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How to Teach a Child Bilingual Reading

Bilingualism comes with many benefits for children, including a better ability to deal with distractions and faster mental processing.[1] Bilingual ...

How to Teach a Child Bilingual Reading article provided by wikiHow. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

Teach a Child Bilingual Reading

Bilingualism comes with many benefits for children, including a better ability to deal with distractions and faster mental processing.[1] Bilingual reading ability is an important part of raising bilingual children; yet, for bilingual families, getting a child to start reading in both languages naturally could be a challenge. To avoid having to resort to tutoring at a later age, use the window of opportunity that parents can take advantage of to teach bilingual reading at home. This article explains the technique to use early in your child's life, and it's one that's easy, fun and free.

edit Steps

  1. 1
    Start early. If you can, start this technique at preschool, as that's the best window of opportunity, although it's not too late to start at early school age either. Ages 6 months to four years are the optimal time for learning a second language.[2]
  2. 2
    Resolve the home language. Though this step is optional, consistency is important. If you decide to speak only one language at home (for example, your native language in a country with a different language), resolve to stick with this. It will not hamper your child if you speak your native language if you start early and stick to it. Some families also choose to have the mother speak the mother's native language, and the father speak the father's language; whatever works best for you is fine but it remains important that your child can see consistency.
    • Note that the method outlined in this article is unsuitable for trilingual families (where the mother speaks one language, the father another, and your child is learning yet another one at school).
  3. 3
    Make it a game. Much like in other activities, your child will learn more effortlessly if it is turned into a game and it's fun.[3] When your child is comfortable, talk about a "school game", or a "letter game" you could play. (Avoid saying "learning" or "translation" as they sound like a task to avoid.) Gauge your child's reaction and don't force it.
    • Make it short without forcing. Play it for a short period or leave the game in plain sight and wait till your child initiates.
  4. 4
    Have an initial game plan. Once you get your child's self-initiated cooperation, work out a game plan. Follow the steps below, and don't rush. Once the process is natural you'll find yourself improvising more and more.
    • First few sessions: play around with letters with no particular reason in mind. This will familiarize your child and create the feel of a non-threatening environment.
    • Next ask for a short favorite word. Propose one from a favorite movie or TV show if you need to give help.
    • Work that name. Think how you can "work" that name. It (or one similar in sound) should be suitable to follow for the next steps. Arrange the letters and read it aloud, one-by-one a little faster every time.
  5. 5
    Smile to the trick. Smile and tell your child that here comes the "tricky part." Your child need to close his eyes. Children will be intrigued and delighted to play along. (You'll be surprised just how many times this works.)
    • Tell him no peeking. Now take away the front letter.
    • Allow your child to look and say once more "This is very tricky." (Tell them what you did by repeating the word and that you removed the front letter.)
    • Now ask them to "read" aloud. Try it and you'll be surprised because with a little encouragement they'll do it.
  6. 6
    Acknowledge your child's efforts. Let your child feel proud of her effort and achievement. Repetition is the easiest, most rewarding reinforcement.
    • Now repeat same as above with back letter.
    • Do one or two more words per session. Repeat with playful variations.
  7. 7
    Start a translation game. Once you both get into some kind of habit where you both accept rules of the game (your child will come up with some rules too, so be ready to accommodate one or two), it's time to start the translation game. This needs a little planning too; again, the words chosen should be easy and suitable.
    • Think up a word that would appeal to your child which could be rearranged into a word in your language.
  8. 8
    Vary it. Once you've found a good word, follow these steps:
    • After the front and back game, rearrange as before, while he closes his eyes. Tell him that it's now even trickier!
    • Read out the word aloud. Tell your child that it's in your language and ask him what he thinks it means. Then tell him. Don't tell him that it's a translation to begin with; only do this after the process has become very natural.
  9. 9
    Reinforce it some more. Reinforce this process with more positive experiences.
    • Let her choose from your selection. Let your child watch videos in the two different languages. This way she will request one language or other, just to exercise her freedom of choice. You can pick up the main character and talk about its different names in the two languages.
    • Play a letter block game on this name too.
    • Find a playmate who speaks the second language to come over and play often.[4] It will do both children good, and it makes it a lot more fun.
  10. 10
    Be inventive. There's no excuse: your child is inventive, that's how she or he learns. So don't lag behind. Be inventive in getting the new words from your child's new experiences.
  11. 11
    Keep the interest in reading both languages alive by investing in beautiful and interesting books in the language not spoken outside the home. Sit down regularly with your growing child and continue reading these books with him or her.


This video provides an example of teaching children English as native Spanish speakers. There is some helpful advice on using phonics, sounds, pictures, and gestures (scaffolds), to help children learn the other language.


edit Tips

  • Read about the techniques of teaching someone to read first. A good foundation in reading is applicable.
  • Always play for a short time. Signs of boredom are good signs of fatigue; stop at these signs and start again another time. You don't want to turn this into a chore.
  • Try repeating before each new session with a little school game what the lesson was last time. Put a teddy or a stuffed animal alongside and ask who wants to answer. Look intently at the other "pupils." She or he will want to answer, guaranteed.
  • Use things in your surroundings to turn reading into a game and to teach the ABC, the numbers, and first words. For example, point at number plates of cars, at numbers and letters in the supermarket, or at street signs and everyday products you have in your household.
  • Write letters, postcards, birthday and Christmas cards to friends and family. This is an excellent way for children growing up in a bilingual environment to reinforce the writing skills thus far learned in their secondary language.[5]
  • Use the internet as a learning tool by sending emails to family and friends so that the child has practice in the language. Use it to find videos and stories in both languages.
  • Even if you're not bilingual but you want your child to be, it is possible to do this provided you're dedicated, intentional and consistent, and you try your hardest to learn the basics that you're teaching.[6] Use CDs, the internet, and other aids to help you.

edit Warnings

  • This method is not suitable if the character set is different in the two languages learned, such as English and Japanese.
  • This method is not suitable for trilingual families, where parents speak different languages from the main language that your child learns at school.
  • The key is to keep it interesting. Once your child is at school, making reading in your language interesting is next to impossible! Once children learn that they're speaking a language not spoken outside of the home, there is a risk of resistance setting in.[7] Try telling your child that you like it when they speak to you in your native language; children can be very responsive to a request that matters to you.

edit Things You'll Need

  • Letter block game – essential. Without it, teaching is just too hard and not visual enough. It's also much less fun without it.

edit Sources and Citations

  1. The Washington Post, Bilingualism's brain benefits,
  2. Parenting Journals, Being bilingual–Is it right for your child?,
  3. Parenting Journals, Being bilingual–Is it right for your child?,
  4. Parenting Journals, Being bilingual–Is it right for your child?,
  5. Tips on how to improve reading and writing in bilingual children,
  6. Parenting Journals, Being bilingual–Is it right for your child?,
  7. Tara Swords, Doubletalk: Raising a Bilingual Family,
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