How to teach a child bilingual reading

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Teaching your bilingual child to read in the minority language

If you are raising a bilingual child and have no plans to send them to an international or bilingual school, it will be up to you as a parent to teach them how to read in the minority language. If not, they may grow up bilingual, but probably not biliterate.

Some languages are similar enough that your child’s reading skills will transfer to the minority language, however if there are different alphabets, or different phonic sounds, this may not be the case.

At the time of writing this post, English was the minority language in our household and the tips below are things that I did to help my kids learn to read in English. However many, if not all of these can be used in other languages too.

Firstly, make sure you read our post on the stages of reading development.

Then use these ideas which can be used for children learning to read in any language.

1. Make it a priority

Your kids will eventually learn to read in the community language at school. So, make the minority language a priority at home. Even from a young age, kids can learn the alphabet and to recognize letters so it doesn’t hurt to start teaching them early through play.

2. Read to your child in the minority language every day

By reading to your child daily you can teach them to enjoy it. Even from infancy when they don’t understand, if you read loud, you can introduce them to new vocabulary while also creating a strong bond between the two of you.

The more you read to your children the more words they will hear and the more vocabulary they will soak in. This is extremely important for the minority language as this is the language your child will be less exposed to, especially when they start school.

Try different types of books so they can hear a wide range of words. Don’t be scared to use bigger words just because your children are young, you will be amazed at how much they are able to understand.

From the day my boys were born I have read to them, I set aside some time each day to read a book or two together, especially bedtime stories and they really enjoy it. Check out our booklists in English, Spanish, French, Hindi.

Recommended: Luka Reading Robot – Reads English and Chinese books!

3. Teach your child the letter sounds rather than their names

Instead of teaching your child the letter names, first teach them the sounds the letters make. Of course, eventually they will need to know the name of them however for them to start reading it’s more important to know the sounds they make so then eventually they can start to put those sounds together to create words.

Letters are everywhere you look, so when you can remember, point them out and ask your child what sound it makes.

4. Make learning to read fun

When doing arts and crafts at home, I try to incorporate a learning activity such as colouring or decorating letters. You can then make a game out of it. For example, ask which animals start with that letter or play word games such as “I spy” searching for things around you starting with that letter.

This helps with the recognition of letters and what sounds they make by having to think of things that start with that letter. They enjoy it without realise they are learning.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Make learning to read the letters fun

5. Sight words are important when teaching your child to read

Some words cannot be sounded out therefore they have to be memorised. These can be learned from an early age. Flashcards are great for this. You can play games such as word bingo, or snap to help with the recognition. They will learn the word the same way as they learn the letters or the names of certain objects by identifying the word as a whole, rather than sounding out the letters.

6. Word Families help children learning to read

Teaching similar words that rhyme helps kids to see patterns when they read. E.g. After learning to read “cat” it will be easier for them to learn how to read “sat” or “hat”. Recognising rhyming words is an important language skill in any language.

7. Set a good example

One of the most important things is for yourself to be a good example. Children are the best at imitating, if your child sees you reading, then they might want to read too. Read together daily and show your child how much you enjoy it and you will pass on a love of reading to your child.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Be a good example so that your children will want to read

8. Be patient

One thing I have learned over the years is that all children learn differently so what works for one may not work for another and you may need to try a few different things. But like all activities, if you make learning fun then they will enjoy it and be able to get the most out of it.

Not all kids will want to learn to read, and your little one may challenge you. Here are some tips on how you can make your child love to read from the start.

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How to teach a child bilingual reading

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6 Comments

Patricia

Hi Tracey!
This blog made my day. Thanks for sharing your valuable expertise. We are a family of 4 living in the Nederlands and speaking Spanish and Catalan at home. Both kids go to the Dutch school. The oldest is 5 and she was interested in books since really early. She loves stories! We discovered that comics really worked for her since she was able to understand the meaning of the story without reading the text. Now she is asking me to teach her how to read but I am doubting since I don’t want to interfere with the school development. I am also worried that learning how to read in Spanish could impact her Dutch learning. What should I do? Thanks a lot for your advice! Pat.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Learning to read is a challenge for all children; it doesn’t come naturally. Babies begin life with the ability to learn language, and they do, rather quickly and effortlessly. Before a child is even able to tie her shoes, she will know the grammar of her language – not the grammatical rules taught in school, but the system for how sounds are combined into words and phrases.

On the other hand, it takes years of instruction and practice for a child to become a skilled and fluent reader. Children have to learn how letters (orthography), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics) relate to one another, and the bulk of this process happens during the primary school years, between the ages of six and ten. This is challenging in one language, so how does a young bilingual child accomplish the task of learning to read in two languages?

In our research, Laura-Ann Petitto and I ask precisely these kinds of questions. In the case of monolingual children, we know that language knowledge, such as vocabulary and the awareness of and ability to manipulate language sounds (termed phonological awareness), supports learning to read. A young child’s phonological awareness and vocabulary strongly predict future reading ability. We can test these language skills in children with the help of various clever and fun tasks, for example by asking children to name pictures, give antonyms and synonyms to words, break apart words into sounds, or delete sounds in a word. For instance, we might ask them to say “stop” without the “s” sound.

Bilingual children have two phonologies (sound systems) and two vocabularies (equivalent words in each language, for example cat and gato for a bilingual English-Spanish child). We wanted to find out if phonological awareness and vocabulary knowledge support learning to read in the same way for bilingual and monolingual children. Would having two phonologies and two vocabularies change how children learned to read?

“Being a monolingual or bilingual does indeed make a difference in learning to read.”

Of course, not all bilinguals are the same. Some children learn two languages from birth (simultaneous bilingualism), and some children may learn one language from birth at home, adding the second language a few years later when they enter kindergarten (sequential bilingualism). Would being a simultaneous or sequential bilingual make a difference in how they learned to read? We also wanted to know whether the age at which a child was first exposed to a second language, and therefore to a second phonological system and vocabulary, affected reading.

Our study showed that being a monolingual or bilingual does indeed make a difference in learning to read. Bilingual children who were exposed to two languages simultaneously from birth outperformed monolingual children on phonological awareness tasks, such as saying “stop” without the “s” sound. Simultaneous bilingual children also outperformed monolingual children on novel word reading tasks (e.g. reading “words” such as feap, jox, snirk).

Being bilingual did not slow down or confuse children when it came to reading – in fact, bilingual kids were good readers and even showed some advantages over their monolingual peers. Moreover, children who were first exposed to English at school (“later-English” sequential bilinguals) caught up with their peers and showed no reading disadvantages by the time they reached the fourth grade.

“Being bilingual did not slow down or confuse children when it came to reading – in fact, bilingual kids were good readers and even showed some advantages over their monolingual peers.”

The crucial finding of our study concerns how phonological awareness and vocabulary skills relate to children’s reading skills. The role of phonological awareness and vocabulary skills in the development of reading skills differed depending on whether the child was monolingual, a simultaneous bilingual, or a sequential bilingual. We know that phonological awareness and vocabulary skills are important predictors of reading skills for all children, and this was clearly the case for the monolingual children in our study; phonological awareness and vocabulary were strong predictors of reading skills.

For simultaneous bilinguals, however, phonological awareness skills were more predictive of reading skills than were vocabulary skills. Vocabulary matters, of course, but it appears that phonological awareness skills matter more. The opposite was true for sequential bilinguals (in our study, children who were first exposed to English in school around ages 5-6). For these “later-English” sequential bilinguals, vocabulary skills were more predictive of reading skills than was phonological awareness.

