Getting your child started with reading in the minority language

There is no right or wrong time to teach our children to read in the minority language (ml). It really depends on your child’s situation, capacities and needs. But for us parents, it is quite a daunting challenge. For those of you considering teaching reading in the ml, here is how we went about it; should you find it interesting to read about another family’s experience. 🙂

How did we go about it?

Step 1: learning the ABC
Originally, we just played nursery rhymes to our eldest, like many parents do. We started at around 18 months with YouTube nursery rhyme videos, mainly from Super Simple Songs. Various ABC songs featured among their collection.
We planned not to teach anything to our daughter before the Majority Language (ML) school did, and to then build on the school’s teaching, since our 3 languages share the same alphabet. Hence, when my daughter started learning the ML alphabet at school, we put the alphabet nursery rhymes more often at home, sing these songs with her on the school run, and use our play-mat or magnetic letters to help her visualise the letters.
At the time of writing this post, my youngest (2 years old) is at the nursery rhyme stage. She loves the ABC songs and now knows most of her English alphabet phonetically. She is yet to pick up the Spanish alphabet (I am working on it! 😉 ).

depth of field photography of p l a y wooden letter decors on top of beige wooden surface

Step 2: teaching the phonics
If you wonder what phonics are, here is a cute little video about them on the great Oxford Owl website.
We moved on to English phonics out of necessity when my eldest daughter turned about 3. The necessity came from the requisites imposed in an entry test to an English Wednesday school we were hoping to enrol my daughter on.
We got the “Read Write Inc.: My Reading and Writing Kit: Early sounds and blending” kit.
The kit was brilliantly designed and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed learning the sounds with the flashcards and learning to write them using a wipe-clean sheet and the matching exercise book. The pack also includes a parents’ guidebook so we do not feel too overwhelmed.
Another resource that greatly helped my daughter was this phonics song by 123 Kids TV on YouTube. Somehow it really grabbed my daughter’s attention and at that time we sang it on the school run almost everyday!

Step 3: teaching the letter blending
As part of the preparation to the entry test, we started to teach letter blending. By that stage, my eldest daughter knew her letter sounds very well, so we started blending the letters. However, when asked what sound such and such letter made together, I could tell from the look in her eyes she was at a loss to answer. So I decided to move from the 2-D approach of pen and paper to a more visual 3-D approach: using props. The prop I chose was a foam play-mat consisting of colourful letter puzzle pieces, which can be seen in below along with the method used.
She was slowly starting to pick blending up when she sat the entry test and was not given a spot at the Wednesday school. So we decided to stop teaching the blending as we did not want to rush her education. We still preferred having the ML school leading the way on the curriculum, as we had originally planned. However, a couple of months letter, within the first few months of the school year, my daughter still wanted to play with the foam letters to learn blending and now managed to blend more sounds. It turned out her class had started blending at the ML school and she was naturally transferring these skills to English!

Play-mat

Step 4: getting started with the Early Reading
Just after Christmas, we casually discovered our eldest was now beginning to read on her own! The problem we faced was that in our ML country, they would only start proper reading the following school year, but by then her interest might have waned. We decided once again to depart from our initial plan of building on the ML schooling and actually getting her started with reading in English.
We chose English so as not to confuse her with the ML. I repeatedly explained to her that whatever mummy taught her was in English and that in class she must do as the teacher said since she was teaching her in ML. That seemed pretty clear in my daughter’s mind. She never seemed confused by learning to read in 2 languages more or less at the same time. We decided to leave Spanish for later, as it is very close to the ML and could transfer her ML reading skills to Spanish once formally taught. And to be honest, I already caught my daughter more than once trying her reading skills to Spanish books. Kids can be full of surprises and amaze us!
To teach her reading in English, I purchased the Read with Biff, Chip and Kipper Collections (Levels 1-6). My daughter thoroughly enjoys the series and loves Kipper’s big sister. Between January and May of this year, we have been reading almost every night before bed time. A book a night for the easier levels, and half a book or several pages for level 5. We are yet to start level 6 but of late my daughter seems less motivated. Upon the advice of a bilingual mum, I have designed a Reading Reward Chart and my daughter gets a sticker for every reading done. You can see the blank Reading Reward Chart just below (without my daughter’s name and picture for this blog’s purposes). It has been of help though I still have to chase my daughter to sit down and read.
We also purchased the last level of “Read Write Inc.: My Reading and Writing Kit: Becoming a reader”, which my eldest enjoyed seeing again and likes the little rhymes used on the flashcards to remember the digraph and trigraph sounds. Truth is though, I am a bit more laid back than with the first set since I do not have the same pressure of preparing her for an entry test. The kit is also slightly more complex. It includes a few early reader books whose parent explanations I find a bit more complex to grasp.

