Learning to read is an important step in your child’s development. When children start to learn to read depends on the country they live in. In some parts of the world, like the UK, children are taught to read pretty much as soon as they enter school, whereas in other countries, like here in NL, children spend a year or two first learning to recognise letters before they’re actually sat down and taught how to read and write. Learning to read comes more easily to some children than others. And as a parent, it’s important to help your child by reading to them, helping them sound out words, and of course encouraging them to read themselves. In this episode we discuss what you can do as a parent to help your bilingual child learn to read in both languages together with Elise de Bree.

We start by discussing the process of learning to read, the steps involved and where children might experience difficulties. We learn that bilingual children learn to read in exactly the same way as monolingual children and all parents can support their children’s reading development by helping them practice, having them sound out words and reading to them yourself. This will help children to learn new words, a crucial part of learning to read, because even if you can figure out what each letter on the page sounds like, if you don’t then recognise the word you’re reading, you won’t be any the wiser. 

We also discuss the question of how to approach reading in the home or heritage language (or languages). How do you make sure that your child can read in their heritage language as well as their school language? Is it always better to start with the school langauge and then move on to the other language? Or is it ok to do it the other way round ? Or even at the same time? What happens when the two languages use different scripts? Listen to the podcast to find out the answers to all of these questions. 

In this episode I also share my third Kletsheads Quick and Easy (starts at 24:45) with you, a concrete tip that you can put to use straightaway to make a success of the bilingualism in your family, class or clinic. This episode’s tip is to map your child’s input. The book I mentioned in the episode, where this tip comes from, is Eowyn Crisfield’s recent book, Bilingual Families: A Practical Language Planning GuideThere you’ll find more about the idea of mapping your child’s language input. For a similar (and simpler) approach, take a look at the materials developed by the Planting Languages project and in particular at page 13 (step 5) in their booklet for parents (here in English but also available in Polish, French, Dutch and Greek). As I said in the podcast, I also tried to map my daughter’s input. Here’s the result:

In the podcast I mention a tool that we’ve designed as part of the Q-BEx project. Essentially, this is a questionnaire which parents complete online (or together with a teacher or speech language therapist) and which outputs various measures of language exposure, language use and language richness, in both of the child’s languages. In other words, it’s a way of mapping a bilingual child’s input! If you want to find out more, take a look at the project’s website where there’s information for teachers, parents and clinicians. We’d love it if you gave it a try!

Elise De Bree is professor of Developmental Language Disorders in Inclusive Education at the Faculty of Social Sciences aan de Utrecht University, the Netherlands. This is endowed professorship from the  Koninklijke Auris. Her research focuses on reading and spelling, including dyslexia, and the language development of children with development language disorder (DLD). Find out more about Elise’s research here. She contributes to several national organisations (Stichting Dyslexie Nederland and Nederlands Kwaliteitsinstituut Dyslexie) which provide research-based information and advice to parents, teachers and clinicians. 

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