Understanding how growing up bilingual affects children’s language skills, and in turn, reading outcomes can help us understand which language and reading skills teachers should focus on to promote reading success.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

When it comes to reading, parents of multilingual children often worry about how/when to start teaching their children how to read. Should they start by teaching their children how to read in one language and then transfer this knowledge over to the other language or is it better start with both languages at once? Either approach is fine! The key is really to give children the time they need to understand the differences (and similarities) between each written form.

Parents should not be worried that learning more than one written language form at the same time is too difficult for a child. Some children might find it daunting at first but children around the world do this every day. Studies actually suggest that dual-language reading could in fact be a facilitator for learning how to read in some cases. (http://e-flt.nus.edu.sg/v8n12011/joy.pdf).

When bilingual children learn how to read, whether it’s simultaneously or in sequence, they realise that we can name the same thing but it will be written in two different ways. They see that these two different languages have two different codes, they might even notice different shapes, different symbols etc… As well as those differences, children will notice similarities (sounds, characters, punctuation etc.). This constant comparing of the two codes, which will be done naturally by the learner is actually going to help them understand both languages more in depth.

“With two written forms, children are constantly doing grammar in their heads.” (Jean Duverger, translated by me)The knowledge your child has in one language will help him understand their other language and vice versa.

Two alphabets might result in some mixing up between the two. For example, in French the name of the letter ‘I’ is the same as the name of the letter ‘E’ in English. This can get confusing at first, but as long as these mistakes are identified and corrected, your child will soon learn not to mix them up.

Just remember, whether you decide to teach the two languages simultaneously or in a sequence doesn’t really matter. What counts is to give your child the necessary time to learn.

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

This past year, my husband and I welcomed a new addition to our family. While we were awaiting his arrival, we discussed whether or not we’d raise him to be a bilingual baby and speak multiple languages. For this article, I’ll call the little guy our “Little Linguist”.

First things first: Is it beneficial to raise a child with multiple languages? There are arguments on both sides of the fence. However, according to the majority of scientific studies, teaching your child two languages is beneficial. The benefits of being a bilingual child include:

  • The ability to communicate with extended family
  • Open-mindedness and acceptance
  • Future job opportunities
  • Being a “language friendly learner”. They’ll find it easier to acquire more languages later on in life.
  • A more diverse cultural upbringing (with literature, films, perspectives, music, games, culture, and so on.)
  • An increased ability to focus
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Delayed onset of Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to monolinguals

Are there any reasons not to have a bilingual baby? The greatest argument against introducing multiple languages at a young age seems to be that teaching a child more than one language will confuse them or cause delays in their learning. But recent research is proving this wrong.

Growing up, I often heard my father lament the fact that his father had never taught him and his brothers Croatian (his native language). This had huge impact on me – and is one of the reasons I’m now learning Croatian.

After hearing my father’s story, I swore to myself that I never wanted my children to feel the way my father felt. I never wanted them to feel that I had shorted them in some way by not sharing my languages and cultural heritage. If later on in life they choose not to learn several languages, then that’s their decision to make. But the least I can do is offer them the languages I speak.

Here’s How to Teach Your Baby Two Languages (or more!)

When it comes to successfully bringing up a bilingual baby, there’s no one size fits all approach. It’s all about finding what works best for your situation and your child.

There are four methods for raising bilingual kids that seem to be the most widespread, so we’ll focus on them and how they can support your child’s bilingual development.

One Person One Language (OPOL)

The One Person, One Language method is where each parent consistently speaks a different language to the child. This could mean that the mother speaks her native Portuguese with her children, while her partner speaks to them in English.

This method is also effective when the two languages used by the parents are different to the main language used outside the home. In other words, it’s still okay even if neither parents’ language is the majority language where the family lives. In the example I used, with a Portuguese speaking mother and an English speaking partner, the family could live in Japan, and thus, the child would learn a third language through school.

The One Person, One Language approach is often regarded as the best method for teaching a child two languages because it is believed that it results in less mixing. It also ensures that your baby has regular exposure to both languages.

That said, it requires a lot of dedication from the parents to avoid mixing languages.

Minority Language at Home ([email protected])

While children need support in every language they speak, many parents find that a minority language needs extra support. When this is the case, many families adopt the Minority Language at Home approach.

This means that the minority language is used at home by both parents with the children.

For example, both parents speak French at home (whether it is the native language of both parents or not) while living in Germany (where the child learns to speak German outside of the home).

Time and Place (T&P)

The Time and Place method is commonly used in bilingual schools. This could mean that during the morning, everyone speaks one language and in the afternoons everyone speaks another language. Alternatively, it could mean that Tuesdays and Thursdays are for the majority language, while Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are spent with the local minority language.

Families can adjust this approach as it suits them, and it could even mean a seasonal approach. Perhaps the majority language is used most of the time, while the minority language is used over the weekends or during summer to coincide with a family vacation to the country where the language is spoken.

Mixed Language Policy (MLP)

With the Mixed Language Policy, parents use the language that is appropriate to the situation. For example, the majority language may be used to help with school projects while the minority language may be used to discuss personal topics.

Teaching a Child Three or More Languages

All the methods I’ve shared so far can be used to teach two or more languages. There’s one more method for families interested in going beyond bilingualism and teaching their children more than two languages.

Two Parents, Two Languages (2P2L)

The Two Parents, Two Languages approach is for parents who are bilingual themselves. This may mean, for example, that the mother speaks to her child in English and German while the father speaks to the children in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Combining Methods for Teaching Bilingualism to Children

Each of the methods I’ve outlined can be combined with one another depending on what is most appropriate for the situation.

Regardless of which method you choose, your child will need as much consistent input and support as possible in each language.

If you need help getting started, we put together a few resources to help support your child’s language learning:

Our Approach to Bringing Up a Bilingual Baby

At home, my husband and I already talk to one another in both French and English. With a baby in the house, it has just become a matter of mixing the two less often.

Outside our home, my family speaks English while my husband’s only speaks French. As such, the decision to teach Little Linguist both French and English was easy. For him to be able to communicate with his family, he’d need to know both.

However, we decided we wanted to do more to give him every leg up, so we made the decision to speak to him in Mandarin Chinese, too.

We are currently using the OPOL method, where my husband speaks to him in French and I speak to him in Chinese. Since we live in the US, we aren’t too worried about his English for now. We’re also certain he’ll pick it up from my parents and later on in school.

Of course, as time goes by, we’ll probably need to adapt our methods based on what language support Little Linguist needs as he gets older. I’m sure our strategies will constantly evolve as he grows.

What about you? Have you decided to teach your baby two languages or more? What methods are you using to support their language development?

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Shannon Kennedy

Language Encourager, Fluent in Months

Shannon is Head Coach for the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge. She is currently based in Southern California where she performs as a professional musician. Her passions are cooking, reading, traveling and sharing her adventures in language learning.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Reading out loud is a crucial part of bilingual parenting.It’s the primary way to link spoken words, written words, ideas and images all together — and it’s valuable bonding time for parents, too.

Infants are such an amazing listeners!

They won’t say no to you, they won’t run away, they are not picky about what book you are reading. We as parents need to use this golden time to a full potential.

These five tips will help you start your baby on reading :

As a parent of a baby, you always make sure he is fed, not tired, changed and warm. The constant circle of these 4 simple activities take almost all your day when you take care about an infant. But reading time should be one of the most important things in a young child’s schedule as well, whether you’re raising the child bilingual or not!

You should always be looking for new books to keep you infant entertained. “Favorites” will develop quickly — and you can expect to read those over and over and over again — but there should always be something new for the baby as well.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find an endless supply of baby books in two different languages. One trick we’ve used is simply reading an English-language book aloud in a different language ( Russian and Ukrainian in our case). Your baby isn’t trying to read the words on the page, so it doesn’t matter too much that the printed syllables and the spoken ones aren’t the same.

