Early bilingual readers: 10 hacks to stimulate their reading curiosity

Reading requires a lot of efforts from early readers. Sometimes, these efforts put them off, even if they are doing well. The idea of reading an early reader book can bore them in advance, or even daunt them.
Here are little hacks you might want to test with your child, and see if some of them can tickle their curiosity beyond their reluctance. Even if it is not much reading compared with formal book reading, every little helps. A little reading everyday goes a long way. And the use of reading outside the formal educational framework of books might also make it less intimidating and give it a more practical approach that might speak more to children (remember, they are pragmatic).

  1. Karaoke – Inspired by a fellow bilingual mum’s experience, I recently experimented that…and it has been a huge hit with my 6-year old! I showed her YouTube videos of her favourite Disney movies with the lyrics, and showed her how to pause the videos to be able to read the lyrics to sing them. She also enjoyed using my computer as I never allow her to and had the initiative to use the paddle to follow the lyrics with the pointer. We had a great time singing together. It is definitely worth a shot!
  2. Comics – The text in bubbles might seem less massive than full paragraphs, even if the book includes illustrations. A plus side to comics is that it has illustrations for everything said, hence helping the child to understand what they are reading. Some publishers do offer early reader comics such as Scholastic’s Haggis and Tank Unleashed. To make reading even less scary and more fun, you could read it together, each reading a different character. For the anecdote, when my husband moved to France, he read loads of comics to pick up French. So comics definitely seem like a good language learning tool. 😉
  3. Labels – In 12 ideas to add subtle exposure to the minority language , I mentioned creating subtle minority language (ml) exposure through labelling glass jars. This labelling (which can be extended beyond the kitchen in some circumstances) gives the child the opportunity to read simple things. Much less daunting than a paragraph or book. It also labels things of their daily life, and not something as abstract as a story.
  4. Materials related to their interest – For instance, my 6-year old has an interest in yoga (she assimilates it to gymnastics) and spontaneously read Mariam Gates’s “Goodnight Yoga” on her own and did the poses on her own.
  5. Sticker albums – some sticker albums might contain a bit of text. If your child is fond of the sticker’s theme/character, s/he might be tempted to make the effort to read the related text.
  6. Trading cards – At the moment, Pokemon trading cards are a hit at my daughter’s primary school. They contain an illustration but also a little text. If your child is interested in that kind of things, why not look up something of the kind? 😉
  7. Games involving a little reading – Some games like happy families or quiz contain a little text. This could be a nice subtle way to incite your child to read in a playful situation.
  8. Mystery word – If your child is curious and likes guessing games, why not try creating a mystery word? It is not much reading, but it is still a little grain of sand toward building your child’s confidence in reading.
  9. Leaving short messages – In my Captive Reading Ideas board, I suggest the use of leaving short messages about your child using brightly coloured chalk-markers on unusual surfaces such as mirrors.
  10. Having a ml schedule for your child’s week – This could be a nice subtle way to get your child to read. The short text about their day-to-day might once again feel less intimidating and more practical than paragraphs and stories.

Your child might not spontaneously read the text on the above listed resources. But with a little pointer such as showing interest for his trading cards and asking him/her about the text might do the trick.
Also bear in mind that up until now, you child has been accustomed to a grown up reading for them. It might not even cross their mind to use their budding reading skills. So do give them gentle reminders whenever you see fit, to encourage them to use their newly acquired reading skills and make them feel that they are now “big” and can do like the “big ones”.

Do you have any hacks to share? Please use the Comment section to add them to this list! 🙂

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Bilingual exposure: sharing a parent-child activity

I recently began yoga and took a certain liking to it. So much so that I have ordered a yoga mat and other accessories, so as to be able to practice at home.

