’d like to be very well known for language programs . . . when they think of bilingual language material, we’d like them to think of us.”