But the real key is in the parenting itself. Make the act of reading itself something that’s prioritized. We let our kids get away with a little more when we read to them: they can stay up a little later, or be in our bed when they’re not usually supposed to, which teaches them that reading is something important enough to take priority over other rules.

Building that habit early makes it easy to keep the kids reading once they get older and start to experiment with reading on their own — a topic for another article!

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Use Age-Appropriate Books in Both Languages

Try to keep the content of your reading similar from one language to the next.

You want all your children’s books to be on about the same level. So, as the words and sentences become more complex in English (or another community language), make sure you’re increasing the complexity of the heritage language as well.

For your sake, you should also try to keep the actual physical material of the book as age-appropriate as possible. It’s worth paying a little extra to get some baby books in a foreign language online if it means they’re made from sturdy cardboard that can hold up to some drool and chewing!

Printed-out materials on stock paper or little pamphlets from some of the bilingual education programs that are out there are a nice idea, but they don’t actually withstand the terrors of an infant very well.

Remember, the words you’re using aren’t really getting through yet. They’re becoming part of a pattern that your child will recognize, in time, but you haven’t hit that point.

What you say is less important than how you say it. Make the words big, exciting, and fun.

Animal noises are always favorites here (and can actually be part of a bilingual education, too — what a cat “says” in English is very different from what it “says” in Russian or Japanese or French). But anything big and noisy is going to have more impact than something sedate.

There’s a time and a place for reading quietly, of course. The last book before bed should be a quiet one, for your sake as much as your children’s. But before then, use lots of noise and emotion to keep your infant’s attention on your voice — that’s what’s teaching them their languages, even if they don’t know it yet.

This is, to be fair, good advice for all parents doing read-aloud, not just parents raising their children bilingual.

But it is important. The shape of your face affects your voice. When you smile, you sound more pleasant. It’s also more comforting for the child if he or she looks up (and children will — they don’t stay focused intently on the book 100% of the time).

Keep your voice and your expression pleasant so that your children have a fondness for the sound of the languages you’re using imprinted at an early age. This is especially important if you’re using a system where the parents speak different languages — you don’t want the kids to end up more leery of one language because Daddy frowns when he reads!

Don’t limit yourself to the text of the book.

Point at all the objects and name them. Make sure this is happening in all the languages you’re teaching, not just one — that doesn’t just teach the children new words, it also teaches them the concept that there can be more than one word for a single object.

That one’s an all-around good idea that gets you more mileage out of each book (you’re essentially adding content) as well as building vocabulary and an understanding of how different languages co-exist.

As your children age and start reading words for themselves, you’ll be less able to make things up as you go along. But for those first 18 months, use your own words and tell stories that aren’t in the book, so that they’re getting as much reading as possible out of every picture.

A quarter of one million people migrate to the UK each year¹, increasing the number of children growing up bilingual or multilingual. As both a practicing child psychologist and speech therapist, I am often asked questions by parents of bilingual children learning to read. Some of the most common are:

  • Does a psychological conflict cause reading impairments in multilingual children?
  • How is reading fluency connected with verbal language development in multilingual children?
  • Are reading disorders a consequence of language uncertainty or bilingual education?
  • Which prevention strategies can help alleviate reading impairments in multilingual children?

In this article, I’ll address each in turn. Many children who learn two or more languages simultaneously while growing up — for example, the mother speaks English and the father Spanish — learn both languages with relatively little delays in development and pace of learning. However, other children might struggle and experience delayed speech and literacy development. These children often mix languages, use false words, or form grammatically false sentences.

Does Bilingual Education Affect Literacy and Reading Development?

The opinions of even foremost experts in this field differ. In this article, we look into causes of reading impairment in a specific case of multilingual upbringing. At the end, we’ll formulate recommendations and prevention strategies that could help parents and educators.

Does a psychological conflict cause reading impairments in multilingual children?

Scientists and educators point out to the psychological conflict with multilingual children, which can be one of the causes for language disorders. The psychological conflict derives from the child’s natural inclination to his native language and the necessity to communicate in a different language, language of the country of living etc. For example, in the case of multilingualism the child uses one language at home, another at school and on the street (the language of his environment). In another case, the parents speak two different languages at home and in addition to this, a third local language is added.

Multilingual children are forced to used words and sounds to communicate that are foreign to them. This can lead to internal dissatisfaction and create a communication barrier. Some children need time to determine their native language which leads to the child being more silent. The consequence of insufficient verbal exercise can lead to a stagnation in the early language learning process and delayed language development.

The psychological conflict described above can lead to language impairments and in some cases dyslexia, a persistent reading disorder.

How is Reading Fluency Connected with Verbal Language Development in Multilingual Children?

In a multilingual upbringing the following factors can have a negative impact on reading competencies:

  • Psychological conflict
  • Language impairments
  • Learning disabilities

Language therapists agree that psychological conflict and emotional insecurity which a child may experience are secondary reasons for the development of dyslexia. The real reason is the particularities in verbal language development and expressive language disorder in multilingual children.

This leads to an impairment in acquisition of literacy, which is characterised by the following disorders:

  • Speech impediment: unclear pronunciation due to imprecise articulation or lack of fluidity in speech
  • Simplistic language structure and insufficient comprehension skills
  • "Mixing up" vocabulary

Children growing up bilingual can experience difficulties with the generalisation and transfer of linguistic concepts. All languages have different rhythmics, sound systems and grammatical structures. The rules of a target language can contradict the rules of other target languages. This results in multilingual children handling contradictory rules in early stages of language learning before they have fully comprehended the rules of their native language. As a result these children tend to speak in more simple sentences and often use grammar incorrectly. Bothe pronouncation and choice of words in this case can be wrong.

These specific disorders in the earlier stages of verbal language development, as well as delayed learning of language rules lead to dyslexia in multilingual children. Hence, the psychological conflict is a secondary problem.

Are reading disorders a consequence of language uncertainty or bilingual education?

Reading disorders affect the social-emotional development of the child. Stagnation in the language acquisition process and failure to progress in learning to read can intensify child’s insecurity, shyness and anxiety. It can also lead to anger and aggression. In these cases bilingual and multilingual children get caught in a vicious circle:

  • The emotional reaction increases poor reading ability. In order to avoid further frustration, the child becomes reluctant to read and poorly articulate phonemes. This deepens negative emotional reaction triggered by continued failure in reading.
  • Some bilingual children are irritated on the occasions of verbal communication due to insufficient language understanding and lack of vocabulary required to express themselves.

Common reading problems in multilingual children

  1. Incorrect reading of words and phrases
  2. Children speculate or guess rather than read
  3. Difficulties in reading comprehension of single words and whole sentences

Clearly, children growing up in a multilingual environment experience very specific reading difficulties. The main reason for which is the delay in early speech development. This delayed begin of speech acquisition in the dominant language reinforces the suspicion of a language disorder. However, multilingual education in itself is not the underlying cause of reading disorders.

Which prevention strategies can help alleviate reading impairments in bilingual and multilingual children?

Spend longer amounts of time learning each letter: Let the child paint, flip, cut and colour the letters.

Playfully introduce graphically similar letters bd, pq, ZN, WM, JL: Discuss the graphical differences or similarities, help children develop their own recognition rules and reminders. Practice recognition and read these letters often in different words.

Begin with one language and introduce the second language only after the child has developed strong reading skills in the first one.

The most important rule: Use only one language at a time during your learning and playing sessions!

