It is “World Read Aloud Day” on 1 February – a day to celebrate stories, books and reading. Started in 2010 by LitWorld, it is exclusively dedicated to the art, power and magic of reading aloud as well as to promoting literacy as a basic human right. In our hectic daily life, World Read Aloud Day aims to serve as a reminder to pause, grab a book and read to the people around us, making connections, not only having them share into our emotions but sharing into theirs as well.

I never get tired of books and the unique power stories have of bringing people together. Each new book brings about new experiences, impulses and outlooks. After my son was born, I decided to start a family tradition and make World Read Aloud Day special for him and for all of us by sharing a book that is especially dear to me. It’s been a great success and now that I also have a daughter, she enjoys it just as much. We start by talking about the book – the characters, the illustrations, they try to guess what the story (or stories) is (are) about and then I read it to them. After that we have a long chat about anything and everything that might have caught their attention, the feelings it invoked and the thoughts it provoked. Last year my son felt confident enough to have a go at reading the book, which was in Cyrillic (it always is!), and has been practicing ever since.

Books are powerful and reading is crucial for so many things – from vocabulary development, through literacy to academic success. Reading provides inspiration and motivation, and bilingual families rely heavily on these aspects to continue developing and maintaining their home language. That is often one of the greatest challenges – amount of quality input, resources, community support, etc – there is never enough. And things get even more demanding as our children grow up. However, harnessing the power of reading aloud could be a powerful resource to tackle that issue – for younger and older children alike. You might be surprised, but older children enjoy being read to almost as much as younger ones do. That’s why teachers have also been implementing reading aloud more and more into their daily practice – students are fond of it and it has proven valuable for literacy development. After all, “If the only thing a teacher shares is from a textbook, how are you going to get students excited about reading?” [1] And that’s exactly what we are after!

Reading aloud is beneficial at any age and doing it in the home language should be a priority and common practice in every bilingual family. Below are five compelling reasons why.

  1. Nurtures the love for reading

Undoubtedly, having lots of age- and interest-appropriate books is a terrific start to creating a favourable reading environment. Yes, building a home library with pretty-looking books and great-sounding titles will undoubtedly create a lovely and inspiring reading setting, but will not necessarily encourage a child to read. If they are curious and love a challenge, they might try one book or another, but they might give up quickly if faced with difficulties. And that id inevitable. That’s why it’s fundamental for a child to learn to read for the sheer pleasure of reading – not because they have to, but because they want to and enjoy doing it. Reading aloud to them, at any age, is a powerful way to do that – it will teach them to love reading for the pleasure of reading and that, in turn, will motivate and push them to do more and more of it. It needs practice, dedication and consistency though, just like building any habit.

2. Supports exposure to the home language

Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest reasons why reading aloud should be a priority in bilingual homes. With limited opportunities to speak and hear quality language as well as a potentially small home-language community, books are often one of the few resources a bilingual family has at their disposal.

3. Provides access to a wider variety of literature

At times, our child might be unable to read or otherwise access age-appropriate literature in the home language. But if you, as a parent, help them discover such stories by reading to them, you will open the door to a world they might have otherwise not have had the chance to be a part of. And that could fuel their motivation to read more in that language and continue developing their skills in it.

4. Helps expand vocabulary

Plain and simple, research has shown that the more children are read to in their first language, the more their vocabulary improves. And vocabulary is at the core of language, literacy and academic skills development.

5. Improves comprehension and develops active listening skills

Active listening skills and comprehension are fundamental to being a good communicator and reading aloud plays a big part in fostering these skills. Having talked about what the story might be about, when we are read to, we need to really focus on the sounds, words and the meaning that they make together. A subconscious process is triggered during which our knowledge of the world, memories and experiences all come together and interact in order to help us make sense of what we hear and to remember it. A study performed at the University of Perugia suggests that “actively listening to a story leads to more intense and deeper information processing“[2]

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A welcomed bonus: A bonding experience over a great story

Reading aloud with our children has invaluable emotional benefits, which might be underestimated at times. Bonding over stories and books in a language you share together is a very intimate experience. Reading to younger children usually happens quite naturally but connecting with your older child over books, discovering new common interests and passions, provides a unique opportunity for connection and seeing each other through a different lens. Priceless, isn’t it?!

Reading aloud with our children, discussing the stories and bonding over them is a precious gift we can give them. Not only for the purpose of developing their language skills but for the purpose of developing a life-long love for reading as well.

Below I have listed some websites that might help you start with your Read Aloud Day prep:

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  • Baker, C. (2014) A parents’ and teachers’ guide to bilingualism. 4th edn. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
  • Batini, F., Toti, G. and Bartolucci, M. (2016) ‘Neuropsychological benefits of a narrative cognitive training program for people living with dementia: A pilot study’, Dementia & Neuropsychologia, 10(2), pp. 127-133.
  • Wang, X-I. (2011) Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

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[2] Batini, F., Toti, G. and Bartolucci, M. (2016) ‘Neuropsychological benefits of a narrative cognitive training program for people living with dementia: A pilot study’, Dementia & Neuropsychologia, 10(2), pp. 127-133.