I know you want to raise your multilingual child with ease and joy. How can you use books to make this family project less challenging?
Here are 10 tips to help multilingual families use books with their 0-4 year olds to kick start development in all their family languages:
- Make sure you have beautiful books at home! Having easy access to books is connected with acheiving better literacy. I know books can be expensive so look out for families selling their used books and of course, check out your local library. I’ve prepared a list of bilingual French/English books that have been personally recommended by families in our school community. Tap the button below to get access to the list. If you’re curious about what reseach says about the importance of searching out books that have 2 languages displayed inside, tap here for an excellent summary.
- Have a regular reading routine. It could be at bedtime or after lunch, it doesn’t matter when but try to keep it to the same time each day. Creating a habit will make it much more likely to happen. Habit stacking is very helpful when starting a new routine. This means that you attach the new reading habit to something you already do with your child. Stacking two tasks together makes them harder to forget and easier to fit in to your busy family life. Reading is part of our evening routine with the children after they brush their teeth and get into PJs but before we send them to bed and tuck them in. Reply in the comments below when you think you could fit in reading, or when you already have the habit of reading together.
- Make using books joyful and fun. The aim should be to help our multilingual children develop a love for books because independent reading will be the key to them levelling up their vocabulary in all their languages when they’re older. One way to do this is to follow your child, their preferences and interests. Let them choose the book. Be ready to read the same book, or page, several times! It’s ok to skip parts of the books too, jump forward to their favourite page if that’s what they want. For more ideas on how to help your child LOVE reading tap here for another blog post on the topic.
- Be flexible without big expectations. When they’ve had enough, stop. Reading is very important, but don’t force it or they’ll lose their joy in the activity. This is a time to pick your battles. Simply say “I see you’re getting tired, let’s read more tomorrow”.
- When reading together, read short chunks of the text and then pause to chat about the story, what’s happening and the pictures. If you’re not sure whether your child understands everything, go back over the text but simplify and swap new words for words your child already knows so they can follow along without getting lost.
- Don’t ask questions that test your child’s knowledge of vocabulary, especially when the book is new to them. If they don’t know the answer, or they’re unsure of the pronunciation this can be stressful and demotivating for your little one. Instead, ask questions that allow them to demonstrate their knowledge without putting them on the spot. For example, don’t ask “What’s this called in English?”. Instead ask “Can you point at the squirrel? There it is!”
- If you speak a 2nd or 3rd language and you don’t have any books in that language, don’t worry. Your child can’t read fluently yet so they cannot check that you’re reading exactly what’s on the page. Choose a favourite book in language 1 and see if you can simply tell them the story in your additional language following the pictures and describing what’s happening.
- Do you have any bilingual books at home? How can you use them? Each parent reads the story in their preferred/strongest language at different times. This shows your child that each language has its place and is important and valued by your family. Perhaps one parent is still learning of those languages. Then they can demonstrate the effort it takes to read in an additional language and that it’s not always easy. You can laugh together at the difficulties in pronunciation and your child will realise that even parents don’t know all the words in the other family languages. This mirrors the efforts your child is making to learn your family languages. It shows them that you highly value being multilingual which is important for this long term project to be a success for your family.
- Don’t forget to do fun voices for different characters, perhaps give them different accents. Bring the story alive by getting your child to do actions, especially if there are animals in the story. Can you both stomp like an elephant and fly like a bird? Your child might need to move around while you’re reading, some are kinetic learners and this is how they process new information. Let them move and even if they look distracted, be assured that small children are ALWAYS learning.
- Lastly, give a good example – this works for most things in parenting – model what you want them to be doing. If you want them to read books, they need to see you reading books. If you want them to LOVE books, they need to see that you love books!
Which tip is most helpful for your multilingual family? Comment below and let us know!