What bilingual or multilingual family is not at least curious about how to raise biliterate and multiliterate children? Yet it can seem like a daunting task. Helping our children speak another language may already be a challenge, how can we even begin to think about teaching our children to read and write in additional languages?
Here are some common questions from parents and caregivers:
- How do I go about helping my child learn to read and write in our home language?
- Should I teach my child to read in our home language before she starts school?
- Is it better for a child to learn how to read and write in one language before introducing this in additional languages?
- What about a child learning to read and write in languages with different written letters and scripts?
Lucky for bilingual and multilingual families around the world, Dr. Xiao-lei Wang has written a book just for us titled Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family which is even available for the Amazon Kindle Reader! Multilingual Living is excited to have the opportunity to publish excerpts from this informative book for the world to enjoy. It will give families around the world numerous insights into how they can help their children become biliterate and multiliterate.
Let’s start at the beginning with an excerpt from Chapter One of Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family:
Chapter 1 – Introduction
On a recent flight from Seoul to Shanghai, I sat near a 5-year-old Korean girl, Choon-Hee and her mother, Mrs Pak. The mother and daughter were on their way to join the girl’s father in China. They planned to settle there because of Mr Pak’s job relocation. During the nearly 2-hour plane ride, little Choon-Hee was keenly making drawings and experimenting with different ways of forming Korean Hangul letters and Hanja (Chinese characters). From time to time, Mrs Pak modelled the details of how to write Hangul letters and Hanja strokes. The mother and the child seemed to enjoy immensely what they were doing.
Watching the interactions between Mrs Pak and her child, I realised that I was witnessing the little girl’s multilingual literacy development in the making. I imagined that with this level of child engagement and with this level of parental support, Choon-Hee would certainly become multiliterate in the years to come.
However, as much as I was impressed with the mother-child enthusiasm and as much as I wanted to be optimistic about the girl’s future multiliterate development, I could not help but worry if the child would remain so eager down the road and if the child’s multilingual reading and writing skills would be thriving a few years from now. My seemingly pessimistic outlook for this child’s future multilingual literacy development may not be entirely baseless. You will probably understand my concern after you read an e-mail that I received from a mother.
Dear Dr. Wang,
I am delighted to read your book Growing up with Three Languages. I am grateful that you shared with us your experience in raising trilingual children. Like you, I am also raising a trilingual child in Italian, Dutch and English. My native language is Dutch and my husband’s is English. We live in Italy. We have tried to teach our daughter Dutch and English at home because we don’t have support in the community where we live. We didn’t have problems getting her to speak the languages. When she was little, she was eager to learn to read and write in the two home languages. Now she is in elementary school and we have tremendous difficulties to get her read and write Dutch and English. She is just not interested. Tension has grown because we often nag her about reading Dutch and English books. The other day, she told me angrily why I bothered to request her to read English and Dutch. She said that she was reading Italian in school and that was enough! I don’t know what to do. Should I insist that my daughter read and write English and Dutch? This doesn’t look like an option right now. Should I ask her to read one of the languages? I don’t know any good strategies to involve my child. I am on the verge of giving up. But, I think it would be a pity! Dr. Wang, can you offer some advice?
Anna’s frustration is not unusual. Many parents who attended my parents’ workshops or corresponded with me have substantiated Anna’s sentiment based on their experiences of raising multilingual and multiliterate children.
Purpose of the Book
The purpose of this book is to help parents explore various ways to make their children’s multiliteracy development possible. Drawn on interdisciplinary research in multilingual literacy development as well as experiences of parents who have raised their children with multilingual literacy, this book walks parents through the process of multiliteracy development from infancy to adolescence. It identifies the target skills at each developmental stage and proposes effective strategies that facilitate multiliteracy development in the home environment.
This book can be used as a guide for home heritage language literacy teaching or as a supplement for those parents who send their children to heritage language schools. It can also be used as a reference for teachers who teach in community heritage language schools and in school heritage (or foreign) language programmes.
Stay tuned for chapter 2 of Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family, by Xiao-lei Wang. We will also be sharing many more posts about how to help your children learn to read and write in more than one language!