With multilingualism, you give your child the great opportunity to develop themselves in our modern and international world. For a growing number of children, bilingualism is becoming a natural environment, learning to think, speak and later to read and write in two languages. Preventive strategies can help bilingual and multilingual children to avoid potential language development problems.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

I’m happy to be part of a global group of bloggers writing about the A to Z’s of raising bilingual children. For a list of all the great articles, visit the A to Z of Raising Multilingual Kids page on The Piri-Piri Lexicon. I’m writing about reading to bilingual kids because reading is essential to language development!

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Raising kids with two or more languages is an amazing experience. However, it is also a huge amount of work. When my children were young, I depended on the magic of stories and the power of reading to teach and inspire them. Books also took the pressure off me. It’s hard to provide all that input! Of course, the internet now offers authentic language that wasn’t available to me. Still, reading to bilingual kids is one of the best ways to give them the language exposure they need.

Teachers and parents know that reading helps kids acquire important language skills. However, reading to bilingual kids also presents challenges. It’s important to get off to a good start! First, we have to find quality books. Next, choose books that are right for the child. Finally, we have to find ways to engage kids with the story (or other text). Every situation is different, but the strategies below have helped me and parents of my students.

Finding Books for Bilingual Kids

One of the biggest challenges of reading to bilingual kids is finding books in a minority language. And I say this about looking for books in Spanish! If you are looking for books in a less commonly spoken language, the challenge is even greater. Although publishers have responded to the demand for books in Spanish, the selection in the U.S. is still limited. Even in parts of the world where many people speak multiple languages, it can be difficult to find quality children’s literature in a minority language.

Publishers

A good place to is identifying major publishers in your language. This article on how to find children’s books in Spanish will give you an idea of the advantages of searching online stores by publisher, regardless of the language.

YouTube

In addition to searching online bookstores by publisher, check YouTube for read alouds and book trailers in your language. You can find classic stories, new titles from publishers and authors sharing their work.

Award Lists

Another excellent way of finding books is consulting award lists. There are many awards for children’s books, similar to the Newberry in English. In Spanish, for example, Anaya has a several awards and you can see their recent winners here. Edebé also has a prestigious award, and you can find a list in this Wikipedia article. Fundación SM awards el Premio El Barco de Vapor in many different Spanish-speaking countries. The winners from Spain are listed on Wikipedia. You can also search the prize with country name and find lists for the other countries. This is a fun list where people voted for their favorite El Barco de Vapor books.

Having Fun Reading to Bilingual Kids

One of the other challenges we face reading to bilingual kids is making it enjoyable. If you are one of the lucky parents to be raising a child with two or more equally balanced languages, then it is easier. However, the reality for many parents is that skills in the community language are stronger, and grow rapidly as a child starts school. Reading in the minority language is essential, but it can also be more difficult for a child.

Choosing the Right Level

One of the keys to reading to bilingual kids is choosing books that match their language level, not their age. The language in picture books is often sophisticated, and can be difficult for language learners. Look for repetition and patterns to make picture books easier to understand. Books for beginning readers are a good choice too. They have a smaller range of vocabulary and shorter sentences, so they are easier to understand.

Strategies to Engage Kids

We want to create positive associations with reading, so it’s important to have fun reading to bilingual kids in their second language. Be sure to add plenty of silliness and snuggles. To encourage language development as you read, try these best strategies for reading to bilingual kids, which include reading slowly, identifying core vocabulary and relating the story to your child’s life.

To make the most of reading to bilingual kids, you can also try easy activities for reading to kids in their second language. The article has simple ways to encourage kids to engage with a text. Of course, reading all kinds of texts builds skills, and it won’t feel like reading practice with 15 things to read besides books. These options provide variety and are often more accessible for language learners.

Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. Sharing the joy of reading with kids is another. Reading to bilingual kids, the process takes on another dimension as their language skills grow. Yes, it is challenging, but starting on the right page, children learn to love reading – in all their languages!

Children can learn to speak more than one language. They can learn languages at home, at school, or in the community. Some children can speak both languages easily. But sometimes they know one language better than the other. The language your child knows better is her dominant language. Over time, the dominant language may change. For example, a child who speaks Spanish at home may start to use English when she starts school. Her dominant language could change from Spanish to English.

Speaking two languages is like any other skill. You need a lot of practice to do it well. Without practice, your child will have a harder time using both languages.

Teaching Your Child To Be Bilingual

There are a number of ways to teach your child to speak more than one language. You can:

  • Use two languages from the start. Many children grow up learning two languages at the same time.
  • Use only one language at home. Your child can learn the second language when he starts school.
  • Give your child many chances to hear and practice both languages during the day.

Learning More Than One Language

Every bilingual child is unique. Learning two languages depends on the amount and type of practice your child gets. The following are some basic guidelines:

  • Most bilingual children speak their first words by the time they are 1 year old. By age 2, most children can use two-word phrases. Phrases like “my ball” or “more juice” can be in one or both languages.
  • From time to time, children may mix grammar rules. They might use words from both languages in the same sentence. This is a normal part of becoming bilingual.
  • Some children may not talk much when they start using a second language. This “silent period” can last for several months. Again, this is normal and will go away.

Ways To Help Your Child Become Bilingual

  • Books. You can read to your child in both languages. You can find the books you need at bookstores, at libraries, and on the Internet.
  • Music. Singing is a great way to introduce a second language to your child. And, it can be a lot of fun!
  • TV and videos. Children’s programs are available in many languages. These programs teach children about numbers, letters, colors, and simple words.
  • Language programs. Children can learn other languages at camps or in bilingual school programs. These give children the chance to use two languages with other children.

Talking With Your Child

Your child might have trouble using both languages. In this case, talk to your child in the language you know best. You should do this even if your child uses a different language at school. A good language model gives your child the skills he needs to learn other languages. But try not to make a sudden change in your child’s routine. This can be stressful.

Remember, children all over the world learn more than one language all the time. Learning another language will not cause or worsen speech or language problems. Bilingual children develop language skills just as other children do.

If your child starts having trouble in both languages, he may need help from a speech-language pathologist, or SLP. To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

1. You can start raising a bilingual child from birth

There’s no reason why you, your partner and other family members can’t speak two languages to your child from birth (Lowry, 2015) . So don’t hesitate in getting started.

Children soak up languages the best when they are between birth and three years old and being bilingual is a great life skill to have. So if your plan is for your child to grow up bilingual, go for it by speaking to them in both languages as soon as they are born (King and Fogle, 2006) .

2. But it’s also possible to do it later…

Don’t panic if your children are past the toddler years and not yet chatting fluently in French, Spanish, Mandarin or whatever your chosen second language is. It’s definitely not too late to teach them.

Between the ages of four and seven is the second best time (after newborn to three) to teach a second language. Between eight and puberty is the third best. So if you don’t do it from when they’re newborn, you can always go for it then (Rosenberg, 1996) .

3. Ignore the myths around bilingual children

So you might have a couple of (nosy) mates tell you that you’re ‘confusing’ a child by teaching them two languages. And others think that learning a second language early in life when they are learning to speak will hold up their development in another. If so, tell them that both of these things are myths (King and Fogle, 2006) .

4. Don’t worry if your child mixes their two languages

If they are mixing their two tongues up, that’s not a problem and will almost definitely be a temporary thing. Just let them figure it out – and don’t stress about it. They’ll clear things up and speak both languages equally well and separately soon (Saunders, 1984) .

5. Try and find a bilingual playgroup

Ideally, aim for a playgroup that focuses on the secondary language that your child gets to speak less of day to day, so they get more exposure to it. And if that doesn’t exist locally to you, think about starting one yourself.

