Reading with the multicultural child [guest post]

by | Jan 13, 2016 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Family life, Grandparents, Language and bilingualism, Practical advice | 4 comments

Kathryn HowesIt’s a great joy and honour to have Katey Howes join my blog as a guest today! Katey is a mom of three, children’s author and literacy advocate who blogs about raising kids who love to read at Kateywrites. Katey is a native English speaker who studied in Madrid, and now makes New Jersey her home base for family adventures around the world. You can find Katey on Instagram @kidlitlove and on Twitter @kateywrites, or use the hashtag #RaisingReaders to find and share tips, ideas and special moments related to reading with children. Katey’s first picture book, Grandmother Thorn, is set in rural Japan. It is scheduled for release in Spring 2017 from Ripple Grove Press. Enjoy Katie’s post!

Reading with the multicultural child

The more a child is exposed to books, the more likely he or she is to become an avid reader.

Studies spanning 27 countries and several decades show that having books in the home when children are young correlates with completion of college.

Children who are read to show improved verbal and written language skills. People who read fiction have been shown to have greater empathy. Any way you look at it, it’s clear that books help to build smart, strong, sympathetic children.

In a multilingual or multicultural household, they can play an even bigger role. Books can serve as a bridge to help explain difficult vocabulary, concepts and traditions. They offer visual and context clues that may be hard to find in day-to-day life. Books provide concrete links between written and spoken language, and show the similarities (and differences!) between different written languages.

Beyond those very important basics, books offer a way to connect person-to-person through the read-aloud.
When a parent, grandparent, cousin, baby-sitter, nanny, au pair, or friend reads aloud with a child, it reinforces a number of things.

• Reading is fun.
• Reading is valued.
Different voices read different ways.
• It’s okay to bring your own perspective to a book – books are subjective experiences.
• The caregiver wants to spend time with the child, one-on-one.

Reading aloud together improves vocabulary skills, fluency, and reasoning. And studies show these effects are taking place in the brain even before the child is verbal. Reading aloud to very young children, even babies, helps them develop the mental connections for processing and creating spoken language. Maybe you knew that. But did you also know that reading aloud together improves emotional bonding and self-confidence in children? It’s true!

The more members of your family/community who read with your child, the better! The child will not only feel loved and form strong attachments, but he or she will build language and literacy skills, learn to ask and answer questions, and make connections between written and spoken languages.

Each member of your child’s extended family/caregiver network can contribute to the child’s emotional, educational, and cultural development through the read-together. Here are just a few ways to get started:

1. Read a simple board book written in the child’s majority language several times, so that the child is familiar with the words. Then go back through and name different items in the pictures/story in a minority language.

2. Read a rhyming book aloud in any language. Ask the child to help you think of more words that rhyme. You may be surprised that he/she comes up with words in multiple languages!

3. Read fairy tales and folk tales from various traditions in either majority or minority language. Talk about cultural significance of these books, or just share simple messages, like “Grandma loved this story when she was little!”

4. Get copies of the same book in multiple languages. Read them one after the other, or compare page-by-page.

5. Find books that show events and places significant to your family and culture. Look at the pictures together and talk about them. Encourage the child to ask questions of caregivers, using the book as a starting point.

6. While reading a familiar book, replace a word with an incorrect/silly/opposite word or a word from an alternate language. Children delight in catching your “mistake” and correcting you!

7. Look for books that feature multilingual and/or multicultural families and include these in your collection. Children love to “see themselves” in story.

Reading with the multicultural child

One of my favorites is Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells.

Encourage grandparents, extended family, caregivers and friends to read aloud with your multilingual child – in any language. Let them choose from the books you have at home and ask them to bring their favorites.

There is no wrong way to read together! The key is that the caregiver and child are exploring together, deepening their emotional bond while learning and having fun.

With repetition of this practice, the child becomes more attached to both the caregiver and the experience of reading – in any language.

Thank you so much, Katey! Don’t you just love all the benefits reading brings with it! (oh, and I LOVE the tip #6 – I will definitely be “misreading” with my grandchild!)

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  1. Chris Drew

    Thanks Katey (and thanks as always Rita)

    My Grandmother always said “whatever else you go without, there is always money for books”. I’ve never forgotten this, and even before my eldest daughter was born, I was buying books. And I’ve never stopped. They have been second-hand quite often (ebay, amazon third-party sellers, charity shops on trips back to the UK, jumble sales), but always books. And magazines. In both languages. Subscriptions to magazines are great presents, and children just love getting stuff through the post with their names on it. The house is full of books (I haven’t counted but I’m pretty sure the 500 mark mentioned has been breached!). And we all read. You, as a parent, have to show you read, and the enjoyment it brings to you, if you want your child to take the same interest. But nothing is better than time spent with your child reading, and teaching them to read. I taught both of mine to read English (our minority language) before they could read in French – and no harm whatsoever has come to them!

    Read, share reading, and show you enjoy reading yourself (though this might require the TV not to be turned on – and I can promise you that doing that is not a bad thing either!)


    • Katey Howes

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I agree with you (and your Grandmother!) It’s not enough just to say “reading is important” or to fill out a reading log for school. Parents need to show through their actions that reading is a priority. Trips to the library, reading together, reading alone…there are so many ways to do it! I hope you drop by my blog sometime and let me know if it inspires you. You’ll find a lot of like-minded parents in the community there, too. You might find this post right up your alley.

      So glad to hear from you,


  2. Filipa

    An alternative to #4 is to buy bilingual books which is usually more cost effective. So mom and dad can each in their own language read the same story to their children.


    • Katey Howes

      That’s a great idea. Thanks so much for sharing!


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