Recommended Materials for Language Learning with a Language Helper

All levels:

Tape recorder and tapes. (This will give you much more mileage out of your language helper time, and is required for some activities.) A tape recorder with a counter is best. A second tape recorder may also be helpful for some activities.

A digital recorder such as the Pogo Ripflash Trio is even better, if you are into technology. If you can transfer audio files onto your computer, you can do things like select what you want to listen to repeatedly, and even slow down segments that aren’t clear.

Lexicarry by Patrick R. Moran (Pro Lingua Associates; available from and, as well as $15): outstanding resource for language learners at all levels, especially for those starting out to learn a new dialect. Simple pictures show basic situations, such as meeting someone, receiving a gift, etc. Further sections show, all in pictures, sequences of actions, related actions, and items and actions in various categories and locations.

“Dirty Dozen” Vocabulary Learning (and other techniques):

Household items—empty your cupboards, shelves, refrigerator, or tool cabinet; walk around the house and point to different things; look out the window.

Toys—sets of toy animals, toy cars (draw your own map to drive them around on), dolls and puppets and doll clothes, play tools, games, puzzles, Look for bookfairs, card games and board games with pictures you could use.

Books—children’s books with pictures of lots of different things, animals, places, people; Picture dictionaries; Bernie’s Nouns Book and Actions Book; Lexicarry.

Photos—make your own photos of people in action (yourself, your helper, others) to practice verbs, and photos of things and places to practice nouns. Get photos from magazines or internet.

Action English Pictures by Maxine Frauman-Prickel (Alta Book Center, CA, has series of pictures about various situations (going to the library, eating out, going to the dentist, etc.) which you could use to learn verbs as well as many other words and phrases.

Picture Stories:

Look through the books of your children or your friends’ children, and any library you may have available to you. Look for books with few words, where the pictures clearly show a story.

Use photos to make your own picture story about yourself or someone else. The pictures may show a portion of your life; the language helper then tells a story from those pictures from his own cultural perspective, which should be interesting!

Order picture books from the list. (Or the language school could collect books for students to borrow!)

Familiar Stories:

Find children’s story books in English of familiar stories such as fairy tales, folk tales, or B. stories.  Have your helper read the story several times in English, then tell it to you in Arabic.

Use children’s story books such as folk tales, Juha/Nasreddin stories, or other children’s stories in local language. Read together in target language, translate if necessary, then have helper tell the story in her dialect of target language (while you tape it). Or the helper may read it to you in target language then tell you the story in simple local dialect. If someone can translate these stories into English, you can read them several times in English before the language helper tells you the story in target language.

Do something with your language helper (go shopping, go to the park, etc.), then have her tell the story of what you did together.

Watch a silent movie or action cartoon together. “Mr. Bean” movies work well, or children’s cartoons such as “Tom and Jerry” or “Road Runner.” Learner or helper retells the story.

Use a familiar sequence such as everything you do when you ride a taxi, or wash dishes.

Native-to-Native Speech:

Have your language helper record herself talking with others in her home, when you aren’t there.

Record a radio program or television program in local dialect. A speech on television or a children’s program might also work.

Ask two friends to talk to each other, without you around, about a controversial topic or some other area that you’d like to learn to discuss, and record what they say.

Additional Resources:

You can find out about the techniques I’ve discussed and more at these websites: and



(Try,, and,, , OR as possible sources for books.)  OOP means out of print, as of Jan. 2004; check to see if it’s been reprinted.

Ashkenas, Joan.  Comics and Conversation.  CA: JAG Publications.  (available from, along with many other materials)  A series of brief humorous stories told in comic style pictures.


Anno, Mitsumasa. All in a Day. Paperstar, 1986. The events of January one, at three-hourly intervals, in eight countries around the world, in each case, the artwork done by an artist from that country. Lots to talk about, but not much of a story line. Has text. Two stars.

Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno’s Counting Book. This is the most intelligent counting book I’ve seen. It involves the development of a community [with the number of houses, trees, etc. growing]. Lots to talk about. Four stars. Anno’s Counting House is similar but not as good.

Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno’s Journey. Language learners can spend hours with a native speaker exploring this book. Besides a variety of scenes and activities in the country and in towns, scenes from Western fairy tales and literature are hidden here and there. Anno’s U.S.A., Anno’s Britain (OOP) and Anno’s Italy (OOP) are similar, but Anno’s Journey may be the best in general. Another one is Anno’s Flea Market (OOP) It should be usable in just about any part of the world. Five stars.

Aruego, Jose. Look What I Can Do. New York: Scribner, 1971. This is “nearly wordless”. Two water buffalo have a competition showing off.