You can also arrange playdates with other children who speak their second language. The more your child needs to use it, the more they’ll feel like speaking that language has a ‘purpose’ and be interested in learning it (Rosenberg, 1996) .

6. Think about books, music and games

Play music in your child’s other language in the car, read them books in it and buy games, puzzles or dolls online that use that language too. Children will never learn simply by ‘soaking’ up other languages so you will have to do some more active teaching yourself. But all of this ticking away in the background will help (King and Fogle, 2006) .

7. Speak to your child in the language that’s most comfortable for you

So, if you speak English as a first language and your partner speaks Spanish, stick to those languages when you each speak to them at home. That way, they’ll soak up both from people who are competent speakers (Lowry, 2015) .

8. Don’t worry if your bilingual child starts speaking a little later than their peers

Bilingual children often take a bit more time before they can speak. But don’t worry, they’ll get there – and when they do come out with words, you’ll get two for the price of one (Meisel, 2004) . Bonus.

This page was last reviewed in September 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

References

King K, Fogle L. (2006) Raising bilingual children: common parental concerns and current research. Centre for Applied Linguistics. Available at: www.jennings-candyschool.org/sites/default/files/pages/RaisingBilingualChildrenEnglishSpanish.pdf [Accessed 31st July 2018].

Lowry L; The Hanen Centre. (2015) Bilingualism in young children: separating fact from fiction. Available at: http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/bilingualism-in-young-children–separating-fact-fr.aspx [Accessed 31st July 2018].

Meisel J. (2004) The Bilingual Child. In: Bhatia T, Ritchie W (Eds.) The Handbook of Bilingualism: 91-113. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Rosenberg M. (1996) Raising bilingual children. The Internet TESL Journal. Available at: http://iteslj.org/Articles/Rosenberg-Bilingual.html?em_x=22 [Accessed 31st July 2018].

Saunders G. (1984) The Bilingual Family Newsletter. 1(1). Available at: http://www.multilingualmatters.com/pdf/bilingual_family/BFN%2001-1.pdf [Accessed 31st July 2018].

Information you can trust from NCT

When it comes to content, our aim is simple: every parent should have access to information they can trust.

All of our articles have been thoroughly researched and are based on the latest evidence from reputable and robust sources. We create our articles with NCT antenatal teachers, postnatal leaders and breastfeeding counsellors, as well as academics and representatives from relevant organisations and charities.

Reading is the best way to promote language learning and increase vocabulary knowledge, whether raising a monolingual or multilingual child.

In my post, seven ways that I teach my toddler Spanish as a nonnative speaker, one of my key points is through reading books, and many of them.

If you are raising a bilingual child and just got a spark of motivation to get up and go buy some books in the second language, great!

Even better, if you are looking for some great children’s books in Spanish, I already have plenty of recommendations for you!

But, before you go off and spend a pretty penny on children’s books— because let’s face it, they are not cheap— I want to offer some tips on how to read to bilingual children in the minority language without having books in the target language.

Related posts you might enjoy:

How to teach a child bilingual reading

1. Be consistent

Start reading to your bilingual child as soon as possible as much as possible.

Create a daily routine where at least once a day, you are making time for a reading session.

2. Read aloud

Reading aloud in the target language will create a bonding time between the parent and child. Furthermore, it will form a positive relationship with books and reading.

Your toddler may gravitate towards the same book each time, but keep in mind that repetition is a useful technique for language learning. Eventually, your child will be versing the book back to you.

In the book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, Author Adam Beck refers to this experience as a “home run book,” a term coined by Jim Trelease. By this, his means that creating a positive experience with a book can result in a lifelong reader.

3. Don’t worry about having a huge library in the target language.

When I started reading to Lennox as a baby, I used to get frustrated at my limited Spanish library.

We had a decent selection of donated and gifted books in English, but I could count one hand the number of Spanish children’s books we owned.

I was constantly browsing on Amazon and placing Spanish books in my cart, only to save them for later because they were not something we absolutely needed.

That’s when I decided to repurpose our children’s books in English by doing the following:

I would read each book myself first to find vocabulary that I did not know in Spanish. I would find their meaning and jot them down on a piece of paper in both Spanish and English. This helps my adult brain with memorization, and if you read the 12 ways I learned Spanish outside of the classroom post, you know I am a nerd for this.

Once I knew all of the words, I would:

  • If the books were short enough, translate them myself. Over time each book became more natural to translate.
  • Paraphrase what the book is saying or make up my own version in the target language.
  • Or, use it as a time to invite Lennox to use the target language to talk about what is happening, or what he can find in the book (colors, shapes, emotions, etc.)

4. Visit your local library

I have found some of the best children’s books in Spanish at my local library. You might be surprised at what hidden treasures you might find at yours!

5. Turn your book into a song

If you have a busy-bodied toddler like myself, reading might not be their favorite activity, unless you can turn it into a way for them to get up a dance to a beat.

For the longest time, Lennox protested books, until I turned his favorite baby book, Díos te bendiga y buenas noches, into a song with a beat. I took its beautiful rhyming verse and created a tune that stuck with Lennox throughout the days and made him anticipate book time.

6. Find the proper books in the target language

I have come across way too many children’s books in Spanish with very poor English to Spanish translations.

To avoid this, I try to visit my local library or book stores to search out well-written, educational, and entertaining children’s books in Spanish. I keep a written list of books I love and add it to a wish list for family members and friends to gift Lennox for holidays and birthdays.

I hope these tips are useful to you and your bilingual little. They sure have worked to create a fun reading routine in our household.

If this post is right up your alley, subscribe below so you can receive all of our future book recommendations and bilingual parenting tips!

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Posted on Last updated: February 11, 2022

Home » Bilingual Parenting » 5 Tips on Reading to Bilingual Children in the Minority Language

How to teach a child bilingual reading

Ever since the 1990s was declared by presidential resolution the “decade of the brain”, many researchers have studied the brain of bilingual children and the impact of bilingualism and multilingualism in promoting cognitive development. It has been found that the brain of bilingual and multilingual children works differently than the brain of monolingual children, and these differences provide several advantages to children that speak more than one language.

Here are some advantages of learning a second or foreign language:

1. Boosts brain power

Some of the cognitive advantages of learning a second language may have to do with the fact that the brain of bilingual and multilingual children develops more densely, as found by researchers analyzing the brain densities of bilingual people. In a study conducted using brain imaging, Andrea Mechelli of London’s Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and her colleagues (which included experts from the Fondazione Santa Lucia in Rome) found that bilingual speakers had denser gray matter compared to monolingual study participants.

2. Better problem-solving and other cognitive abilities

Children that speak more than one language learn to negotiate meaning as a crucial part of communicating in more than one language system. This also helps them with problem-solving tasks, and gives children the ability to seek different approaches to solve a problem. Research shows that there is a relation between bilingualism and several abilities, including the ability to thing abstractly about language and think nonverbally.

3. Children develop an “ear” for languages

Exposing children to a foreign or second language at an early age helps them develop an “ear” for the language and achieve better pronunciation and fluency later in life. This is due to the fact that, when learning a foreign language, children must distinguish meaning from very discrete sounds. According to some studies, children who learn a second or foreign language before teenage years are more likely to achieve native-like pronunciation.

4. Higher academic achievement and test scores

Studies have shown that learning a foreign language early in life improves cognitive abilities and influences achievement in other areas, resulting in higher test scores in reading and math. Studies have found that students that speak more than one language score higher on standardized college admission exams than monolingual students. According to Kathleen Marcos, “the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who had averaged four or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied four or more years of any other subject (Marcos, 1998).