When my children are about (and allow me to do so!), I unroll my mat and follow one of the many yoga videos available online. The first time, my kids looked at me as if their mum had gone mad! 😀 But very soon, my 6-year old asked to join in my “gym”. I was a bit surprised yet discovered it reminded her of her gymnastic classes at school that she likes very much. So we set up her foam playmate as an improvised yoga mat. Obviously, I am no yoga instructor, but thanks to an acquaintance, I discovered there is actually quite a lot of children-orientated yoga material out there. Including yoga videos for children…in English!

This has been a real discovery yoga-wise as well as minority language (ml) wise. I can use our common interest to generate extra fun exposure to our ml. Since then, I have played several online videos in English that my eldest followed religiously, purchased children’s yoga cards which we studied, discussed and executed together, giving rise to some complicity and laughter. I also got her a very beautiful and poetic yoga book called “Goodnight Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story” My daughter took a liking to it and began reading it on her own and even practicing on her own; hence stimulating her reading in the ml, creating more ml exposure.
I have also recently discovered www.kidsyogastories.com which seems like a wealth of yoga-related information that I have yet to fully discover and use to maybe create a weekly “Yoga Time” with my eldest.

Now, I agree that yoga might not be everybody’s cup of tea. However, the underlying message here is to look at sharing an activity in the ml with your child, to make it an opportunity to spend not only quality time together, but also to create a learning opportunity in the ml and generate additional ml exposure. This activity can be anything, from yoga to music, from learning to draw with online videos to joining a ml book club to share book reviews such as Toppsta.com.

I have yet a lot to do to build on this new interest from the bilingual education perspective. However, I wanted to share this initial reflexion here.

Do you have any tips or ideas on child-parent activities? Please share them in the Comment section.

ml@h tips: 3 ways to clear your bookshelves of Majority Language text

If you are a ml@home family, you might want to fight off the influence of the Majority Language (ML) on your home by limiting the amount of ML text around your house.

A good place to start with is your bookshelves, as they are bound to contain a lot of ML text. 3 options are available to you that you can pick and mix according to your needs:

  1. Give away all the ML books you no longer wish to keep or are unlikely to read again – if you do not know what to do with them, here are some ideas:
    • Give them to your relatives – Why not organise a book give away and gather all your loved ones? Or share a list of these books among your Facebook friends?
    • Give them to your colleagues – Why not share the book list with colleagues who might be interested?
    • Give them to your local library – You might want to contact your local library as they might welcome new books for free. Another advantage is that if you should ever regret an old book of yours, you’ll be able to go and borrow it from them! ;).
    • Give them to your local school’s library – If you have a lot of ML children’s book, why not contact your local school and check if they would welcome new books for free.
    • Give them to charities – some charities such as Le bouquin volant gather books to promote your ML abroad.
    • Sell them to a second-hand bookshops.
    • Sell them online.
    • Sell them on a second-hand markets – Very popular in France, these might be the opportunity for you to sell your old books if you happen to have such markets too.
  2. Put out of sight the ML books you wish to keep – Either on the highest shelf so the ML text is not at your kids’ eye-level or in a secret place such as a large drawer under your bed that your children might be unaware of.
  3. Display your ML books with their spine back to front – This is in fact a trendy decoration tip to harmonise your bookshelves colour as books tend to come in loads of different conspicuous colours. But this tip also works wonders in ml@home households!

Any other ideas? Please inspire us by sharing them in the Comment section!

Bilingual hairstyling

Now, you might wonder at my silly title for this blog entry. What is there of bilingual to hair styling? Well…entertainment!

My 2-year old has developed her elder sister’s (and other little girls’ worldwide!) love for Frozen, and more specifically for Anna and Elsa’s hairdo! Problem? Try French-plating a toddler twice for the Anna hairstyle! It is near impossible, unless they stay still…. Which is as likely as you winning the lottery!
She has been requesting the Anna hairdo for the last 2 weeks, everyday without fail and has pretty much cooperated on a daily basis, staying relatively still (with hindsight, maybe I should have got myself several lottery tickets… 😉 ). However, over time, her patience is growing thin.

