Photo credit: Alan Cleaver
School is finishing in many places around the world. Children are looking forward to lazy days on the grass, swimming under the hot sun and chasing sprinkler rainbows across the yard. Ah, the joys of childhood.
Summertime is also a time for reading – under trees, on the beach, lounging on the sofa, late a night in bed with a flashlight. The magic of a good book can transform an entire summer experience. But what about all of those books that your child is unable to read in your language? Wouldn’t you love to share memories of favorite books from your childhood with your child? Why not take some time out this summer to teach your child to read and write in your language? What do you have to lose?
Summer is a perfect opportunity to introduce your child to your language’s alphabet, pronunciation and more. There are no school studies to get in the way of you and your child taking the leap into biliteracy. Plus, teaching your child to read and write in your language can be done even while lounging on the grass in the back yard.
Not sure how to go about it? Unlike learning to speak in more than one language, learning to read and write in a second language is not necessarily something that your child will pick up just by being around you. This is something that you will most likely need to foster. The key, however, is to not push too hard. You don’t want your child to dislike reading and writing in your language. It is a delicate balancing act.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Multilingual Living will bring you a series of articles all about introducing your child to reading and writing in your language. We are also delighted to announce that we will be publishing excerpts from the book Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family by Xiao-lei Wang – a book all about how to make your household a biliterate one!
Here are some things to think about before you get started:
- Does your child already know how to read? If your child already knows how to read in one language (from you or from school) then you won’t have to take the first step of introducing your child to the underlying principles of reading: how letters represent sounds, how those letters make words, and how those words make sentences. These can be difficult concepts for a child to understand but once they are grasped, then they can be applied to additional languages.
- Does your home language consist of different letters/characters? If your language uses letters or characters that are different from the community language (or your child’s other languages), then you will have an additional step in the process of teaching your child to read and write in your language. This isn’t a problem, it is just something to keep in mind.
- Does your child speak the language well? It is very difficult to enjoy reading books if we haven’t mastered the spoken elements of our languages. The greatest joy for a child in being able to read a book is that words which are understood verbally are now seen written on a page. If your child doesn’t know most of the vocabulary in a given book, then it is most likely going to be frustrating. There is no fun in reading books that we can’t understand!
- Is your child ready? It is important that you not push your child into reading in your language before he/she is ready. You don’t want your child to end up disliking reading because you pushed too hard. You can always introduce reading and writing in your language to your child later, even after your child learns to read in school. Instead, read out loud a lot to your child and emphasize the letters and words every now and then. Make it so that your child will want to read since it is such an exciting experience!
- What interests does your child have? Learning to read will go much more smoothly if you provide your child with reading materials in which your child is actually interested. My son was so motivated to read the information in Playmobil catalogs that he pretty much taught himself to read with those! Take some time to figure out what your child would be motivated to read and see if you can find books and materials about it in your language.
- Patience, patience, patience. Be ready for your child to show a tremendous amount of interest initially and then flat-out refuse to have anything to do with reading a few days or weeks later. This is normal. Keep books and materials around and mention reading every now and then but don’t get pushy. Who knows, your child might be sneaking peeks at the books you put out without you knowing it!
There are no hard and fast rules to teaching a multilingual child how to read and write in his/her languages. Every child is different and is motivated by different things. That is the beauty of humanity!
You may start this process this summer and not continue it until next summer. Or perhaps your child will be so interested in reading and writing in your language that you’ll feel like you didn’t even have to do much of anything. It is always difficult to know ahead of time how things will go. Give it time, be patient and try not to have any assumptions about the process. Before you know it, your child will be reading up a storm.
This is an introductory post about how to teach our bilingual children to read and write in our language(s). Stay tuned for many more informative and inspirational articles all about this in the coming days and weeks. You won’t want to miss these!
Have you taught your child how to read and write in your language? What are some of your top tips and suggestions? What didn’t work well at all? How do you keep your child motivated to continue reading and writing in your language?