Pin It
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Learning to Read When Bilingual: Which Language First?

By
Teaching bilingual children to read via flickr

A hot topic for parents trying to raise balanced bilinguals is which language do you teach first, the minority one or the community language? Or maybe both at once?! We didn’t have much choice, as our daughter was enrolled (reluctantly) in the English section of her French school for the first two years, due to lack of places on the French side, so all her initial reading was in English. She learnt the alphabet the phonic way, using the Letterland system, and with a bit of help from our big rubber alphabet mat at home. Then she was taught to string those letter sounds together to make her first words.

 

 

All seemed to be going well until she switched across to the French section after two years and the teacher told me she was reading French ‘like English’! In English most letters are pronounced, but in French there are many silent letter traps. In fact, reading in French is generally taught syllable by syllable instead of letter by letter; it was a whole new ball game. I realised she needed a bit of help at home. We started practising her French reading—with me a little worried to correct her pronunciation in my poor accent— and learning the French syllable sounds with a book called Balthazar Decouvre Les Phonemes, featuring a cute, androgynous character in a pointy, blue cap.

 

 

When she moved to CP (equivalent to Year 2 in the U.K., 1st grade in the U.S.), she was put in the ‘reading group’ of the class, and immediately given A4 sheets of tiny cursive writing to read for homework. I’ve since discovered that the main objective in CP is to get the children reading, but at the time it was a bit daunting. Luckily her level slowly improved over the year and now she can finally read on her own for fun. In fact, we hear her screaming with laughter at her Garfield cartoon book (I have a French version) late at night when she is supposed to be asleep. Comic books are a big part of French culture and there is a lot more than just Tintin and Asterix, the only ones that seem well known here. She adores her Toto book, a comic about a boy who is pretty naughty at school!

 

 

With Pan-Pan, I have a different challenge, as he has gone straight into the French section and won’t be taught to read at all until CP, in three years. I’ve decided to go ahead and teach him to read in English, as I’d like him to have a heads up and be really comfortable with books by the time he gets there, as Schmoo was. Saying that, a friend of mine whose daughter is in a bilingual school told me they always teach the children to read in French first, as it’s more challenging. If they learn in English first they can find reading in French tricky. They also never teach the children to read in both languages at once, as this has apparently been shown to cause confusion.

© 2011 – 2013, Omma Velada. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

I just found out the surprising answer.

Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

Si­, Yes: Raising Bilingual Twins

Language acquisition in three-and-a-half year old, bilingual twins.

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

10 must-read tips on co-sleeping from Africa

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Omma and her husband are raising their two children, Schmoo and Pan-Pan, trilingually in the UK with English (native), Twi (late start) and French (non-native). She blogs on raising trilingual children at bilingualbabes.blogspot.co.uk

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsSkype English Lesson   |  Friday, 14 October 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I think learning the local minority language is important. It gives the children a better chance to use the language more and more naturally. Also, it allows the child a better chance of getting involved in the community to help out. I’m from California where Spanish is huge, however very little natives California’s learn Spanish. I think knowing the language allows so many more opportunities!!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!
[easy_sign_up phone="0"]

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@Daniela You speak BS, you have never seen Franconia, or you're a Franconian girl. In the second case, I know that no intellectual conversation could be made with Franconian people, because you'r...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Raising Bilingual Children