Updated: Sep 19, 2021
When we are raising children with multiple languages, we might have as one of our goals for our children to be able to read and write proficiently in our home languages. In this post, I would like to share with you four tips to set you on the right track.
In this post, I will share with you 4 thoughts to guide you on your #multiliteracyjourney.
But first of all, let us talk about the context in with our children live in. The #communitylanguage and the #schoollanguage appear as being useful and important. When we can read in that/those language(s) we are independent and can achieve anything we like/need without anybody’s help.
However, with our home languages it is another story. They are generally only present at home. Our children might see us reading in these languages, and read to them, but except the fact that mummy and daddy can read them more books, which is fun, is there a real necessity to be able to read?
Why would our children want to go through the “pain”? (It might not be painful, but it surely demands a lot of effort!)
We, parents, know all the practical benefits literacy brings, more educational and professional opportunities, it might help them have more freedom as to where they want to work and live in the future, better command of the language, etc.
The problem is that they all refer to potential benefits in the future.
To justify putting effort in learning to read and write, our children need faster, more immediate rewards. (If you want to know how to achieve that, don’t miss next week’s blog post on Establishing a reading routine)
In these difficult circumstances, how can we create an environment that will help our children to become multi-literate? Here are 4 useful thoughts to keep in mind to guide you on your multi-literacy journey.
1- HELP THEM LOVE TO READ in general and be interested in books.
Before our children learn to read, they need to see how it benefits them. They need to feel transported into wild adventures, discover incredible things! They need to get a taste of what it is to be able to read and devour books as they please (without having to ask someone to read it to/for them!).
It is often said that for a child to like/love reading, parents have to show the example. Well, that might be a small contributing factor, but the most important thing to do is to enable them to EXPERIENCE this pleasure by themselves.
Here are a few things you can do:
Read them books, and through your voice, make the story come to life! Change your voice to embody different characters, exaggerate their feelings, do some sound effects, etc. This will transport them into the different stories you read. The emotions you create while reading will give them a taste of what it means to be able to read books on their own.
Link some books to your culture(s) and your childhood. Children love to know what the adults in their lives used to do and like at their age. Being half-French Astérix et Obélix, Tintin, and Lucky Luke were part of my childhood, and I now share my love for these books and characters with my sons. And being half-Japanese, I also share my PASSION for ドラえもん (Doraemon), with them!! Discover new books in your home language(s) too! Browsing Amazon, following various blogs and accounts that review books, buying and/or getting second-hand books from families in your community are a few ways you can discover little gems.
Make reading books a precious time, a bonding time between you and your child. As a consequence, your child will associate these moments with reading.
2- DO NOT REJECT THE COMMUNITY LANGUAGE!
As parents raising multi-literate children, we can often fear the community language. We are afraid that our little multilinguals will “end up” monolingual or mono-literate. As a consequence we prioritise books in the minority language(s) (i.e. our home language(s)). If it means that we search for more books in our home languages, and more opportunities to read and write them, it is perfectly fine. Let’s just make sure we don’t reject (or ban!) books in the school/community language(s) the community language.
Indeed, it is important to keep in mind that:
The skills our little ones develop when learning to read in one language can be transferred into another language (Watch this YouTube video on “How Leverage will help your child to read and write”, and watch out for my future posts on “Scarborough’s ropes applied to our multi-literate kids” and “Are reading skills transferable from one language to another?”)
Our children are growing up in a country. It is important that we recognise that it is (going to be) part of who they are as much as our culture. Rejecting or banning books in the community language is, in a way, saying that we are rejecting a part of who they are.
The multiple languages our little ones speak are “tools” that enable them to access more! More people, more cartoons and other fun things, and overall more opportunities. In the same way being able to read in different languages helps them access more books they enjoy! Showing them that they can access a wider range of books shows them the benefits of being multi-literate. What is the point of being refused access to books they might enjoy in the school/community language? We want to empower them with skills that give them options, choice, opportunities. Ring-fencing them to only read in their home language is giving them the wrong message.
3) SHIFT YOUR FOCUS from your aspirations to your child’s feelings.
When we want our children to be able to be literate in our home language, we often have our own aspirations in mind. We see the practical side of what it could bring our little ones later on.
However, when it comes to the journey itself and how to reach the goal set, it is important to take into account THEIR feelings, and plan activities that THEY enjoy.
A very important question we need to ask ourselves is “Why would they WANT to read in our home languages?”
Everything around them is in the community language (or school language). They appear important and necessary to understand. Sure, you read them fascinating stories in your home languages that they love! But why would they want to be able to read them on their own?
One solution (the one we adopted in our family) was to shift the focus from reading and writing to having fun. Reading and writing were the skills they developed as a consequence of playing these games (Check The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children for 70+ activities to develop reading and writing in a fun, engaging and purposeful way)
(Here is a double page from The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children. In this version of the #memorygame, a pair of cards is obtained when an image and its corresponding word are discovered. Your child therefore needs to read the words in order to know if they found a pair or not. Reading allows the game to take place. This is a fun way to practise reading!
For Resources Pack accompanying the book, click here .)
4) ZERO AT STAKE reading and writing opportunities.
What do I mean by “zero at stake”? Simply that whether your child reads/writes or not, it doesn’t matter. It is just an opportunity presented that they take or not. In other words, they CHOOSE. Giving this choice is important to make them independent and get into the habit of reading on their own.
When your child starts to be able to read, you will see that they will want to read anything around. That could be the titles of your books, the back of a pack of cereals, etc. When they are in that stage, if you provide simple but #meaningfultexts, on top of the joy of being able to read successfully, they will be excited to discover what the text says.
Here are a few examples that you can include from the start of your child’s multi-literacy journey:
- Little notes in your little ones pack lunch.
- Messages written on the bathroom mirror that appear when the bathroom gets steamy.
- Notes left by the tooth fairy, Santa, or any other imaginary character.
- Morning messages (one of the activities included in The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children)
(This message says “In your opinion, in your class, how many children will be wearing black shoes?” It was on a non-uniform day, so students were wearing their own clothes. Each of my sons wrote how many children they thought would be wearing black shoes. My youngest also wrote the name of his friend who would certainly be wearing Batman shoes. It was also the opportunity to remind my youngest some of the French graphemes.)
Make the multi-literacy journey exciting, fun, positive, and natural!
Reading and writing are skills that your child will have to LEARN. It is not as natural as acquiring a language. It is therefore very important to help your child love to read, by reading with them and to them, so that once they start mastering these skills, they can use them independently. Make sure you do not reject the community/school language. When you start teaching your child to read and write, focus on making it an enjoyable experience, and provide opportunities to your child to read and write with “zero at stake”.