This week, in a desperate attempt to keep her from fidgeting and having to start my French plate all over again, I came up with an idea of counting each streak of hair I platted. Inspired by my Make the most of the school run routine, I thought it would entertain her, help her to “measure” time to go till freedom and most importantly to create a counting drill in the minority language.

You might think 2 is a bit early for such exercises but you would be in for a surprise. In my case, I already have a counting drill with my little one as we count each step down a specific set of stairs, everyday on the way home. This has enabled her to pick up counting in English very quickly. Doing it whilst doing her hair only ingrains the numbers a little further.


Tip:

  • This could also be done with the alphabet.
  • Alternate counting and the alphabet to create a bit of variety in your drill.

Do you have any educative tricks to survive for these tricky situations?  Please share them in the Comment section.

Education tip – Instilling a habit of using the minority language from a very early age

Last week, my daughters were babysitter by they Majority Language (ML) grandmother, whilst we parents had a well-earned night out. They spent roughly 8 hours (awake) with their grandmother, as she came very early and left mid-morning the next day. The influence of this ML-speaker over our minority language (ml) home in just a few hours struck me.

Since my mother does not speak English, I address her in French (our ML), as well as to my daughters if they are involved in the discussion. However, I stick to English whenever I address my daughters directly. My husband does the same in Spanish.

Interestingly, by the time my mother left, my eldest (6) was already making extensive use of French, even to herself, to me directly, and even suggesting to select the French language audio-option to watch a DVD once her Nan had left…
On the other hand, my youngest (2) just went on using her 2 ml with us all the way through. At one point (to my greatest delight 😀 ), she even repeated the same thing in the 3 languages to address each of us 3 adults.

The stark contrast between the attitudes of my daughters struck me… and the feeling of guilt hit me even harder. As explained in “Our Story”, when my eldest was born, we went for OPOL with the use of the ML as a family communication language. By the age of 4, my eldest had become a passive trilingual, only communicating in the ML. It took a lot of work to reverse the situation, including the strict banning of French from our household. Though my eldest sticks to this rule, her love for the ML is beyond anything. She loves to contradict, and hence loves to resist in that fashion. The harm is done; it is our fault for not having read up on bilingual education beforehand and thought through our strategy a little better. Had we done so, rooting straight for the ml@home strategy, the likelihood is that today she would behave like her little sister who has never experienced the ML at home, and accepted as a fact that we have 2 home languages that are different from the community language and that is that.

The moral of this experience is simply that the earlier you ingrain in your child the habit and fact that they are expected to use their ml at home/with one parent, the more points you score against ml resistance. So whenever you feel a little down, less motivated, or stressed out by unwelcome comments about your choice of bilingual education, bear this in mind and keep holding strong to your language strategy. The earlier, the better. 🙂

Early Bilingual Readers – Use minority language subtitles

My 6-year old is now an early reader. To help her build her interest in using her reading skills, I have purchased plenty of books adapted to her level. She is slowly opening up to the world, trying to read things around her – which makes me glad I have created a Majority Language (ML) free environment in our home.

Last week, my daughter asked to view “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Netflix. As always, I put it in the minority language (ml) but that day I decided to give it a shot at including ml subtitles. I did not have much expectations about her trying to read but thought it could act as extra ml exposure on top of the audio, now that she begins to read.
Bingo! During the movie, her favourite character began singing a slow melancholic song. And my daughter sang along (it was the first time she saw this movie in the ml), reading some of the subtitles! Two birds killed with one stone: reading and audio exposure.
Linking reading to something children really like can act as a driver. In the case of my child (and no doubt of many little girls), singing her hero’s song is very appealing, hence she is willing to make the effort.

Since this first experience, I have systematically left the ml subtitles on, in the hope that the ml influence will grow along with my daughter’s budding reading skills… 😉

What do you do to get your child using their ml reading skills besides reading their early reader books? Please share your tips with us in the Comment section.