Read more (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages – ACTFL)

Read more (Center for Applied Linguistics – CAL)

5. Gives students a head start in language requirements for college

Are you one of those people who studied Spanish or French for 4 years during high school but can’t seem to be able to ask for basic directions, let alone have a meaningful conversation in the language after such a long time devoted to learning another language? If you are, you are not alone. Children that learn a language at an early age have a huge head start both cognitively and linguistically, and it will help them “breeze” through foreign language classes in high school and college, giving them a chance of truly becoming bilingual.

6. Increased Empathy

A study from the University of Chicago found that children that speak more than one language are better at “putting themselves in other people’s shoes” and understanding different perspectives. To speak another language requires not only language skills, but also the ability to understand the other speaker’s perspective.

7. Increased children’s understanding of his or her native language

Many studies suggest that second language study helps enhance English language skills. Learning another language helps students learn about how language works in general and become more aware of their own first language (grammar, conjugations, sentence structures, etc.) Studies have found that bilingual children understand better than monolingual students the visual representation of print materials. According to Kathleen Marcos, “Numerous other studies have also shown a positive relationship between foreign language study and English language arts achievement.”

Read more (Center for Applied Linguistics – CAL)

8. Better understanding of other cultures and connecting with people that speak other languages

Bilingualism allows for cross-cultural communication. Children who speak more than one language have the opportunity to become more culturally aware and have the ability to better understand and appreciate cultural differences, which helps them be more open to different ways of thinking and allows them to experience the world with “new eyes”. Bilingual children have the opportunity to connect with people that speak other languages and have access to more resources from other countries.

9. Better career opportunities

In today’s global world, the ability to communicate in more than one language is increasingly becoming an essential skill. When applying for a job, bilingual candidates have an edge to differentiate themselves from other candidates, and are able to showcase themselves as a valuable potential employees bringing skills that may be invaluable for employers. As James Doherty with WinterWyman Contract Staffing puts it: “If you are in a pool with 10 other corporate recruiters and your collective skills are similar, knowing a foreign language can be the unique talent that gets you that coveted first interview.”

Read more (Penn State University)

Read more (Winter Wyman Human Resources)

10. Makes the world a better place for our children

In our increasingly diverse society, people from different countries and cultures must develop tools to communicate effectively with each other. As put by Kathleen Marcos, “Society as a whole also profits economically, politically, and socially when its citizens can communicate with and appreciate people from other countries and cultures.” A world in which different cultures and languages are valued and appreciated, with open, aware and empathetic people, is a better world for our children.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

I don’t remember teaching my elder daughter to read … because I never did. I do however remember when a carer at her nursery told me that my 5-year-old used to read Finnish story books to other children. They found that she loved reading aloud to others and was able to do it better than the carers – who were all bilingual but most of them had Swedish as mother tongue. In Finland children start school when they turn seven, so she had not yet had any formal tuition.

So how did this happen? The answer is in the picture – she was about two when she was given the alphabet puzzle and she absolutely adored it. She would hold up a letter and wait for me to say the sound before placing the piece in the puzzle. This way she little by little learnt all the sounds, and then she started recognising the letters in books I read to her. Next she noticed that she could decipher words by herself and this is how she started reading.

Of course, this is not a “method” that can be used in every, or even most languages, so why tell it? The reason I want to highlight the story is that there is not one right way to teach your child to read, the best method is the one that works for you and your child.

There are some aspects you do need to take into consideration when teaching your child to read and write at home. First of all, your child needs to be ready for this phase – the readiness shows as an interest in letters and text and wanting to write something, often the own name. It is important not to put pressure on your child to start before he or she is ready.

What you can do as a parent to nurture this interest is being a great role model for literacy. Read lots of books to (and later with) your child. Following the words with your finger while reading allows your child to make the connection between the sounds, letters and words. Write notes, cards and letters. If you have nothing else to write on a day, make writing the shopping list something that you do together.

Your role as a parent is also to be there to motivate, encourage and help your child discover the world of written text and to learn to master it. Make the experience more fun by providing different materials to aid the learning. If your child prefers colourful pens to start the writing, make sure there are plenty of these, along with a lot of paper available. Some children love white boards or others want to start with building blocks or puzzles, like my daughter. Have a lot of books in the home with bright interesting pictures and clear text.

Keep in mind that normally you would have to spend a fair amount of time with your child to teach him or her to read and write. If you think you may not be able to spare this time, ask if others – such as grandparents or other relatives – could be of help. Remember that your children can always become biliterate later in life: both of my daughters learnt to write Punjabi at school and during weekend classes once we came to England. After they moved away from home, emails and text messages became a great way to keep up the skill of writing Swedish.

How to teach a child bilingual readingSo the alphabet puzzle came to play a big role in my daughters language learning, as did Pricken, the Swedish-speaking kitten, and if you take a closer a look at the smaller picture you will see these two combined in the distinct teeth marks on the letter Ö.

Want to read more on the topic? Xiao-lei Wang has written a very informative book called “Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family”.

How to teach a child bilingual readingNever miss a post! Sign up to the Multilingual Parenting newsletter and I will send you a recap of the week’s posts every Sunday. Every second week you will receive a more extensive issue with links to research articles and interesting posts from other writers, as well as handy tips and ideas! Want to read more like this? My book Bringing up a Bilingual Child is available on Amazon and in well-stocked bookshops. Do you have a specific question? You can send it to our team of Family Language Coaches and we will reply in a Q&A (questions are answered in order of arrival). If you are interested in tailor-made family language coaching, please, contact me and I will send you a proposal.

SALT LAKE CITY – Reading with your young ones every day is one of the best ways to build connections in their brains and with family. Studies have shown why it’s even more important to read books written in the same language that is spoken at home.

Sylvia Espinoza turned reading with her daughter Edith into valuable time together.

“Edith has always like to read in Spanish so she’s always asked me to read with her in Spanish,” Espinoza said.

Finding children’s books in her native language had been a challenge until now.

BUILDING A SPANISH LANGUAGE LIBRARY

“Through a lot of donations, this is how it came about,” explained Flor Isabel from United Way of Salt Lake.

They built and installed a little Spanish language library in front of West Kearns Elementary School.

“It was a lot of work at first,” Isabel said. “It was like a little house, casita on the bottom that just lay on the ground.”

Through months of hard work and community support, she collected nearly 200 books to fill the library along with other donated material.

“Bilingual flashcards, bilingual books, sometimes some games. And it all is just going,” she said.

The thought behind the project has to do with something called second language acquisition theory.

“Which pretty much states that children who learn to read in their native language will have less of a challenge learning a second language,” she explained. “Additionally, there are skills that will get transferred so when they’re learning math, it’s easier as well.”

Isabel said making sure families in the community have that opportunity is important. “It should be accessible and fair to everyone to be able to read with their children.”

CONNECTING WITH FAMILY HISTORY

She added there’s also a cultural benefit and more opportunities that come with speaking two languages.

“You can get a job, you can help others and really carry on your roots which is something that they really value,” she said.

It’s something Edith recognized. “I get to like, understand more that my mom says. And like, when I go to Mexico I can speak more with family,” she said.

Sylvia expected that the more she reads with her daughter and the more kids in the community take advantage of these books, the brighter their future.

She said, “In the future, they can have more opportunities if they are bilingual.”

How to teach a child bilingual reading

If you're using the OPOL (one parent, one language) method to raise your children bilingual, experts recommend sticking to the language you normally speak. In other words, if you normally speak English to your child, read books to him in English.

There are plenty of bilingual books available. The advantage of these is that each parent can read the same book in his or her own language.

