Bilingual is Better

Photo by shoothead

Photo by shoothead

The following is a guest post by Deanna Lyles, cofounder of Bilingual Readers, a brand new publishing company which provides resources for bilingual and multilingual families and communities. Bilingual Readers will launch its catalogue of bilingual books in October 2009. Get to know them better at www.bilingualreaders.com

A very patient Spanish speaking mom has been reading her daughter Sara’s favorite book Yo Tigre out loud to her in Spanish every night at bedtime for the last month. But tonight Mom’s out with some friends, and it’s English speaking Dad’s turn to read Sara to sleep. He dutifully pulls out adorable children’s book after adorable children’s book, but it’s no use: Sara wants Yo Tigre, and Where the Wild Things Are just isn’t going to cut it. What’s a bilingual Dad to do? Is it alright for a parent in a One Parent One Language home to break his commitment to speaking to his child only in his native language when the child’s love of reading is at stake?

Most of us are aware that reading aloud to small children is one of the greatest tools parents have for helping their children’s language development along. But when it comes to reading aloud in a bilingual home, many questions arise as to who should read to children in what languages. In OPOL homes the easy answer is that each parent should read to the child in his or her native language, but putting this principle into practice is often anything but simple.

Although they are sometimes hard to find for certain language combinations, bilingual books are one of the best tools for getting the most out of storytime in a OPOL home. While reading monolingual books to your children is certainly beneficial, bilingual books are an especially useful tool for bilingual families. Bilingual books allow both parents to take turns reading the same book to their kids, each parent in his own language. If one parent reads a book to a child in English and the other parent reads the same book in Spanish, the child will automatically begin to associate both languages with the stories and objects on the pages of the book. We all know that children love to read and be read the same stories over and over again, so hearing the exact same text in each language every time a book is read is an easy way to reinforce vocabulary and sentence structure for the bilingual child.

In addition to taking advantage of bilingual books, there are also other strategies for reading consistently to your kids while sticking to the OPOL method. Regardless of whether or not you read monolingual or bilingual books (most families will read both), establish a routine to make sure that each parent is reading to the kids in his or her language every single day. If you stick to this routine, it’ll be a great tool for developing your child’s language abilities in both languages. You can also make recordings of your voice reading your kids’ favorite stories out loud. This way your child can still listen to Mom’s soothing voice read a story in Spanish or Dad doing all the fun voices in English anytime, anywhere. (A friend confessed that these recordings are also great for long trips in the car).

Last but not least, if you’ve broken the rules and read a story to your child in your second language, don’t beat yourself up over it. While consistency is key in any bilingual home, nobody’s perfect and slipping up every once in a while will not scar your child for life. The same thing goes for those of you who may not have been consistent readers in the past. Thankfully each day is a new opportunity to read to and with your children. Happy reading!

As a gift for your bilingual story time, we’re giving away a copy of René Saldaña, Jr.’s English/Spanish book The Case of the Pen Gone Missing.  To read more about the book, an interview with the author and how you can win it just go to our first article of the new monthly series: ReadMe.

Do you have any tips for reading aloud to your bilingual children?  We’d love to read them!

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