Parent tips: 12 fun and silly ideas of reactions to an answer in the Majority Language by your child

Which bilingual parent has not been confronted to these situations where their child answers to them in the Majority Language (ML) instead of the minority language (ml)?
These are difficult situations as you are often taken aback and have to react in a split second. The best reaction is often humour to put the message through that the use of the ML to you is not welcome. Yet in these situations, you only have a few seconds to find a creative answer. Here are some ideas to inspire you for the next time you are confronted to this situation:

  1. Clasp your hands on your ears and pretend your ears hurt – this trick was the one used by a bilingual teacher in a bilingual school.
  2. Run off clasping your ears as if hearing the ML scared you stiff.
  3. Clasp your ears, singing a silly song at the top of your voice to signal you do not want to hear the ML.
  4. Tickle your child asking them in your ml what they said.
  5. Pretend not to hear them.
  6. Pretend not to understand.
  7. Attend their ML request in slow motion – Thank you Bilingual Monkeys for this fantastic idea!
  8. Pretend to be a ml monster about to eat them up at the prompt of the ML – this is more for the little ones. Make it fun, chasing them around and grabbing them in a fun way.
  9. Look around you, faking surprise at discovering it is you being addressed in the ML.
  10. Make a buzzing or honking as if you were in TV game and your child had given a wrong answer by using the ML.
  11. Change topic to something silly, preferably distracting to make them forget the ML – Look around you for inspiration or relate to something funny you experienced recently.
  12. Distort what your child said in the ML to the ml – For instance, one day, my eldest asked for a “bonbon” (sweet in French) but she pronounced it with an English pronunciation which made it sound like bum-bum (expression I use to talk of her bum). So I asked how on earth she would eat a bum, which made her giggle silly , and then tried to say it again but this time it sounded like “bone-bone”, so once again I asked how she could possibly eat a bone…huge giggles. She eventually made the effort of using the English word and said she wanted a “sweet” (and got it 😉 ).

Any other fun ideas to suggest?  Please do so using the Comment section! 🙂

Tips for parents – Just before throwing the towel, remember…

Feeling down on this long bumpy road? Feeling like throwing the towel? Many bilingual families have faced this situation. But just before you throw the towel, here are a few reasons to hold on tight and keep going:

  1. You will never come to regret rearing your child bilingual, whilst you will definitely regret giving up.
  2. Once fully grown, your child will thank you for giving them the opportunity of becoming bilingual…even though right now they might seem quite ungrateful!
  3. Minority language relatives will be thankful for seeing their heritage passed down and being able to communicate with their grandchildren.
  4. Even though you might not just see it, you have already travelled a long way down the bilingual journey, and giving up would be waisting all the efforts already fed.
  5. Likelyhood is that a few years down the road, regretting your decision to throw the towel, you will have your child learn the minority language through formal teaching; and your bank account will not thank you for it!
  6. Language acquisition in a home environment in a smooth and daily routine is a lot more natural than putting your child through formal teaching at a later stage.
  7. You will miss out on the many magical bilingual moments that reward your numerous bilingual frustrations. And trust me, these magical moments do erase all the sweat and tears!
  8. You will have the pride of having achieved your goal on your own.
  9. Giving up will deny your child the opportunity to become bilingual and later on enjoy the associated career opportunities.
  10. You broaden your child’s mind in a way that you will probably find no better substitute for.
  11. You are passing on your love for languages and multiculturalism.
  12. You are doing it out of love for your child
  13. You are doing it because you truly think it is the best for them
  14. There is not just one strategy to raise bilingual. If yours does not work, try the others to find the one that works for you. (See Adapting the strategy to your circumstances)
  15. Read a lot about bilingual education: language experts, other bilingual parents, education professionals… It is through heavy reading on the topic that we can get ideas, inspiration and really determine on whether we have hit the end of the road.