You may be able to find a wide variety of bilingual books in a language other than English in your local library. But even if you can't, and you're bilingual, all you have to do when reading a book written in English is translate it into the target language as you read. Your child won't know the difference.

What language to use when teaching your child to read

When it comes to teaching your bilingual child to read, research shows that it's easiest to use the child's primary language. As a parent, you're in the best position to decide which language that is.

If you're using the OPOL method, one language will always be dominant, typically your community's dominant language.

On the other hand, if you're using the [email protected] (minority language at home) method, and a second language is the minority language, you would teach your child to read in the second language.

What kind of books to choose

Bilingual books are perfect because they can be read in both the dominant and the minority language. These books usually present the English version at the top of the page and the second language at the bottom. Sometimes the different languages are on alternate pages.

Well-known bilingual children's author Alma Flor Ada points out several advantages of bilingual books:

  • The parent can read the book in one language and encourage the child to read it in another.
  • After hearing both versions, the parent and child can compare the two texts and see whether the dialogue or stories vary.
  • The parent and child can look for cognates (words that are very similar in form and meaning in both languages, such as "plates" and "platos"). And they can look for words that are very different in the two languages.

A note of caution: Make sure the translations are up to par. While most publishers take care to deliver bilingual books with accurate translations, some don't. If you're not bilingual, ask someone who is to take a look at the translations.

Another option, particularly if you're not very strong in the minority language, is to use books with second language words embedded in the English story. Books like these typically highlight the a second language word (usually an important word in the vocabulary of the story) and include a glossary at the end, sometimes with a pronunciation guide.

If you're reading to a very young child, it doesn't really matter what you choose. Picture books, often with little or no text, are perfect for bilingual families because they're open to interpretation. The reader can become a storyteller regardless of the language used.

How to keep bilingual kids interested in reading in the minority language

Lydia Breiseth of Colorín Colorado offers the following recommendations to help you make reading a special, fun, and memorable experience for your child.

Begin reading to your children as early as possible. Children are never too young. Even when you think they're not paying attention, or they prefer to simply chew on a board book or look at the pages upside down, you're still helping to establish the reading habit.

Make sure your children see you reading regularly and that they're aware of how important it is to you.

Engage your children's interests. Try to find books in both languages that focus on topics they care about. If your kids are already reading, talk to them about the books they're reading in school and look for reading material that covers the same topics in the second language.

Try to find materials related to your family history and culture. This will help make learning the second language relevant.

Don't make books the only source of reading material. Look for other things to read: comics, magazines, newspapers, online articles, puzzles, and board games.

Enlist the help of family or friends who speak the second language. Ask them to expose your kids to stories, poems, songs, and nursery rhymes.

Look for opportunities for your child to read to others, such as younger siblings and older relatives, in either language.

Just read!

Research shows that children who are read to out loud during their infancy are more proficient at language and have better reading skills once they enter school than those who weren't. So keep reading!

Parents raising multilingual children hear stories like this all the time. Concerned, they wonder whether their child’s teacher is right, and perhaps a little annoyed, they may wonder why people often find it impressive when children or adults learn English well in school, yet they don’t seem to appreciate other language skills as much. But is it really the case that teaching your child to read and write in your language will be at the expense of literacy skills in Dutch? Obviously, as a parent, you want the best for your child and of course it is important to learn to read and write in Dutch. So what should you do with that other language?

Take it from someone who should know. Goethe said: “One who doesn’t know other languages doesn’t know their own” and he certainly knew his native language extremely well and learned to speak, read, and write at least seven other languages throughout his childhood and youth. And as it turns out, research suggests he was right. Children are not only able to keep apart their two languages, but those who read and write in their home language tend to be better readers and writers in the school language than those who don’t. So, there is nothing wrong with teaching your child to read and write in your mother tongue. If anything, they can transfer their reading and writing skills from one language to the other, boosting their knowledge of both.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

It also seems that the school language has a way of creeping in and becoming the stronger language for many children. Studies in the US found that adults who grew up speaking only Spanish at home but learned English in school were better at reading and writing in English than in Spanish, even if they only moved to the US during their childhood. Reading and writing skills mostly depend on explicit teaching and develop relatively independently from spoken language skills, so learning to read and write and using the majority language at school seems to be enough for typically developing children to properly learn the language. What this also means, then, is that just speaking your own language to your child will not be sufficient for them to learn to read and write in it. If you want your child to be literate in your home language, you will have to invest some time and effort in either teaching them yourself or finding someone else to do so. When you should do this depends on many factors: your child, the languages in question, and the resources available. What is clear, is that learning to read and write in two languages is both possible and something to be proud of. After all, who wouldn’t love to tell their friends that they were already reading and writing in two languages in primary school?

Academic sources for this blog:

Ardila, A., Garcia, K., Garcia, M., Mejia, J. & Vado, G. (2017). Writing and reading knowledge of Spanish/English second-generation bilinguals. Reading and Writing, 30(2), 837-400. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-016-9681-5.

Cobo-Lewis, A. B., Eilers, R. E., Pearson, B. Z. & Umbel, V. C. (2002). Interdependence of Spanish and English knowledge in language and literacy among bilingual children. In D. K. Oller & R. E. Eilers (Eds.), Language and literacy in bilingual children (pp. 118-134). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

But. I totally get the idea that reading a story in a language you don’t speak can be intimidating for non-native speaking mamas – because I’m one of them!

I made it work though – and my kids language skills really blossomed with simple bilingual storytime.

Here are some super easy tactics you can use – native speaker or not – to teach your child a second language through books.

Be comfortable with the story you’re reading

This is one of THE BEST tips for non-native speakers when it comes to introducing a second language.

Choose the bilingual book of a story you know and enjoy telling (in English) so you start with a familiar foundation. For example, The Hungry Caterpillar was a hit in our home in English and French.

Keep a book on high rotation

We all know how much kids love to read the same books over and over and over again, right?

Turns out this repetition is incredibly helpful for learning to read in a second language.

Repeated exposure to the same book helps them encode information and recognise letters and words. Don’t forget to inject fun into your voice – use lots of expressions and different voices.

So here we go. Frozen round 102, let’s do this!

Trace your fingers along the word of the book

This is a super helpful tip. Make your index finger a continual part of the story telling and your little one will begin to recognise words and letters even before they can speak them.

The fact that storytime is usually a time to wind down and cosy up together means they’re in a relaxed state which helps facilitate learning to read in another language. It’s not a time to be pumping your kiddo’s brain with vocabulary drills!

“Mum doesn’t know everything.”

Before diving into stories in a new language I used to tell my kids….

”Ok, Mummy doesn’t know everything but let’s find out together.”

Ah, how liberating this phrase is. It sets you free from feeling like you have to get EVERYTHING right!

And kids are so forgiving, they’re not critiquing your pronunciation. They’re just enjoying some cosy story time with their mama bear.

Give yourself unlimited permission to Use. This. Phrase!

You can ditch the ‘age appropriate’ books

If you’re introducing a new language to your 7 year old, the ‘age appropriate’ books in the target language might not be the right fit in the beginning stages.

Consider choosing a more simple story intended for a younger audience to start with.

If you’re a non-native speaker let your 7 year old know that choosing something simpler will help you too because you’re learning together.

Read every day

Make reading time a daily activity where you snuggle and make your way through new words together.

Creating a safe, loving environment is something that turns the simple act of reading into time that you and your little one really treasure.

The bottom line on reading in another language is this –

You need to be willing to stumble a little (or a lot. I’m pointing at myself right now) and step outside your comfort zone if you want the best for your kids.

