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Can foreign books help toddlers gain a different perspective?

2014-10-27 09:20 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

When Mu Tongtong sits down to read her 3-year-old daughter a story, lifting her gently onto her lap and opening a large picture book, it is an English story with Mu's handwritten translations on each page.

"The book is called My Pop-up Body Book, and I bought it on Amazon from the UK," said Mu, 32, who works in a foreign trading company as an interpreter.

"When I was studying in the UK in 2010, I found that children's books were quite interesting, focusing on telling practical knowledge instead of making up boring stories like most of the children's books do in China," she said.

Once Mu became pregnant, she began to buy imported children's books and translate them by herself. The book that Mu is reading to her daughter at the moment is about the human body, and is easy for kids to follow.

"'You are a spectacular machine that can run on just food, water and air. So let's find out how you work and what you're made of, starting with where you came from,'" recited Mu from the book's opening. "This was the first lesson I taught my daughter, which got her quite interested."

Mu is not alone in seeing the benefits that foreign books can have on children. She has joined a group on the instant messaging service QQ where over 100 parents share their experiences in translating foreign books for children.

"I think foreign children's books contain more practical knowledge and their fairy tales are full of imagination, which could be because of the differences between Chinese and foreign people," said a man surnamed Li, who has a 5-year-old son and is in the same QQ group as Mu. "Maybe viewing things in a different perspective at an early age is a good thing."

According to a report by China Press and Publishing Journal in December 2013, many Chinese parents who can speak foreign languages are beginning to translate children's books by themselves, thus becoming a fresh force pushing the publishing industry of children's books in China.

Chen Jun, professor of Fujian Preschool Education College, said in a xinhuanet.com report in April 2014 that children's literature in China has a rather short history, only beginning in 1919. Chen believes the period in which this literature was written explains the nature of the stories which are indoctrination rather than interesting and humorous like foreign stories.

However, not all education experts are convinced of the benefits that foreign books can have on young Chinese children. Chen Zhilin, a psychologist who specializes in parent-child relationships and childhood education, said that he does not encourage translating foreign books for children.

According to Chen Zhilin, informative reading materials are closely related to regional psychology, and the diversity between cultures may confuse a child.

"Therefore I suggest some traditional children's books such as Sanzijing (Three Character Classic) and Baijiaxing (Hundred Family Surnames)," he said.

"These books are vital to Chinese wisdom. Even though some young parents think they are stodgy and doctrinal, children will naturally digest and benefit from the classics when they grow older," Chen Zhilin added.

He also pointed out that children are very weak in their ability to think independently, with almost no knowledge of foreign cultures. It is hard for children to understand the context in which foreign stories are told.

"Translated books do have their shortcomings," admits Mu. "For example, my daughter often feels puzzled because she looks different to the children drawn in her books, which are all Westerners."

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