Tip:

  • Keep a diary of your bilingual journey – This great tip comes from the great “Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability” and it is truly valuable. At least write down all the magical moments you have experienced on the journey so as to remember them and read them again whenever feeling low. This might act as an incentive to keep going.
  • Before giving up, seek support (see Bilingual education: getting the right support) – It is a a very challenging choice of education where you feel very lonely, so make sure you can get support from peers who understand your challenges and support you in times of need.

Did I miss out any other things to bear in mind before giving up? Please feel free to add them in the Comment section so as to support other parents reading this post who might need it!

Tips for parents – What is your inspirational quote to guide you on your bilingual journey?  

On this long and bumpy bilingual journey, I have found that having my own inspirational quote has helped me keep sight of my aim and comforted me in times of doubts:

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In my case, this quote helps me to remember that even if our bilingual journey does not go exactly as I hope, my children will still be bilinguals, and that in itself is already being among the stars.  And that helps me to quell my anguishes as a bilingual parent.

What is your inspirational quote on this long bilingual journey?  😉

Food for thought: Not losing sight of the youngest sibling’s bilingual education

Whilst recently reflecting on my eldest’s literacy acquisition, I came to realise how we are neglecting our youngest daughter’s bilingual education. My eldest’s first steps into literacy was through the ABC classic song from the nursery rhymes I played for her. My eldest being now 6, I do not play as many nursery rhymes on YouTube as I used to, as I consider she is now quite old for this… whilst completely forgetting about our 2-year old! It only hit me there and then how we are neglecting our little one. 😥

We tend to follow our eldest’s interests as to us adults they seem slight more entertaining than her little sister’s more baby-like interests. In a sense, it can be beneficial to our youngest as our youngest is stimulated by things aimed at older children. However, it can also:

  • generate frustrations or loose her interest quickly when she cannot do it herself,
  • she gets less opportunities to do things aimed at her age,
  • she does not get the same opportunities as her sister to acquire age-appropriate knowledge.

Having raised the neglect issue with my husband, we immediately started alternating one-on-one time with our daughters, so as to provide each of them with age appropriate activities and closer attention. It is quite pleasant since it means quieter interactions, more quality discussions, activities adapted to their respective ages. It has also been an eye-opener to fully focus on my little one’s language capacities.
As part of this one-on-one time, my first move was to spend over an hour with my little one, watching and singing along YouTube nursery rhyme videos. Among the songs featured “Five little monkeys”, which I deliberately selected because I remembered what my little one’s childminder had told me during the week. She had been surprised at my daughter’s reaction when at the local playgroup she did not want to sing that very song; which they were trying to teach in English to other children as part of an initiation to English. With hindsight, my daughter probably had not reacted just out of shyness, but had most probably forgotten the lyrics through our negligence. Since playing it again, we have sung it several times on the way to the childminder; another thing I used to do with my eldest (see Make the most of the school run!) at the same age and that I neglected with my youngest. And I am pleased to say my little one is now participating in the singing, enjoying it and regularly asking me to play nursery rhymes (which I do on Spotify whenever it is not an appropriate screen time).

Finally, another factor that led to this neglect is us focusing more on our eldest as she has given us so much grief with speaking her 2 minority languages (see Our story). Educating her bilingual has been and still is a fight. And in this focus, we lost sight of our little one. Had she been language resistant like her eldest had been, we would have been more concerned and paid more attention to her, but being rather easy-going and so far (fingers crossed!) not resisting the minority languages, we continued focusing on her big sister.

Hence, here is food for thought learnt through this experience: whatever the circumstances playing against you, remember not to lose sight of your youngest’s bilingual development. We sometimes need to step back and see where each child is standing on their journey and what we are missing out and what we can do to solve it. Action – reaction 😉


Our favourite YouTube channels for nursery rhymes:

  • Super Simple Songs (English and Spanish)
  • KidsTV123 (English)
  • Hey Kids (Spanish)
  • Bounce Patrol Kids (English)