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.