Baker, Jeannie. Window. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1991. Each picture is a view from a window which transforms over time as the area progresses from a rural area to urban to run-down urban and back. Would go with an outdoors, environmental or city theme. Four stars.

Blake, Quentin. Clown. New York: Holt. A clown doll is thrown in the trash, and comes alive, and has various adventures. Lots of pictures, but may be hard to interpret for host people in some places. Three stars.

Brinton, Turkle. Deep in the Forest. Dutton Children’s Books, 1987.Hoban, Tana. We recommend doing regular Goldilocks first. This is a reverse story where a little bear turns up at a people house. Simple story. Could be used relatively early. Probably usable in most locations. Two stars.

Drescher, Henrik. The Yellow Umbrella. New York: Bradbury Press, 1987. Visitors at a zoo drop a yellow umbrella in the pen of a couple monkeys. They use the umbrella to fly home going through several adventures on the way. Cute plot with universal understandability. Three stars.

Dupasquier, Philippe. I Can’t Sleep. New York: Orchard Books, 1990. A beautiful book that happens in a sleepless household at night. First father can’t sleep, then his daughter, then each member of the family appears culminating in a gathering around the kitchen table. Four stars.

Giannini, Enzo. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. This is a wordless version of Goldilocks.

Goodall, John S. Creepy Castle. Simon & Schuster, 1998. A pair of mice in medieval dress investigate a scary castle. Cute and adventurous. Three stars.

Goodall, John S. Naughty Nancy. Simon & Schuster, 1975. A mouse flower girl gets into all kinds of trouble at a wedding party. Two stars.

Goodall, John S. The Surprise Picnic. Simon & Schuster, 1997. A Victorian cat family sets out on a picnic and has more of an adventure than they planned on. Three stars.

Graham, Alistair. Full Moon Soup, or the Fall of the Hotel Splendide. Dial Books for Young Readers, 1991. A complex story, entirely in pictures, with many interesting things happening in different rooms of the hotel, and a flying saucer crashing on the roof. An excellent choice for advanced language learners.

Gray, Nigel and Philippe Dupesquier. A Country Far Away. New York: Orchard Books, 1988. This is a lovely multicultural book which compares life in Africa with life in England via pictures. Short brief text. This is a very rich book with a rich range of situations in two very different worlds, allowing also for comparison with a third setting. Five stars.

Henrietta. (No family name given). A Mouse in the House. London: Stoddart, 1991. A different variety of picture story. Consists of photographs of clusters of objects in various parts of a house, with mouse tracks going around, under, over. etc. Good for using dirctional/locational expressions (over and over). Four stars. (for the purpose suggested). See also Country Mouse in a City House. Caution: There is another book  entitled Mouse in the House but with a different author.

Hoban, Tana. Is it Red? Is it Yellow? Is it Blue? New York: Scholastic, 1978. Colors. This is listed as an example of Hoban’s books. If you want some basics to do things like numbers, colors, opposites, etc. in Stage 1, her books are all interesting photographic “essays.” They may also give you ideas for doing your own photographic essays.

Hughes, Shirley. Up and Up. New York: Trumpet Club, 1979. OOP A girl gets taken for a ride by a balloon and has many adventures. Three stars.

Hutchins, Pat. Changes, Changes. A wooden man and a wooden woman manipulate wood blocks to react to crises in their little toy block world. Very fun. Lots of room for creative language. Three stars.

Langoulant, Allan. Everybody’s Different. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Children’s Books, 1990. Compares and contrasts people, clothes, transportation, clothing, ways of talking, sounds, games, etc. Some of the statistics are now dated. Three stars.

Mayer, Mercer. A Boy, A Dog, and a Frog. New York: Dial Press, 1967. A good starting point for the Mercer Mayer frog stories. Lots of basic actions. Some emotions. Good plot. Probably usable in most place. Four stars.

Mayer, Mercer. A Boy, a Dog, a Frog and a Friend. Puffin Pied Piper, 1971. A snapping turtle spoils a peaceful fishing outing, and ends up a guest at his or her own funeral. Great plot. Probably usable in most locations. Five stars.

Mayer, Mercer. One Frog too Many. Puffin Pied Piper, 1975. Excellent story. Includes themes of jealousy, alienation, reconciliation, other emotions. With a little explanation, probably usable in most places. Five stars.

Mayer, Mercer. Ah Choo. Puffin Pied Piper, 1976. OOP Themes of allergies, arrest, trial, imprisonment. Good story line. Probably usable in most places. Four stars.

Mayer, Mercer. Frog Goes to Dinner. Puffin Pied Piper, 1977. Set in an elegant restaurant with a band and musical instruments. Setting may be unfamiliar in some places, but lots of action. Four stars.

