Reading to your child in your home language

Mother reading to her daughter.

At a glance

  • The best thing you can do is read to your child in whichever language is most comfortable for you.
  • Research shows children who can already read and write in one language find it easier to learn to read in another language.
  • Reading to your child in your first language increases their self-esteem and confidence.

  • Sing, tell stories, read poems and encourage your child to change them from their first language to English.

Parents who have a background other than English and who read to their kids in their first language are giving them a valuable gift.

It's a gift because they are not just helping their kids to learn to read, they're sharing knowledge of their family traditions, beliefs and a whole range of socio-cultural practices.

For families who have recently arrived in Australia and who have small children starting school, there can be an urgency around learning to read, especially when English is not their first language.

They want their kids to ‘catch up' with the rest of the class and are often not quite sure how to go about it. The best thing a parent can do is read to their child in whichever language they're most comfortable with and to keep passing on their knowledge.

The most important thing you can do is read. Read in your home language, read in both languages.

Helping your child learn to read English

Research from around the world shows children who read and write in their home language can become good readers in their second language without having to learn to read from scratch. This is because the same skills used to learn reading in one language are used to learn the next.

Researcher Pauline Gibbons explains it perfectly: "If you've sorted out the world in one language, it becomes easier to sort it out in a second language. Children are adding on a second language to the one they already have."

English, my own language or both?

Parents whose background is other than English sometimes question whether they should be reading to their kids in their first language, English or both. Here's a guide:

  • The most important thing you can do is read. Read in your home language, read in both languages. Children who know more than one language often have greater mental flexibility, are more creative and are better able to solve problems.
  • Sing, tell stories, read poems and encourage your child to change them from their first language to English. This is called code-switching and it will help your child's mind to become more agile, and help them fine-tune their use of grammar in both languages.
  • Talk about what you're reading, how the words appear on the page and the purpose of the text. Get right into it! Analyse the size of the printed words/type and the images, and use your understanding and experience in speaking and reading in a second (or third) language to expose your kids to different writing styles eg newspapers, magazines, shopping bags, take-away menus, shopping lists, mobile phone text, advertisements and road signs. Don't just read the key messages together, try to make comparisons and connections with your home language.
  • Reading to your kids in your home language increases their self-esteem and confidence, helps them to be motivated to learn, increases their ability to think and understand, strengthens family relationships and provides a strong basis for learning. Reading in your first language also allows your kids to develop a sense of identity.
  • Read with the view that exposing your child to a range of writing styles and reading material educates your child for the future – one where your child can confidently interact with others in their family, their community and as a globally connected citizen.

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