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.
Read more about teaching your child to read using phonics.
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.
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.
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.