Dear Dr. Gupta,
I have a five-year-old girl who is fluently bilingual. I think she may be French dominant since she speaks to her little sister in French but her English is above average as well so it is hard to tell. I am anglophone and her father is bilingual but his first language is French. He speaks only French with the children and I speak only English. She has always attended school and daycare in French and most of her friends are monolingual francophone. I live in Quebec but on the border with Ottawa so almost all people are bilingual.
I started teaching my five-year-old to read in English at four just because she showed an interest. She picked it up quickly and loved it. Then she showed off her new skills to her father who quickly panicked that she had learned to read in English but not French and started trying to teach her to read in French. It is much harder because you have to learn syllables and not letter sounds. She became frustrated and discouraged and refused to read altogether. We gave her a break from reading since I realize she is still very young and it is not important to push it at this stage.
I think the main problem is we both went to English school and learned to read in English so even though he is a francophone, he does not really know how to teach reading. I on the other hand have taught kids to read English before and I am usually the one who teaches them things as I enjoy teaching. I had planned to teach her to read English and let the school teach her French but my husband is very competitive and protectionist of the French language. There is a lot of politics here surrounding the French language so most Francophones here think kids will pick up English from Sesame Street but you really need to protect the French or it will die out. That is why the French mommies only teach their kids French until they are six because they want them to learn French really well then let them pick up the English since they will need it to work anywhere here.
My question is this. Is there an easier way to teach French reading? Should I insist my husband back off on pushing the French reading as she will learn this in school next year anyway to rekindle her interest in English reading? This is very frustrating for me because we were having so much fun before. Now she refuses to read even cat, which she knows without thinking about it.
First off, I don’t know much about the teaching of reading.
But what you have here is a child in Quebec who already speaks the two languages that will be supported in her community as she gets older. You don’t have anything to worry about.
If a child picks up reading before they go to school, that’s nice, but I don’t think it’s something to force, as you have discovered. She’ll learn to read both languages in time. It is not your job to teach reading to your child. It happens at school. It is your job to teach her to take pleasure in learning and in books. The best way to support reading is by sharing books with your child. You need to get back to her taking pleasure in looking at books and being read to, as does your husband.
There are different ways of teaching reading in both English and in French. But the phonics skills developed in one language are readily transferable to the other. This is true of all languages. Think for a moment and you will realise how much easier it is to learn to read words in a language that uses then Roman alphabet than in one that doesn’t.
There is no particular advantage in reading early. What matters is how you read when you are 15, not how you read when you are five. Back off the teaching and go for fun, in both languages.