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 14.45.32

What is my eldest daughter’s attitude towards reading in the ml?

My daughter is of a very curious nature, and to that extent it does not surprise me much she started reading on her own. The fact is, she is so curious that she often wanted to rush through the different levels of the Early Reader books series! 😀
The 2 difficulties I faced with teaching her early reading was actually the fact she has a “leader” temper and often refuses to be explained anything by me; and that she is a bit “convenient”, and does not like making much efforts (which explains why we had to switch from OPOL to ml@h strategy!).
Hence, my daughter always feels a bit lazy as to the perspective of reading, but the minute she has the book before her eyes, she enjoys it pretty much and often protests if we stop in the middle of the story because it is late and time for bed!

The aim of this post is to share how we are going about teaching literacy to our daughters, in case it could be of interest to you and/or give you ideas. But as I explained in the introduction, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. So do not hesitate in sharing your own experience and tips in the comments section. We can all learn from one another’s experience!

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6 Comments

  1. So interesting to hear about your journey with learning to read. My son is now 5.5 and started learning to read in English at school this year. At the same time we started him learning in Spanish with a weekly 1-2-1 lesson and trying to support at home with reading practice. His English reading books are now taking about 5 nights a week leaving only 2 for ml reading. I originally wanted to do a small amount each day but he’s tired after school and his school homework so I am just saving for days when he’s already finished the school reading books now. I am hoping to do lots of Spanish reading over the summer holidays though! His English reading is much better than Spanish at the moment. He is still having to sound out all the letters in the Spanish words and hasn’t started to recognise many whole words yet except for short ones. Words in Spanish tend to me a lot longer too! Because of this he’s not too keen on reading in Spanish at the moment.. it’s definitely a chore! I am making sure I still read to him a lot in Spanish everyday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so sympathise with your situation Tacodelenguas. We have such long days, busy lives and our little ones are so tired by the end of the day. 😦
      Give him a little time and he’ll eventually transfer his reading skills from one language to another. 🙂 We have caught my eldest daughter do this several time, reading words of bits of sentences from Spanish books when we have not taught her yet. As he’ll grow confident in reading English and a bit more curious, this will help him with reading in Spanish. 😉

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  2. I agreed with my husband that I will not start teaching my older son to read ml before he starts ML school. I am though starting to feel a bit anxious that it might become too late and too much all of a sudden. I am slightly confused with the school system in the ML country to be honest. They have a very laid back approach whereas in ml country we start making the kids memorise poems, alphabets and numbers already from year three. Anyway, I am saving this post in my bookmark until I go through the same road 🙂 Thank you for some good tips!

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    1. I have heard that in your ML country they don’t teach until age 7 or 8. How about you and your husband teaching them your alphabets together? Nothing pushy, but rather in a playful manner? Like that, it is preparation to their ML schooling, and exposure to the ml equivalent? Easier said than done of course, but it is just an idea from the top of my head. :). You could maybe stick a mystery letter everyday in a different place. 1 ML, 1ml. 🙂

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