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What if my child is reluctant to read or write in our home language?

The multi-literacy journey is a bumpy road. There are many ups and downs, and every big(ger) challenge can make us feel like the journey is coming to an end. In this blog post, I will deal with the most common challenges and will suggest possible solutions to overcome them.

Let me know in the comments if you are facing any other challenges.

Three common challenges

Starting on the journey is the most difficult step. Like when we ride a bike, the start is when we need to put the most effort in. But once we have started going, it becomes easier and easier.

(If you are thinking about starting this multi-literacy journey with your child, or if you are still on the very first step, I invite you to read this post “How to Start Your Child’s Biliteracy Journey”)

Losing momentum

Once we have started, the first bump we can encounter is generally due to losing the momentum:

  • We might have started in a very academic way. Our children might have put effort in at the beginning but it is now starting to feel difficult (and dry?) so they are more reluctant to do the work. Our children might be wondering why they have to learn to read and write in their home language.

  • You are realising that it takes time and preparation to keep the momentum going, and feel demotivated just thinking about doing this “all the time”. (Read this related blog post on establishing a reading routine)

Preferring to read in the school language

Your child might feel a big difference in terms of the effort they put while reading in their home language compared to when they do so in their school language. School aged children generally read a lot more in their school language than in their home language due to studying in that language. Logically, they improve more rapidly in their school language than in their home language. As a consequence, they might be more likely to go towards books in their school language, and improve their reading skills in that language.

Loving to read but being reluctant to write

For a child who is further down the line and enjoys reading in the home language (as well as in the school language), the problem might be writing. Our children might lack confidence and avoids doing it in the home language. (Read this related post on building children’s confidence in writing)

Let us see how to overcome these three common challenges.

Challenge #1: Losing momentum

Our children lose motivation

If we start teaching our children in an “academic way” i.e. using a book, sitting at a desk, chances are that after the initial excitement wears out, they see the work as a task they HAVE to complete rather than something fun and exciting they WANT to do. They will naturally be more fidgety, distracted and bored.

Let us NOT take this as a reflection of the time, energy and motivation on our part. It is generally due to one, or a combination, of the reasons listed below:

  • They work enough in school and don’t want to be working at home as well!

  • In school, even if they don’t want to work, they don’t really have a choice as everybody around them is working. (And even if they are being fidgety or bored in class, we do not know that)

  • They don’t want us to be their “teacher”, they just want us to be their “parent” (grandparent, uncle, aunt, or any other person we are to them)

What can we do about that?

First of all, please note the last point. We only need to BE OURSELVES! We need to leverage the relationship you ALREADY have with our children! (The bits of advice and tips I share in this blog and my book are here to help you leverage your relationship in the best way possible to teach your child)

The second point we can take away is that we do not have to follow any curriculum like schools do. We can teach our children by focusing 100% on their interests.

Therefore, the way we can get our children more engaged in reading and writing is by finding what MOTIVATES them. Doing this through GAMES is an excellent way to get our children involved.

The advantage of games is that:

  • They are fun, so if it requires to speak, read or write in the home language to be played, our children will WANT to do it.

  • The reward is immediate. We might find it important that our children becomes multi-literate as it will help them in the future in various ways. But they cannot understand that. It is too far in the future and too abstract. (But who could blame them? We, adults, are exactly the same!) With a game, the reward, i.e. the pleasure, is immediate.

Therefore, if learning becomes a consequence of the fun, our children will be asking for more! (Find more details in this video about Why and How to use games to teach a child to read and write in your home language )

Feeling overwhelmed

Even if our children are motivated, we might be the cause of this loss of momentum. Teaching our child to read and write in our language is a huge task, and it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed (especially at the beginning). External factors might also disturb well establish routines: deadlines at work, new family routines to adapt too, etc. Life can easily take over. But let me reassure you:

  1. Like riding a bike, the most effort we need to put in is at the beginning when everything is new, and we are establishing new routines. Once we get used to it and gain in experience, it will go a lot more smoothly.

