Get Your Bilingual Child Writing: Decode the Message

by Corey · 2 comments

Oh how I enjoy doing this activity with my bilingual children!

As long as your children can recognize and write letters and numbers, then they are old enough for this fun activity.

Do you want to bring your multilingual child into the world of intrigue and mystery?  Tell your child that you have a secret message for them that they can only read after they have decoded it.  If that isn’t enough to get your child interested, then what is!

What you will need:

  • Piece of paper
  • Pencil or pen
  • Some creative thinking


  • Start by writing each letter of your language’s alphabet across the top of the page.  If it doesn’t fit in one line, then make sure to leave space between lines!
  • Create the key: Write a number under each letter.  You can write out the numbers in order (1, 2, 3, etc.) or you can mix them up – it doesn’t matter.  Just make sure that you only use each number once!  What you are creating is called the “key” since it will “unlock” the secret message.
  • If you want, put boxes around each letter-number combination so that it is clear which letter goes with which number.
  • Now comes the hard part: think up your secret message.  It can be anything from the name of the book you are going to read at bedtime to many sentences that explain something.
  • If you want, write a question in your language under the key and before the secret message.  This question is what will be answered in your secret message.  For example, you can write, “Where are we going to go for vacation next month?” and the secret message can be “We are going to fly to Seattle to visit the Heller family. Then we are going to take a ferry to Vancouver Island and visit the history museum there.”
  • Once you know what your secret message will be, draw a line for each letter in the first word.  Under each line, put the number that corresponds to each letter.  Then go onto the next word and do the same until each letter for each of the words in your secret message has a corresponding line and number under it.


  • Explain to your child how the encoding works: each number under each line corresponds to a letter at the top of the page.
  • Tell your child to look at the first number under the first line, find the corresponding letter and write the letter on the line.  Then go onto the next number, etc
  • Have your child fill out each line and then read you back the secret message.  Voilà, your child has decoded her first secret message using the key!

Make it more challenging:

  • To make it more challenging, leave out a few numbers along the way when you are writing the numbers under the lines.  This way your child can fill out most of the letters but will have to guess for the missing ones.
  • If your child can read, then write out a story that you child reads before decoding the message.  The story should present some kind of mystery and the decoded message will answer it.
  • Another option is to read a story out loud to your child and then have her decode the message to get the answer.  You can even make it more complex by making each decoded message lead to yet another mystery. This could go on for days.  Make up the stories while your child is at school or ahead of time on the weekend.  Get the whole family involved in the fun.

Incorporate math:

To make it even more fun, incorporate in some math!  For this you should plan ahead of time since it will take a while to prepare things.

  • Instead of writing in the number for each letter at the top of the page, write in a math equation.  In the case, the answer to the equation is the answer for what number that letter is.  So instead of A being the number 1, make it so that A  is the answer of 1×1 = ? or A is the answer of 0+1=?.

Make it daily fun:

  • You can writing messages for one another on a daily basis!  Post the key (the list of which letter goes with which number) somewhere on the wall so that everyone can see it.  Then write your messages on the chalk board, a white board or anywhere else you can find.

Once your child has gotten the swing of things, let her create secret messages for you!  It is a ton of fun for the whole family.

Let me know what you think of this activity.  And share additional ways that you can alter and change it!  I would love to know!

Do you have a language activity that you would like to share?
CLICK HERE to send it in!

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 14, 12 and 10, in German and English.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bilingual Baby September 30, 2010 at 12:36 am

I’m currently teaching my baby how to be bilingual. My husband and I only speak one language so we have to use books and dvds to do some of the work…though we’re slowly learning with her =)

I found some great French for Kids DVDs that absolutely blast me away every time I see them. Thanks for the great tip though, will keep it in my storage for when she’s old enough.


2 Corey November 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Thank you for your comment! Yes, it is always good to have a set of activities ready for when the time comes. It is amazing how quickly our kids grow up and are ready for more “advanced” activities! Good luck!


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