Interactive eBooks for Young Language Learners

Reading's a Breeze!

A mum of three bilingual young men herself, Kathryn Macfarlane has spent 30 years in education promoting language learning outcomes and is passionate about language and language development for young children. She launched Reading’s a Breeze! to support parents trying to raise their children bilingually, and also for schools wanting to enhance their languages programs. They harness the power of eBooks to provide children with captivating stories that include synchronised read-along narrations, beautiful full-colour illustrations or animations and interactive learning activities. Their eBooks are designed to help early readers access reading and learning experiences in the language of their choice, at their level, at their pace. Here, Kathryn talks to The Natural Parent Magazine about the inspiration behind her business, her passion for language development and her exciting future plans for Reading’s a Breeze!.

The passion: What inspired you to set up your business? 

I’ve always been passionate about learning, language, and reading. As a young language learner at school, I was bitterly disappointed with my lack of progress. It wasn’t until I moved to France that I actually learnt to speak with any fluency. Watching my three sons grow up bilingually, equally as comfortable in both French and English, made me wish for that experience for all children. But returning to Australia as a Languages teacher, it was hard to find resources, especially books, that were suitable for my students. I started making my own eBooks for them to use on their iPads. Later, as an education consultant facilitating training for teachers, I saw that they were still facing the same issues over a decade later. So I launched Reading’s a Breeze!, to support both parents trying to raise children bilingually, and schools trying to enhance their Languages program.

The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?  

Initially, I republished a couple of the early eBooks I had written for my own students many years earlier, but with professionals providing new illustrations and narration recordings. I also added some pages with interactive learning activities. In the intervening years, I’d done considerable research on language acquisition and high-frequency vocabulary (my Ph.D. thesis received the Penny McKay Award for innovative contribution to Languages education in 2020), and I used this knowledge to structure new texts in a way which gradually builds vocabulary range and awareness of sentence structures. I launched Reading’s a Breeze! when I had 9 eBooks ready in English, French, Italian and Spanish, across a range of reading levels. 

The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?  

eBooks viewed on mobile devices allow for the inclusion of interactive learning activities which provide immediate feedback. Illustrations can be animated, so young children’s attention is captivated. The read-aloud feature can be turned on or off, so if parents aren’t able to read the text to their children, they can listen and learn alongside them.  

The software that I use allows me to compile all language versions into a single eBook. They’re not like standard bilingual books where two languages appear on the same page. For second language learners, this is actually counter-productive, as their brain latches onto the familiar language. It’s a less active learning experience than trying to decipher the meaning of new words through the context of the story and the illustrations. In the books I publish, readers are presented with the text in a single language, but they can use the language selection tool to toggle between any of the available languages. Bilingual learners can switch between languages without having to open different eBooks. It also encourages curiosity about languages, as children intuitively choose to view the other languages available. 

Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family? 

Hah! I wish I had the magic answer… launching a new business is not a good recipe for work-life balance! But my children are now adults (I’ve recently become a grandmother), and my partner couldn’t be more supportive. When I first launched Reading’s a Breeze!, we were living on our catamaran in the Bay of Islands. The live-aboard lifestyle is the ultimate way for me to achieve the balance which is so important. However, with international cruising restrictions due to Covid, we’ve settled on land in Kerikeri, and started building a house. So in between liaising with authors, illustrators and voice artists, compiling eBooks, running webinars and (eventually) completing business admin tasks, I go outside and plant a tree or dig a hole for a pond. And we do still try to get out on the boat – with summer coming, we’re both committed to doing more of that – and I can take my work on eBooks with me. I still need breaks though, even when we’re on the water. So going for a swim or a paddle, a walk on the islands, or fishing off the back of the boat are all good ways of walking away from a screen for a while. 

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