  2. If our language is alphabet-based the hardest work will be at the beginning when our children are learning to decipher the letters. Once they start to be able to read more fluently, the biggest work on our part is to keep them interested in reading in their home language. In other words, we need to find books and various other sources to keep our children wanting to read.

That said, like raising a child with more than one language, raising a multi-literate child has to be a high conscious priority so that it does not get forgotten too often. Dedication and consistency from us is key.

What can we do?

  1. We need to establish routines that are DOABLE for US (as well as for our children).

  2. We need to keep in mind that we might not get things right the first time. We might plan too much to do, plan to work on literacy at a time when our children are too tired, and sometimes, they might simply not be in the mood. It is by doing that we will find our feet. So let’s not be afraid of making mistakes.

  3. Let’s take it step by step - the first step being to get our children interested and wanting to learn.

Challenge #2: Preferring to read in the school language

Reading needs to be an enjoyable activity for our children. If it requires too much effort, our children will naturally choose to read a book in the language that is easiest for them to read in (generally the school language).

Here are two easy ways we can lead our children to read more in their home language:

1) Create zero-at-stake opportunities for our children to read. These are not tasks we set, or books we decide to read together. They are simply opportunities they “randomly” encounters because something happens to be in their field of vision. In the majority language, these are for example the adverts we read when we are on the bus, simply because they enter your field of vision.

For our children, this could be notes we leave on a mini white board, the weekly schedule for everybody’s extra-curricular activities, a list of items to buy. It can also be more personally directed to your child such as a note on the bathroom mirror, or on a mini white board on the dinner table, jokes and sweet notes we leave in their lunch boxes, etc.

2) Reading aloud: We can read a story by taking turns so that our children reads part of the story and we read the rest. We need to judge how much our children want to read, and keep the experience enjoyable. If this means that we read 99% (or even 100%), so be it. This is still an opportunity for them to enjoy stories in our home language(s).

As a result, they will be exposed to stories in our language(s) and will know that there are fun and interesting books in our home languages too.

They will also be more likely to pick up the books we enjoy together when they are on their own. Indeed, if they are struggling to read (or are self-conscious of the fact that they cannot read as fast as us), they might be reluctant to read with / in front of us. They might however not mind reading it again on their own or to their little siblings.

Challenge #3: Loving to read but being reluctant to write

Reading “only” requires us to recognise the letters / graphemes / characters / words. On the other hand, writing demands much more accuracy. Our children might therefore happily read a book in our home language but be reluctant to write in it.

The first step, as mentioned in a previous post, is to build our children’s confidence in writing. As mentioned in this blog post, copying an example, or from a template can be an excellent way to achieve this.

Another important aspect is to find a purposeful writing activity. At the beginning of this post, we have mentioned how games could be a great motivator as our children experience an immediate reward (i.e.: the joy of playing the game and/or winning) – Click here to find more ideas in The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children.

The purpose can also be found in communicating with family and friends abroad with whom our children generally speak in the home language (Be careful! Voice notes as well as video calls might look like an easier option for our children…)

If our children enjoy reading and can already write relatively confidently but lack the motivation or the purpose to write in their home language, we can, for example, offer them “credit” to buy new books for every review written. The reviews could be written for books in the home language to justify the use of the home language (and is greatly appreciated by authors!)

They would therefore read and then write in the home language. I will let you judge how much “credit” a review is worth.

Please note that reviews are not that easy to write. Therefore, providing a template or an example will be very useful. We can also brainstorm together what to write. We then write it, and ask our children to copy it. We can of course ask them how to spell some words, or how some adjectives end (for languages were adjectives change according to the nouns they describe) to reinforce their knowledge of the rules that govern our written language(s).

With time, our children will become more confident, and we can then ask them to write, and assist them by answering their questions when they are hesitating. This is also a great opportunity to show our children how to use dictionaries and other tools to help them write.

Are you encountering any challenges on this multi-literacy journey? Let me know in the comments below.

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