I am delighted to have Marianna Du Bosq from Bilingual Avenue write today’s guest post about the importance of books in supporting children’s language development.
Marianna has taught dual language learners for several years and is one of our Family Language Coaches. She runs a popular site for multilingual families where you can find lots of interesting and informative podcasts on the topic of raising bilingual children. Now enjoy Marianna’s post:
Reading to your child is one of the best things you can do for their overall development. Many studies have shown that children who are exposed to reading at home from an early age are more likely to achieve higher levels of academic excellence. Reading is also a fantastic strategy to add exposure to the target language!
To make the most out of your family reading time, check out these six principles that can help your children further their language development. These six concepts are described in detail in a great research article titled “How Reading Books Fosters Language Development around the World.”
1. Children need to hear many words often!
As parents, your daily interactions will provide your child with the foundation for their vocabulary. Books can help you further the vocabulary that you are presenting to your kids. A book can include words you may not regularly use in your everyday vocabulary and, therefore, fill in any gaps. By reading different books on different topics you are immediately providing your child with new words. Think about that when you are making a book selection. Try to add books to your library that cover a wide range of topics so they can then become your friend when working on vocabulary with your kids. This will help you add some words to your child’s vocabulary that you do not typically use yourself.
2. Children learn words when they are interested!
Kids tend to learn quite a bit when parents simply follow their lead when playing and talking. The same occurs when reading together. When you are working on age-appropriate books, you are likely to be working with text that is of interest to your child. If your child is at the age where they want the same book read over and over, do not worry. This is actually a great sign! It is an indicator that you have picked a book that is interesting to your children and they will likely be receptive to picking up the vocabulary in that text with relative ease. Do not shy away from reading the same book over and over.
3. Children learn best when adults are responsive to them!
This is probably something you already know really well. If you are a parent or an educator you know that children do indeed learn best when the adults in their lives are responsive to them. Chances are you are already doing this, but just in case you want to be more cognizant of how to do it, here are some things to keep in mind specifically when you are reading books.
When your child notices something on a page that you are reading or that they are reading to you, follow up by making a related comment or question to whatever caught their eye. Try to express a positive attitude when something seems to trigger their interest. Use this interest as an opportunity to add more vocabulary of your own in your response to what your child is saying. They may not be able to repeat your complex language patterns just yet but their brain is still absorbing what you are saying so keep adding those words where you can while being responsive to your child’s interest.
4. Words are learned when meanings are made clear!
Books can be a powerful tool to teach new words but you cannot just read words in a book and assume that your child has magically picked them up! Your children will need to understand and internalize what the words actually mean so this is where you come in!
When you come across a new word that your child does not yet have as part of their vocabulary, explain what the word means. You can do that by pointing at the picture in the book. Do not hesitate to pause and use the illustrations to explain what a word means. You can act it out if it is an action, use a different tone of your voice if that lends itself to better convey the meaning or try to explain it with context clues if you have older children.
5. Vocabulary and grammar are learned together!
When teaching vocabulary to your kids, it is important to use grammar correctly so that your kiddos can learn language efficiently. Books can usually be a great way to expose your children to new vocabulary with good grammatical structure. Keep in mind when using books to teach vocabulary and grammar to avoid books that use incorrect grammar.
Also, keep yourself accountable and avoid using incorrect grammar yourself when reading to your child even if you are trying to simplify things. For example, do not skip a verb or an article so that it is easier for your child to repeat what you are saying. They will repeat what they can and slowly but surely they will also pick up the grammar if you continue to expose them to it.
6. Keep it positive!
We know that a positive environment is important for the development of our little ones. Part of that positive environment is having positive conversations. When you are reading a book with your children you are both focusing on the same text together which is just a perfect gateway to stating a positive conversation with your child. Take advantage of that opportunity and those special moments that you share together.
Next time you are settling down to read a book with your children, consider revisiting one, two or all six of these principles and see how it can help your own family’s language journey.
(Image of father, mother and children courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.)
Thank you, Marianna, for writing this great post!
… and thank YOU for reading!