The Bilingual Child and Reading

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The Bilingual Child and Reading

Children who grow up in bilingual households have a distinct advantage in society, especially if they continue to fluently speak both languages into their teen and adult years. It can be tricky and confusing, however, for a child to parse the differences between the two languages, and they may sometimes confuse one for the other. Reading is a fundamental skill in helping them to build the foundations they need to effectively communicate. Here are the reasons why building bilingual reading skills with your child are vital to their communication and success in life.

Bilingual Reading

Bilingual reading with your child is a fun and engaging way to help the child expand their vocabulary and introduce them to the traditions and customs of the cultures whose languages they speak. It’s important to choose the right language when engaging in reading time. If one parent speaks Spanish and the other English, each should stick to the language with which they are most comfortable. This will help to avoid confusing the child.


Primary Language

Your child may naturally gravitate towards one language over the other. This is normal and shouldn’t be taken as an insult to the other language. When first teaching your child to read, stick to their primary language, which will usually be the dominant language of your community. This will help the child to build fundamental skills before branching out to the other language.


Bilingual Books

Using bilingual books, or keeping copies of books in each language, can be a handy tool. This allows the child to experience the same story from two different languages. It will help them to differentiate between the two languages and learn how they relate in vocabulary and conceptually. Children can compare and contrast the two presentations, which will engage their critical thinking.


General Tips to Keep Them Reading

The real trick is to keep the child reading in both languages. As the child moves towards being comfortable with one language they may shift away from reading in the other. You need to encourage them to keep developing bilingual skills. Start reading at a young age—it is never too early.


Make sure your kids see you reading. Engage their interests in the topics you present. Relate topics to history and culture. Make magazines, newspapers, online articles, games and interactive e-books available as alternate reading materials. Get family and friends involved, and take every opportunity you can find to get your kids reading. The more they read, the more reading will become a part of their everyday lives.


When the time comes to start your child on their journey towards reading in two languages, introduce interactive e-books as a means of engaging them. Take a look at the free books we offer in English and Spanish, and then look at the variety of other literacy tools including mobile apps that we have available for you.