Mayer, Mercer. Frog on His Own. Puffin Pied Piper, 1973. Story line disjointed. Separate little episodes. Lots of variety, though. Three stars.

Mayer, Mercer. Frog, Where are You? Searching for frog and finding other things and having accidents. Two stars.

Mayer, Mercer. The Great Cat Chase: A Wordless Book. 1974. Originally wordless. Cover the words in the new version.

Meyer, Renate. Hide-and-Seek. New York: Bradbury, 1969. OOP Illustrates without words a game of hide and seek.

Ormerod, Jan. Moonlight. New York: Lothrop Lee & Shepherd [or Puffin?], 1982. OOP A little girl goes through her evening routine including supper, bath time, dressing for bed, sleep, drink of water, nightmare . . Four stars.

Ormerod, Jan. Sunshine. Puffin, 1981. OOP A little girl wakes up and then proceeds to wake up Mom and Dad—morning routine. Four stars. Try other Jan Ormerod books which are “nearly wordless” including “Sleeping”, “Reading,” “Making Friends”, “Bend and Stretch”, “This Little Nose.”

Popov, Nikolai. Why? North South Books, No date. A rat wants to sit on the rock where a frog is sitting. A fight ensues. Allies join. Techology increases. Until the frog and rat are in tatters alone again. Shows the senselessness and fultility of war. Story line is pretty simple, though. Three stars.

Robinson, Colin. Sunrise. New York: Bedrick/Blackie, 1992. A peaceful village wakes up. Four stars.

Schories, Pat. Mouse Around. Canada: Harper Collins, 1991. Setting is a Western city, so may be some cultural unknowns in some other places. However it is an excellent “travel narrative”. The events from page to page are fairly simple. Could be used at an early stage, and at higher stages as well. Four stars.

Spier, Peter. Noah’s Ark. New York: Dell Yearling. A wordless rendition of Noah’s Ark which answers the question, “What did Noah do on the ark all that time?” Fascinating pictures of a wide variety of animals. Three stars.

Spier, Peter. Peter Spier’s Rain. Children playing in the rain, doing a wide variety of activities.

Wiesner, David. Free Fall. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepherd, 1988. A boy falls asleep and dreams through the adventures in the book he was reading – castles, kings, queens, monsters, journeys, fish and swans. A bit weird, but definitely lots to talk about. Two stars.

Winter, Paula. The Bear and the Fly. Crown Publishers, 1987. OOP A Northern World cultural setting, but a rich story about a bear family. A peaceful supper is interrupted by a fly. Efforts to kill the fly end up with everybody lying unconscious, the house in shambles and the fly happily exiting. We like to use it fairly early for rich everyday experiential language. Lots of hitting, falling down, injuries. Could use to learn words like emergency, ambulance, etc. and what to do for injuries.

Young, Ed. Up a Tree. Harper & Row, 1983. OOP A cat gets stuck up a tree, refuses rescue from the villagers, and misses dinner. Not too exciting a plot but deserves mention because all the “characters” are from Asia (in turbans, headcoverings). The illustrator is originally from China.


Carle, E. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. New York:  Scholastic. Great for learning food, fruit, numbers, the days of the week and the life cycle of the caterpillar. You can easily cover up the text with about 25 small post-it notes. Four stars.

Eagle, Kin. It’s Raining. It’s Pouring. Illus. Rob Gilbert. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing, 1994. This has some text but is useful for reinforcing weather language.

Geeson, Andrew. A Windy Day. Bath, England: Bright Sparks Book, 2000. Simple story; the wind picks up an umbrella, a balloon, and many other items while people chase after them.

Van Laan, Nancy. The Big Fat Worm. Illus. Marisabina Russo. Alfred Knopf, 1995. OOP This is an excellent choice for the very first picture story for a particular language learning. It is possible to create a fun and interesting story around these pictures by enriching the dialogues. Lots to talk about for early learners. The text can easily be covered up with post-its. Five stars (if early learners are in mind).

Watanabe, Shigeo. Hello! How are you? Illus. Yusuo Ohtomo. London: Bodley Head, 1980. OOP This is a little bear who goes around greeting people. Again, the text is short and can easily be covered up. If a language has a variety of greetings based on familiarity of the individuals and relative social status, this book can bring some of that out. A great book for sometime near the beginning. Five stars.

Wood, Audrey H. The Napping House. San Diego, HBJ, 1984. This is a fun book for prediction, prepositions, sleep verbs, etc. Three stars.

* A final note: Many children’s books are usable as wordless picture stories. Usually if the illustration fills all the pages with just a line or two of text on each page or two, then a complete story will be depicted in the illustrations. By contrast, if the book has alternating pages of text and pictures, with a full page of text opposite each full page picture, then the pictures by themselves will not convey a complete story line.



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