My daughter will be 14 in June. My son turned 11 in March. If you’ve been following this blog over the years—when I made my first post in September of 2012, they were just 8 and 5—you know that they’ve had very different inclinations when it comes to reading in English, our minority language.
While both have become competent readers through a variety of long-running efforts—which include reading aloud from birth; flooding our home with books, magazines, and comic books in the target language; maintaining a daily homework routine; and making persistent use of the strategy I call captive reading—it’s also true that Roy’s progress has been stronger because, ever since he was small, he has been reading by himself more eagerly than Lulu. In fact, I detailed this important aspect of our bilingual journey in an article I wrote not long ago…
Fundamental shift in motivation
With Roy, because he has long been a more natural bookworm, I’ve mostly just had to continue feeding his desire to read by providing a steady stream of suitable material. (Naturally, this still takes some regular time and energy on my part to find engaging resources.)
Lulu, on the other hand, because she has always preferred active play, has been more difficult to motivate when it comes to independent reading. However, over the past two weeks a fundamental shift in this area has been taking place and I now see that the previous breakthroughs I’ve documented at this blog (see Big Breakthrough with My Bilingual Daughter? and, again, My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?) have been steps leading to the manifestation of this moment, alongside her growing maturity.
Here’s what happened…
While I’ve often encouraged her to try reading more than comic books at bedtime—we have hundreds of good fiction and nonfiction books in the house—it was only the other day that she finally went into my little office, with its big bookcase of literature for older kids and teens (books that I also lend to my private students), and picked out two books that appealed to her.
Lulu began reading When You Reach Me that night and—without any prompting from me—she continued reading it, night after night. The other day she finished the book and told me that she really enjoyed it.
And then she began reading Ella Enchanted, which she’s now already halfway through.
Lulu “takes over” the process
Why is this such a big deal? Because she’s finally making fuller use of her reading ability by reading “harder” books, entirely on her own, and she’s enjoying the experience! In a way, with this huge step, my work to promote her English side can start winding down…because, through more eager independent reading, she will now be able to continue the process of advancing her ability in this language without my direct involvement.
This isn’t to say that I’ll now lie in a hammock and do nothing—as appealing as that sounds. I’ll still continue my efforts to nurture her English ability at higher levels. But I also feel that Lulu is entering a stage where she’s beginning to “take over” the process of language development that I have led for so long.
A breakthrough for Roy, too
Meanwhile, I think Roy is experiencing an important breakthrough, too, in terms of books geared for older children and adults. Over the past couple of months, I read The Hobbit to both kids at breakfast, a few pages each day. In fact, I bought The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a boxed set…but after finishing The Hobbit, I felt it would be difficult to read aloud the next three books because Lulu and Roy are attending different schools (our local junior high school and our local elementary school) and they aren’t waking up at the same time these days…which means that I ended up reading much of The Hobbit book twice.
Well, I admit, I didn’t think I had enough energy to do this all the way through The Lord of the Rings trilogy and so, instead, I posed the challenge to Roy:
“Why don’t you read them by yourself?”
At first, when he cracked open The Fellowship of the Ring and saw the tiny print and the 458 pages, he was nearly spooked away from the idea. (And, truth be told, I thought the challenge might be too tough for him at this point.) Nevertheless, he decided to try reading it, as the book for his daily homework in English…and now he’s on page 102 and seems hooked.
Creating breakthroughs in language development
So how do you create breakthroughs in the language development of bilingual children?
You see, as long as you do your honest best to promote your child’s exposure to the minority language and the need for its active use—day by day and year by year—you will experience steady progress, and important breakthroughs, over time. But the fruits of your efforts can’t really be controlled—you can’t exactly predict how the larger process will unfold. Still, if you move forward faithfully, playfully, your persistence—combined with the child’s rising maturity—will gradually generate the sort of satisfying results that you seek.