One of the questions that comes up in almost every seminar I do is related to reading. Most of the families I work with are lucky enough to have available children’s books in both family languages. Children (being often contrary) tend to pick up a book from the “other” language and refuse any attempt to be directed to a book in the “right” language for the reading parent. So, what’s a parent to do? Stumble through in an attempt to read the Dutch book? Refuse altogether? Or, the third, and preferred option, read the book in the “right” language? I think that parents should never refuse to read a book their child has chosen. But, I also think that with young children, consistency of language input is important. So, parent becomes translator for the moment, and reads the book in their preferred language. This is easy enough when the book is a baby book, with words alone, or simple text. But what about when the books get harder? And the parent doesn’t actually understand? Well, at this point, parent becomes author… and creates their own story to go with the pictures, engaging their child about the content along the way.
Now, wouldn’t it just be easier to say “Sorry honey, that book is in Daddy’s language, so you have to wait for Daddy to read it.”? Yes, of course. But the message you send to your child about reading, in all their languages, is worth the effort. For a child to see the same story, told in different languages, and sometimes even in different ways, is a demonstration of the dynamic nature of both bilingualism and reading, and that, in my opinion, is worth the effort.
Author’s note: I’ve decided to spend some time on the theme of reading in 2014, so the next few posts will all be related to bilingualism and reading. Upcoming is biliteracy, and I am also going to feature some great resources for bilingual literacy. If you have any questions relating to this topic, please post them!