When I started working at the Chatham Square Library in Manhattan’s Chinatown four years ago, I had absolutely zero experience working with Chinese language. Despitee my experiences in multicultural and multi-lingual environments, I often felt at sea. In times of miscommunication among families, I often found myself turning to the bilingual children in my branch to come to my aid as intermediaries, translators and interpreters. I’m fascinated by the way in which these children, many under the age of six, navigate the multiliteracies of Chinese and English with such expertise. This led me to inquire as to how becoming bilingual can benefit a child’s education, and how bilingual literacy fits into the scope of my work as a librarian in a minority language community.
This presentation will discuss in general my findings on why bilingual literacy is important, and examine the literature on the possible benefits a child can gain from learning more than one language. Specially my experience and research is focused on Chinese and English bilingualism, and what the differences in these languages mean for bilingual literacy learning. I will also outline what librarians can do not only to promote bilingual learning, but to establish environments that create the type of bilingual literacy that can bring cognitive and cultural benefits to children. Overall, I posit that bilingualism can greatly enhance a child’s literacy learning and cultural competence, but only if adequate language learning environments are established that acknowledge the specific needs of the languages being acquired.