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How to start your child's biliteracy journey

There are many things we want in life. Some of them, we only dream of having, doing, or becoming. Others we challenge ourselves to become, do, and achieve them.

What is the difference? It’s how far we believe the goal is. It’s only if we believe we can reach them that we take action.

If you want your child to learn to read confidently, you first need to help them feel like it is within reach. This principle is one that guides the way I teach my sons to read and write in our home languages (French and Korean), and how I teach French and Spanish as foreign languages to my secondary school students. Through this blog (but also my YouTube Channel Library4Multilinguals, and my Instagram account @multilingual_dad) I want to share with you tips that will make your child’s bi/multi-literacy journey pleasant and enjoyable for your child AND for you!

How can we get a child who cannot read at all to believe that being able to read and write is within reach?

First of all, you can teach them to recognise some letters/characters without them realising they are learning. In that way, when you actually embark on the literacy journey they feel like not everything is completely new. And like the image below suggests, with smaller steps to climb, the goal is a lot more achievable.

The aim is to show your child that they can already read, and that they just need to perfect their skills!

How can you achieve that? This would vary according to how old your child is, and whether they can read in another language or not.

Before you read any further, I would like to mention that the examples I give below are things you can do with very young children. It does NOT mean that you have to do it all exactly in the way I explain. Adapt it to your child's interests and your circumstances. The aim is to show that we can work on literacy at any age, keeping in mind that the older a child is, the faster their progress will be. (Fine motor skills is also something to develop)

Associating Sounds With Shapes

In the same way babies learn the meaning of a word by encountering it in specific contexts, babies and children can start recognising and associating very early on certain shapes with the sound that represents them. In other words, they can associate a letter/character with a sound or its name.

The earliest memory I have of my son making this association is when my eldest was probably about 5-6 months old.

Elmer’s friends was a board book we were reading very often (one reason being that it was one of the only children’s books we had back then). In this story Elmer meets all his animal friends. I used to change my voice to match the animals and the adjectives describing them to make the content of the story more lively. I would also do gestures. For the snake, my finger would slither down the page like a “S”, and I would say “sssssssnake”. After a while, he started tapping on the page of the snake saying “k” which was his way of saying and gesturing “snake”.

Later on, when my eldest was about two years old, I remember playing with wooden alphabet puzzles where behind each letter there was an animal that started with the corresponding letter. There was a cat for the letter “c”, a dog for “d”, a whale for “w”, etc. I would make stories to associate each wooden letter with a sound / animal.

We would for example:

- pretend all the letters had to find their “homes” (i.e. their places on the wooden board) and I would say: “Where is the c-c-cat?” while tracing the letter “C” where it was supposed to go. And we would try to find the letter “c”, and to fit various letters.


- I would hold one of the wooden letters and ask “Who’s that?” and he would take the piece try to fit it in the right place and call the name of the animal.

I was doing these things more to connect and play with my son than to teach him anything. But as a consequence, when he turned 3, he could recognise most letters of the alphabet.

Familiarising your child with something before actually teaching it, is amazing to boost their confidence when tackling such a big task that learning to read is. Of course, it can be repeated throughout the learning process.

One way of doing that is to create “#referencewords”.

Creating Reference Words

A “reference word” is a word containing a (complex) element that you can refer to every time you want to remind your child about it. The repetition will strengthen the neurological pathways and make it memorable.

E.g.: gingerbread man could be a #referenceword to remember that the letter “g” is read [dʒ] before “i” and “e” (and [g] when followed by any other letter). Your child’s name can of course be a reference word as well, especially if you introduce a #newscript.

When my eldest started school at 3, I observed a daily routine using this concept of reference word that the nursery he attended was using.

When arriving, children had to pick their name tags (on which there was also their picture). They had to pick it up and stick it on the presence board.

After a while, these cards were displayed on the wall next to the same table. But this time, only their names were on the table. Children had to pick their names, and could refer to their cards with their name and picture on the wall to compare and pick up their name on the table.

Months later, they started working on letters and sounds in class, and the names of children were used to create words. Their own name and their classmates’ ones became reference words.

I absolutely LOVE that kind of activities for several reasons:

  1. #ROUTINES help embed learning at the child’s pace. The same thing is repeated over and over until your child learns it.

  2. The teachers left the original cards on the wall for students to refer to them if needed. They were therefore #SUPPORTED while the challenge was increased.

  3. The activity was #PURPOSEFUL, and the children learnt to recognise their names AS A CONSEQUENCE i.e. stress-free. (The visible purpose for children was to show that they were present.)

  4. The knowledge the students got from this daily routine became a STEPPINGSTONE to help them learn to read and write.

Key Ideas

Here are a few things I would like you to take away from this post:

  1. When teaching something complex, break it down into very small steps.

  2. Create a feeling of #Familiarity.

  3. Repetition is important, but make the activity purposeful and/or fun for the best chances of remembering what you are teaching. Engaging emotionally our children is crucial!

Are you planning to teach your child to read and write in your home language(s)? Or are you already on this journey? If you have any question you would like me to address in future blog posts, let me know in the comments below.

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