I think this Dr Seuss quote is a beautiful reminder that it’s worth stumbling a bit to give our kiddos the brightest future possible.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr Seuss

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In today’s world, being able to speak more than 1 language is a huge advantage for jobs and communicating with others. Research has even shown that speaking multiple languages has a lifelong positive effect on brain health! The brains of babies and young children are wired to learn 2 or more languages easily, especially compared with adults.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

If you or other family members speak more than 1 language, you can give your child an amazing gift by following the tips listed below.

Common Concerns

You may worry that exposing your child to multiple languages will be confusing and slow down their language growth in English. A child may show a temporary “silent period” – not saying much in either language – when he is just starting to learn 2 languages, but this goes away quickly. Young children are naturally wired to figure out the sounds and patterns unique to each language. Some studies show that bilingual children develop stronger attention, memory, and learning skills. Think of it as extra exercise for the brain at a time when your child will reap the greatest rewards. Believe it or not, speaking 2 languages even seems to protect the brains of older people from developing dementia!

Tips to Help Your Child Learn 2 Languages

A simple way to remember how to support your child in learning 2 languages is to SPEAK!

  • Speak your language
  • Praise your child
  • Engage in reading
  • Ask for help
  • Keep it fun!

Here is a checklist to help you include a wide range of supportive strategies that will have your child speaking 2 languages with confidence.

Being ‘bilingual’ means you can speak 2 languages. Lots of families in Australia speak more than 1 language. Speaking multiple languages has many benefits for children, and it’s something they pick up very well.

The benefits of raising bilingual children

If you come from a non-English-speaking background, you may think it’s better to speak to your children in English at home, but that’s not true. Teaching your children your first language can benefit their development and helps them understand your culture.

Speaking multiple languages from an early age can help children to learn. It will also help them to speak English better. Studies show that bilingual children:

  • find it easier to learn to read
  • find it easier to learn another language
  • settle into school easier
  • feel better about themselves (they have higher self-esteem, sense of identity and belonging)
  • achieve better academic results
  • will have more career opportunities when they’re older

Raising bilingual children will improve communication in your family and help both you and your children to be part of your culture.

Which language should I use with my child?

Children need to be exposed to both your first language and to English. It’s important that you talk to your child in the language that feels most comfortable for both of you. This might mean that sometimes one member of the family will use one language, and another family member will use another language.

At first, bilingual children might get confused and mix up the languages. Don’t worry — children quickly learn how to switch from one language to the other.

When to start

You are your child’s first teacher. It’s best to start speaking to your child in more than 1 language as early as possible – that is, from birth. Some families decide it’s better to introduce the second language only after the child speaks the first language well, at about ages 3 or 4. However, there is no evidence that this helps the child to speak either language better.

Babies first learn words before they start to talk. Hold your baby close from birth, talk to them and make eye contact to help them understand how conversations work. Once your baby is older, you can start pointing to objects and naming them. Young children can often learn 1 or 2 new words a day.

Children start to talk in sentences once they know about 100 words, usually at around age 2. Bilingual children might start talking a little later than children from families where just one language is spoken, but that is normal.

Tips for raising bilingual children

Raising bilingual children can sometimes mean a lot of work, and it’s a long-term commitment. These tips might help:

  • Encourage your child and make it fun. Play games in your first language, sing songs or record stories. Borrow CDs, DVDs, picture books and magazines in your first language.
  • Connect with other families who speak your language and organise play dates for your child.
  • Look for schools, child care centres or bilingual programs that will help your child practise your first language.
  • Find activities that will boost your child’s interest in your culture.
  • If you don’t speak English well, expose your child to as much English as possible outside the home. Visit playgroups, go to child care, meet with English-speaking friends.
  • Children need to understand why they should speak both languages. Put them in situations where they have to speak the second language to communicate with other people.
  • Even if your child doesn’t seem interested, keep speaking to them in your first language.

Bilingualism at home – video

Where to get help

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 for support and advice. You can use the Translating and Interpreting Service to call.

The Multilingual Phone Service offers information in your language about Centrelink payments and services. You can call them on 131 202.

The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) on 131 450 has bilingual information about Medicare and Child Support services.

How to teach a child bilingual reading

From tot soccer to music-enrichment classes, most of us are constantly on the lookout for ways to spark learning (and perhaps inspire future passions) in our kids from an early age. Of those, exposure to a second language is one that is proven to bring with it major intellectual, cultural, and practical benefits. From a more-focused attention span and an increased ability to multi-task, to the decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older age, bilingualism is a boon to brains at all stages. To provide some insight into how we can best support our kids in learning a second (or third!) language at home, we turned to Aussie mama Chontelle Bonfiglio, the creator of Bilingual Kidspot and an ESL educator who is raising her two young children to be trilingual (English, Italian, and Spanish).

Chontelle believes there are a few key practices that can help parents foster a bilingual household—one of the easiest and most effective being stocking up on plenty of bilingual books. “Don’t underestimate the importance of reading books,” she says. “Make sure to have lots of different books available in the minority language, especially your child’s favorites. Let your child choose new books regularly to motivate them.”

See her ten tips for raising bilingual kids below!

How to teach a child bilingual reading

1. Don’t be afraid. One person, one language (a.k.a. OPOL) is the most popular method for raising bilingual children, and is as simple as it sounds: Each person speaks to the child in the same language consistently and does not speak the other language, as to not confuse the child. But don’t let the fear of not speaking the language perfectly yourself stop you from using this method! Just speak it as well as you can, and you and your child can learn and improve together. This works especially well for families that already speak more than one language.

2. Add more books to your library. Stock up on your kid’s favorite titles in different languages. And try exploring dual language board books that feature English text alongside the language you are trying to learn. Two of our favorites are the newly released Cerca/Close and Lejos/Far—written by Juan Filipe Herrera, and featuring English and Spanish on each page, alongside stunning illustrations by Blanca Gómez.

3. Read aloud to your child every day. We cannot stress enough the importance of reading to your child every single day. Whether it is with their bedtime routine, or just throughout the day randomly, installing a love of reading is one of the best things you can do for your children. By reading to them every day, you are feeding them new vocabulary and exposing them to new words they may not otherwise hear. Even when your child is old enough to read themselves, you should still be reading to them.

4. Play music and sing songs. Try playing music and singing songs in the minority language. A melody helps children memorize words and phrases that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, and lyrics help to broaden vocabulary. It can also be a lot of fun!

5. Cook together. You can learn about other cultures by cooking different dishes from around the world. Learn new vocabulary in the kitchen working together to cook a meal.

6. Travel to places the minority language is spoken. If you’re able to, immerse your child in the language by traveling to a place where everyone speaks the language. It may not always be possible for all families, but it is a fantastic way to improve your child’s language skills.

7. Offer screen-time in the minority language. If you allow screen-time for your bilingual child, use it to your advantage. Let your child watch programs and play games in the minority language to give them more exposure.

8. Find a caregiver who speaks the minority language. If you are a working parent, finding a bilingual caregiver who speaks the minority language is a great way to give your children more exposure. The important thing is that they only speak their native language to give your child the “need” to speak it to communicate.

9. Look into immersion preschools and grade schools. Enrolling your child in an immersion program for preschool and grade school is an excellent way to boost fluency—whether you speak the minority language at home or not!

10. Buy them gifts to help their language development. For birthdays, Christmas, or other gift-giving holidays, buy your kids language learning gifts—things such as books in the minority language, or puzzles and games that encourage them to talk and use the language. Make language learning fun!

How to teach a child bilingual reading

For further reading on this subject, you can check out Chontelle’s full list of 25 Ways to Boost the Minority Language for Bilingual Kids.