Tips When Reading a Bilingual Book

Tips When Reading a Bilingual Book

By Berenice Moreno, M.S., CCC-SLP

This blog post is guest written by Berenice Moreno, a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and mother of three. She has a M.S. in Communicative Disorders, a B.A. in Child Development, and a minor in Special Education. She has been an SLP for 9 years now and has worked in a variety of settings including Early Intervention, clinic, and schools. Her passion is working with bilingual families and students and helping them honor their languages and cultures. Stay tuned for other posts from this series!

So you finally purchased the beautiful bilingual book you’ve been eyeing for a while and are thinking to yourself, “now what?” You may know that reading is highly beneficial for language development, but maybe you’re not quite sure how to effectively read a book or how to engage your child in the experience. I’m here to make the process a little simpler for you along with the legwork that Binibi has already done for you! Let me start off by reminding you that reading a bilingual book with your child may look different for you than it does for another family depending on the language strategy you have chosen to implement at home! There is no right or wrong approach- choose the language approach that feels most comfortable to you and that works best for your family, always keeping in mind that language learning, and teaching, should feel natural and fun! 

Here is a brief overview of the various language approaches:

The Minority Language at Home (ML@H): Parents choose to speak the minority or target language at home. For example, Spanish is practiced at home and English at school.

One Parent-One Language (OPOL): Each parent speaks their preferred language. For example, one parent may speak English to the child while the other speaks Spanish.

Mixed Language Approach: Both parents use two or more languages interchangeably. For example, one parent could be using both English and Spanish in one sentence while another parent may speak Spanish in some contexts and English in others. 

Regardless of the language strategy that you follow, reading is a universal activity that is beneficial to all families to help strengthen language learning. Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind when reading with your bilingual child:

Follow your child's lead.

If your child looks at or points to the cow, you can say “cow” and “moo-moo” (in whatever language you are selecting). It is not necessary to read the book in order or to read the entire book; simply talk about what your child is interested in and expand upon his or her reactions. Little ones are more likely to have a pleasant reading experience and learn the vocabulary if they are motivated and interested in what they are learning.

Reinforce the target language by repeating the word in that language.

If your child says a word in one language, but you would like to introduce a different language, you can simply repeat the word in the target language without correcting them. For example, if your child says, “cow”, you can say, “si, vaca.” If you are using the ML@H approach, you will likely choose to read to your child in the target language. For example, you may choose to only read the book in Spanish and ignore the English text. If you have selected the OPOL approach; one parent may read the book in Spanish one day, while the other parent may read the book in English another day. However, if you are using the Mixed Language approach, you may read some words in English and others in Spanish. Remember to do what feels comfortable for your family!

Use a bilingual book to introduce the concept of two languages.

One of the great things about a bilingual book is that it can be a great tool to teach your child about their two languages. When raising a bilingual child, it is important to discuss what it means to be bilingual (when they are old enough, of course.) Reading a bilingual book is a great way to begin this conversation while also practicing both languages. You can discuss their two languages as well as similarities and differences between the two. For example, you can say en Español decimos “mariposa” and in English we say “butterfly.” 

I hope you find these tips useful. Remember to always do what works for your family!