Question

We are raising our three kids (4,6,7) bilingually as well and I’m informing other parents about this.

Now I have a question for you, as I don’t find a lot of information on the web about this: how should we deal with learning to read and write in both languages? When should we start teaching our kids? Did you find studies on this topic?

Thank you in advance!

With best wishes,
Jeanette

Answer

Dear Jeanette,

Many thanks for your question. I am sure many parents are wondering as well about the right time to teach their children to read and write in the various languages they are using at home.

I would be interested to know which languages you are using at home to give you a very accurate answer. My first answer would be to start when you feel that your children are ready. There is not one single strategy. It all depends on the languages which are in the home and the way the children are managing them and how ready both parents and children feel into entering this new stage in the acquisition of the languages.

There is no need to force it on them and then they may reject it. However, if – when you are reading to them in the various languages they have at home – you are following with your finger the words you are reading, your children are already learning to read as they follow your finger. Unconsciously, they create pictures of the words in their heads. If they have a great interest in books, they may start reading by themselves. Once they have pictures of the words into their heads, it is easier then to start on trying to read similar words and then try to reproduce them in writing.

Another strategy which could be more demanding, is to wait until your children have learned to read and write in the language used at school. They would then be familiar with the letters and their sounds. Then you can use what they have learned at school and try and apply it to the other languages. It is easy enough, if the various languages are using the same alphabet and a similar way of reading (from left to right and not from top to bottom or right to left).

You can also suggest to your children to write postcards to their grand-parents and cousins. In copying what they would have dictated to you, they will learn to read and write. There is no set method. I personally do not know of any studies on the topic.

Do not forget that it will be very demanding on you and your husband and once you have started, it is going to be a long process as learning to read and write is even quite long in the language used at school. You will also need a lot of patience as sometimes in some languages, words are pronounced in a similar manner, but are written differently (I think for example at the word “surfer” in English would have the same pronunciation than in French, but would then be written: “surfeur”). If you ask me about grammar, then, I think you can explain it as you come across some points, or you can ignore it and hope your children will get it as they read…
I do not think there is a simple answer to that question and I wished I could give you one.

I wish you all the best and would be very happy to hear from you and how your children are enjoying being able to read and write in all the languages they master.

All the best
Isabelle

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