Simple Hacks to Expose Your Bilingual Child To 1.8 Million Words a Year
Did you know that simply reading a book every day is the biggest indicator of a child’s academic success? Not socio-economic level, not the preschool or primary school they attend, not their parent’s level of education; but in fact, the simple act of having Mom or Dad read to them every single day. In fact, reading just 20 minutes a day exposes children to 1.8 million words a year! *
This exposure to words is extremely important for children learning a language, but it’s doubly so for bilingual children! Which is why I advocate reading to your child in the target language as often as possible. So really, there is one simple hack, and that is reading! However, I will share some tips (or hacks if you will) for making the most out of your reading time!
Picture walks are exactly what they sound like. Allowing a child to “read” a story to you based on the pictures. This is especially delightful to children when they know a story well and they feel like they can be the story-teller themselves. It will give you great insight into their minds as you see how much they can recall, understand, and expand upon a story.
This is a reading process based on the extensive research of Grover J. Whitehurst, Ph.D. It’s an interactive technique where adults prompt children with questions and engage them in discussions while they read a book.
I like to use a book and read it 4 or 5 times in that many days. It looks something like this:
Day 1: Introduce and read the book. Remember to talk about the author, illustrator and ask your child what they think the story will be about.
Day 2: Go through the story and prompt the child to talk about what they see in the pictures. What do you see? What color is it? What is he wearing? These types of concrete questions are great for introducing and reinforcing vocabulary.
Day 3: Looks a lot like day 2. It’s especially useful if you found that there was a lot of vocabulary your child did not know. You can also use the opportunity to expand upon what the child has said. “What do you see?” - “ I see a boy” - “ Yes, I see a boy wearing bright red boots.”
Day 4: Use this time to ask more open-ended questions about the story. What is happening? Why do you think? How does the character feel? How would you feel? Have you ever seen something similar? These are all great questions that can get children to expand and build upon their thinking and their knowledge of language.
Day 5: If needed, it is simply a repetition of day 4 where you and your child can expand upon what you discussed before.
Read books in multiple languages
A great way to encourage the use of a minority language is to read the same book in multiple languages. Read a story in the child’s strongest language and then re-read the story in the minority language. You can then proceed to compare and contrast the stories with your child.
Illustrate a story
This activity is great not only for young children, but for older children, teenagers and adults as well! It’s important to constantly use our creativity if we want to continue to grow! Creativity really is like a muscle. The more you practice, the better you will get!
Children can paint or draw a scene from a story that they just read. They can even make comic strips or illustrate a sequel to what they have read. Simply allowing them to express themselves with their favorite medium by using a story as a prompt.
Ask open-ended questions
It’s one thing to for a child to passively listen to a story, or even for him to read a story out loud, but it’s a completely different thing for them to actually understand what he or she has read. Reading comprehension is a skill that many children, and even adults, struggle with. One of the best ways to work on it is to ask open-ended questions. These are question that go beyond who, what, and how. They seek to have the child build responses that expand their scope of knowledge. Asking why, what if, what do you think leads to much more profound conversations.
Talk about the parts of a story
Older children can have conversations about the characters, themes and sequences of a story. These are the issues they would talk about in a literature class and are a great way to get children to engage with language, stories and the meaning of the worlds they dive into through these books.
Do you have any tips to share with us on reading with multilingual children? We would love to hear from you! Share in the comments.
About the Author
Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.