Captive reading: a powerful tool to expose your child to the minority language

What is Captive Reading?
Now, you might not be familiar with the term “Captive reading”, which is a concept I discovered in Adam Beck’s book “Maximize your child’s bilingual ability”.

It consists in putting up some text (preferably with no illustrations) in the minority language somewhere where your child will inevitably see it and be tempted to read it.
The most recommended place being… the loo! It might seem like an eccentric idea but I own up to having tried it… and to still using it a year later! I found it a very helpful tool in helping my eldest daughter to learn reading in the minority language.
Its benefits include:
a) minority language exposure on a daily basis without requiring your presence
b) making the child practice their reading skills
c) encourage independent reading
d) promote the child’s self-confidence in the child.

My experience of captive reading with my learner reader daughter
Captive reading can be used from a young age. It can start with a simple letter when the child is learning the alphabet, and then letter blending when the child starts learning his/her phonics blending.

We began with captive reading when my daughter was 5 years old and was blending phonics. Every day, I would put up a sheet with a 3-letter word printed in black in a huge font size. The first word was “box”, and I was extremely stunned when after seeing it up, my daughter came to me spelling it out from the top of her head. She asked me what this was, so I asked her to tell me, reading. The first couple of words needed my help to set the tracks, but after that it became like a game; a mystery word she had to decipher. Kids like mystery, so you might want to build on that feeling to drive their curiosity.
As my daughter’s reading skills grew, I moved up to using slightly longer words and writing very short sentences such as “the red fox”, which grew a bit longer as her skills developed. Eventually, I even left little messages in her school snack bag, like “Have fun! Love, Mummy” (another idea from this same book).

However, as anything with kids, she did grow tired of it; so I spiced things up in 3 ways, by:

  1. Replacing the sheet in the loo with a small whiteboard and a marker, on which I wrote an easy question she could try to write and answer to or come and tell me directly.
  2. Using colourful chalk-markers to write on the bathroom mirror. It could be anything, from another easy question to messages about what was coming up that day (gym, pool, school, etc…) or asking her about her day.
  3. Writing some easy nursery rhyme lyrics with the chalk-markers on her bedroom window.

All of these have had success with my daughter, some more than others, some for more or less time. When she loses interest, I just remove the captive reading and take it up again a few weeks later.

Using chalk-markers to create captive reading in unusual places (rest assured, they come off very easily!)

At the moment, she is at a breakthrough point, on the verge of becoming an independent reader but not just yet. Over the past month, on top of the whiteboard, I have also left some of her early reader books in the loo. She has been reading them aloud to herself.
My latest find has been a few phonics poems.  I have printed and stuck the first one on the loo’s wall for her to read. She read the first one on her own and then came up to me to read it together. I have left it on the wall for a couple of days now and it seems like she is re-reading it and enjoying it.
As she becomes an independent reader, I plan to follow the book’s advice and put up short early reader stories.

Captive reading tips
Five tips learnt along the way from my daughter:

  1. The earlier the reader, the shorter the text – it is a such an effort for them, do not put big sentences that would put them off.
  2. For early readers, carefully pick the vocabulary to ensure the words are pronounced just as the phonics learnt – Otherwise, the child can feel confused or disheartened when they get the pronunciation wrong.
  3. Pick words the child has already come across in early reader books – This is a desirable thing as it is an opportunity for them to revise. Personally, I noticed my daughter often does not recognise certain words out of her books’ context.
  4. Always look for new ideas – children get bored so quickly, you always need to be creative!
  5. Alternate ideas – when the child gets bored, remove the captive reading used and replace it by another kind of captive reading. Revert later (a few weeks or months) to the former format and see if the interest has come back.

If you are not convinced by the Captive reading strategy, my only advice is to give it a shot and see for yourself! You could be in for a good surprise! 😉


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