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The home language as "a key opening doors" as opposed to "a restriction"

We all want our multilingual children to grow up empowered by their languages. But the multilingual / multi-literacy journey is not easy. It demands a lot of dedication. As we try to maximise our children’s exposure to our home language(s), the school language can sometimes appear as “the enemy”, and we might be trying to keep it away. This is natural, but it can also result in our children rejecting or avoiding reading and writing in their home languages.

In this blog post, I will share a few ideas to help our children want to read in our languages.

#1 – Keep the experience positive.

This is very obvious but worth mentioning. If our children do not enjoy the experience because they feel FORCED to read/write, they won’t want to carry on. This does NOT mean that we must avoid any reading/writing unless our children ask for it. As mentioned in previous posts, we can have moments during the week where we work on literacy in the home language. And this practice is even more effective if the literacy “work” is playful (Read The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children for ideas and tips). Let us also remember to keep some time when we read and write for pleasure.

#2 - Do not pretend to play when you teach.

Children learn best while playing, and will happily engage in a treasure hunt activity, for example, to practise their reading or writing skills (watch this video on developing writing skills with the treasure hunt activity ). Let’s keep in mind that reading and writing in the home language will likely demand effort from our children. They will gladly put the effort if the learning is fun. However, if we try to sneak in some work in playful or relaxing activities, most children will become more reluctant. For example, if we have a bedtime story routine but tell our children to read more than they are comfortable with, they will be more reluctant to carry on this routine.

As a child, or even now as an adult, you have probably experienced the pressure of being watched. When I learnt to juggle with three balls, I remember wanting to show how well I could do it to my parents. But because of the pressure to do it well, I kept dropping the balls.

For our children who have learnt to read and do it quite fluently, it can be pressurising to read in front of you or other people. Therefore, even though our children CAN read more or less fluently, it does not mean that they will WANT to READ with you. Let’s give our children the choice to read out loud or not, when it is for pleasure.

#3 – When it comes to reading for pleasure, let’s not use our languages as a limiting criterion

As much as we want our children to read in the home language, when it comes to reading for pleasure, it is important not to present our language as a limiting criterion, but as expanding their choices.

Let me explain: If our children want to read a book with us and we tell them that they have to choose one in the home language, it limits the choice. However, if we ask them instead the type of book they want to read and they answer “a comic book”. We narrowed it down by genre. Then, if you have some in the community language, and others in your home language, the fact that they can read in both languages provides them more choice. They might not choose the one in our home language, but that would probably be because they prefer that story, not necessarily the language in which it is written.

#4 – Read for fun.

If our children go to a complementary school (or if we teach them), they read and write in their home language during these lessons.

It is nevertheless important to read as well for FUN. The way we teach them to read and write, or the way it is taught in their complementary school might be fun, but they don’t really have the choice of the activity.

In order to help our children experience reading for pleasure, and developing a love for reading in all their languages (home language included), books in your home language need to be read with “no strings attached”, purely to enjoy the story. This can of course take the form of us reading to them. Please let’s keep in mind that reading is not purely about decoding the words. As detailed in this video, there are many more skills that come into play. By reading TO our children, we might not practice decoding, but we can teach them new words, working out the implicit, etc.

It is by reading for fun with them that our children will be more likely to read for fun on their own in all their languages.

#5 – Let’s find books our children will enjoy reading

Some languages are a lot easier to get books in than others. For example, based in the UK, we find books in French more easily than books in Korean. The majority of our French books come from Amazon. On the other hand, those in Korean are mostly second hand, from Korean families with older children.

Depending on our children’s age e-books can make the search for interesting books a lot easier and cheaper.

One thing is certain: No matter the language, research will be needed. Forums and social media are a fantastic resource. They allow us to be in touch with families on the same multi-literacy journey and to get ideas of new books.

The time we spend researching these books are definitely worth it because:

  • Our children want to read these books, and will therefore practice independently.

  • It will help develop a love of reading in our home language.

  • These books are the perfect tool to help our children experience reading in our home languages for pleasure.

Have you tried other ways to help your child see reading and writing in their home language in a positive light? Please share in the comments below.

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Kate Mik
Kate Mik
Jun 06, 2022

Such useful tips and a new point of view on multiple literacies . A reminder to all of us, multilingual parents, about the time we should find and spend exploring new resources and investing into some high quality books our kids are fond of and eager to read. Respecting their choice and not limiting them can work wonders .

Yoshito DS
Yoshito DS
Jun 07, 2022
Replying to

Thank you very much Kate! I am glad you enjoyed this post!!

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