Reading: Who does what, and why?

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!

2 thoughts on “Reading: Who does what, and why?

  1. expatsincebirth says:

    That’s a very important aspect in bringing up bilingual or multilingual children. We have children books in many languages and it happened quite often that my children would choose a book that wasn’t written in my husbands or my mothertongues. We choose to read them anyway in the language they were written, unless our children would insist us reading in “our” language. But they did it only a couple of times and then agreed that if the book was written in Italian, they would hear us reading Italian, idem for Dutch, German, English. The same applies to our audiobooks and CD’s. What helped in the beginning was having also an edition of the same book in another language (this is not possible for all books, of course). – But I must say that I found the fact of reading a chosen book in for example Dutch was very good for all of us: the children would see us sometimes struggling with the language and taking over the “teacher” part by telling us the right pronunciation (and they were toddlers ;-)).

    • eacrisfield says:

      Yes, now that the kids are older, we use different languages when reading (I’ll be talking about that in an upcoming post). But I do think that with young children (under 3-4 years) parental consistency is important even in reading.

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