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Don’t Stop Reading When They Start Reading!

September 10, 2012

In The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child, I discussed the significance of—oh no, I’m about to reveal the secret!—reading to your children every day.

Despite its importance, reading aloud is sometimes neglected, which I contend is a huge missed opportunity.

But even those parents who faithfully read to their children each day, when the kids are small, often give up this practice when the children learn to read for themselves.

I would argue that this, too, is a missed opportunity.

Years of input

Think about it: a child’s reading level and listening level are quite different. A book that a child would probably put down, because it’s “too hard,” can still be understood, and enjoyed, if it’s read aloud by a parent. In other words, children can understand at a higher level than they can read, and this remains the case, as these skill levels rise, throughout their childhood.

If you stop reading to children at the age of 6 or 7 (or whenever they’ve begun reading independently), years of potential input—input that will continually stretch their ability in the minority language—will be lost.

And make no mistake: bilingual children attending a majority-language school in the majority-language country need all the minority language input they can get.

The pleasure principle

Lulu and Roy are both reading independently these days, but I wouldn’t dream of ending the time I spend reading aloud to them. Not only am I certain that it contributes substantially to the growth of their English skills, their knowledge of the world, and their imagination, the fact that these daily sessions have become a source of enjoyment in their lives means that I can continue to reinforce the idea, with every page, that books and reading provide an experience of pleasure. And you don’t have to be a psychologist to realize that if children come to associate reading with pleasure, they’re more likely to become enthusiastic readers throughout their lives.

How long will I go on reading aloud to them? As long as I possibly can. For their sake—and for mine, because I now relish this time, too—I’ll continue to make the practice of reading aloud each day one of our highest priorities as a family.

How about you? What are your thoughts, or experiences, when it comes to reading aloud to older children?

1 wendy March 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hi Adam,
Great post, really enjoying reading.

I second the continuing with reading aloud. My daughter is 9 and has been a good reader since she was 4 and a half but my husband and myself still read to her every day ( German from him, English from me). I use the opportunity to read well-written books which I also enjoy such as anything by Eva Ibbotson, E.Nesbitt, the Anne of Green Gables series as well as more modern writers – the Laura Marlin mysteries by Lauren St John for e.g.
Will continue to read – thank you!

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2 Adam March 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Wendy, thank you for your kind comment. My daughter is nearly 9, too, so I’ll look into the books and authors you mentioned. I appreciate you pointing me toward some new titles! Best wishes to you and your family!

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3 Gretha April 21, 2014 at 1:31 am

My son will be 11 in June. We read every evening. He reads one page and I continue reading the chapter. This way we have work and pleasure. We also read the story faster and keep it interesting. He loves it but it is a secret!!

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4 Adam April 21, 2014 at 5:55 am

Good for you, Gretha! Let’s keep reading to our kids as long as we can! (And by then, maybe we can start reading to our grandchildren! :mrgreen: )

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5 Anna June 4, 2014 at 6:19 am

My 8 year old can’t wait to read before bed time, I was afraid I was hindering his English, by reading to him. This post really helped me.

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6 Adam June 4, 2014 at 6:59 am

I’m glad, Anna. Please enjoy reading aloud to your son. As time goes by, this will have a very positive impact on his own growing reading ability.

And if you want to motivate him to read more on his own, try comic books!

How Comic Books Can Give Your Kids Bilingual Super Powers

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