In the European Union, 56% of people, more than half, speak at least two languages. There are many households where one or both parents speak a different native language.
Is it a good idea to raise your kids to be bilingual? Should you put them in bilingual education? How can you support your kids as they forge ahead learning two languages at the same time? These are some of the questions parents struggle with which are addressed in this blog post.
Benefits of Bilingualism
Early linguists originally thought that learning two languages at the same time led to slight developmental delays. Unfortunately, this belief has stuck around though now researchers know that bilingualism helps to develop skills that can give children an advantage in the classroom.
Knowing which language to speak requires inhibition and task switching, which contributes to developing better attention. Figuring out with whom to use which language also develops empathy.
There is some evidence that active bilingualism makes structural changes in the brain that can help stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia in the elderly. Moreover, bilinguals who have Alzheimer’s continue to function at a higher rate than monolinguals, even when they have more brain damage.
What Is Bilingual Literacy?
So, learning a second language is a great idea — how about learning to read both? Another common misunderstanding is that speaking two languages makes learning to read difficult.
Again, research has found that this is not true. From being exposed to multiple languages from a young age, children actually have an easier time understanding word structure. This, in turn, heightens phonological awareness — an important pre-literacy skill.
Reading advantages of being bilingual vary depending on the two languages that the child speaks. For example, if a child speaks related languages like Spanish and Italian, they will have an easier time learning to read in both than in unrelated languages like English and Japanese.
How Parents Can Help
Putting kids in a bilingual classroom is perhaps one of the best ways parents can help their kids develop bilingual literacy. However, this option won’t be available to all parents.
If one or both parents speak a different language than that of your child’s school, focus on speaking this language in the home. They’re getting plenty of instruction in the school’s language so they need exposure to your language at home.
Some parents get discouraged when children mix up languages and stop teaching them, fearing they will stunt their education. Don’t do this! As children practice they will separate the two languages and surge forward in learning to speak, read, and write both.
Spend time reading to your kids in your target language. This is not only an excellent activity for helping them to develop language and reading skills, but also a great way for you to spend quality time with them. Kids will remember reading together fondly, a positive association that will help them want to learn to read.
Whatever your situation, reading games can help support kids’ development and help them learn to read faster. For example, GraphoGame is an app backed by research that can help children learn to read in a variety of languages including English, French, Chinese, Dutch and many others. It combines Finnish educational expertise (one of the best educational rubrics in the world) with top-level research in neuroscience.
Want to learn more? Don’t hesitate to check it out! Your kids will love learning to read with GraphoGame’s unique learning software.
Photo credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Project Director at GraphoGame
Who educates your children? The school? Their teachers? It's easy to put it off and say this isn't on us. We feed them, clothe them, raise them, learning is the school's problem.
But that isn't how it works. Research shows that learning ability begins at birth. And a lot depends on the activities children do with their parents, at home, before the age of five. So, a big part of it is on you.
What is emergent literacy?
It refers to the informal early learning stages of children. Or the part where your child is learning how to read and write. And the role you play in these early years affects how they learn and develop their literacy skills. A lot of the literature you read on the subject can sound vague.
However, if you want an exact image of what emergent literacy is, well, you already have it. It's when you read a picture book to a toddler, and they point at the pictures. Or when you read them a storybook, and they turn the pages. It is the sounds they make to sing along to your nursery rhyme. It is every crayon scribble and gaggle sound. When you put in that effort, your child instinctively responds as its brain processes the information.
Why is it important?
These early steps are essential in helping your child learn how to read and write later in school. The babbling leads to speaking, the scribbles to writing, and the page-turning to reading. Studies prove how students who read at a higher level were read to, by their parents, in childhood and early infancy.
How can you help your children develop these skills?
The best part is that it's straightforward to help your children develop these skills. All it takes is spending time with them and doing simple activities.
Speaking: Children absorb information from the adults around them. Their brains don't know how language works. So, when you talk to them, they take in the form and shape of words. The sounds they make are them trying to copy your tone and rhythm.
So, spend as much time talking to your children as possible. Don't try to copy their baby talk or make sounds back at them. Instead, speak normally and in short sentences. Ask them questions and pretend you're having a regular conversation with them. This will help your child learn how to speak quicker.
Reading Storybooks: Make storybook reading a daily habit. Pick books with colourful images and repeat the same ones. A mistake a lot of parents make today is reading from their kindle or phone. By doing that, you are robbing your child of the opportunity to participate in the activity.
You don't want to distract them with a bright screen. You want to have that bonding moment where you move your child's finger under the line. Or when they turn the page while you're in the middle of a sentence. It is the activity that matters. And the interaction that will teach them how to read.
Singing Nursery Rhymes: Remember, children pick up the language through tone and rhythm. The reason nursery rhymes work is the same reason a catchy song sticks in your head
When you sing your child a nursery rhyme their undivided attention is on you. Take classics like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. At some point, they'll start copying your hand movements. Then they'll try to copy the words.
Drawing and Coloring: Handling writing mediums is the first step to learning how to write. Those early crayon squiggles might not look like much, but that is your child learning how to hold the crayon. It helps them adjust to the weight of the tools and develops hand control and dexterity.
Toys and games: There are a lot of games you can play with your children. But some toys are more useful than others. One toy you should get your child is building blocks. They come in all sizes and colours. And you can play together to build houses, trains, and all sorts of things.
Studies into the subject show that children who grow up playing with blocks are more likely to pursue careers in fields like engineering. That is because the act of building things and joining parts develops key parts of their brains.
There are a lot of steps you can take to improve your child's ability. All it takes is a little attention. It can be easy to overlook those early steps, however, their importance cannot be overemphasised!
Photo credit: Picsea on Unsplash
Some children learn how to read, write, communicate, and socialise quickly while others struggle, and that’s okay. Early literacy development varies from child to child, so all children will progress at different rates.
Different skills are needed for children’s literacy competence. Take a look at some of the essential literacy skills that children need to develop to succeed in their learning journey.
The English alphabetic writing system is made up of 26 letters. However, there are almost two times more sound units (phonemes) for these letters. The letters in words represent different sounds that dictate how each word should be pronounced. Without this awareness, children can’t read and pronounce new words correctly.
Phonemes aren’t inherently obvious, so they must be taught. There are many different approaches to impart phonemic awareness skills in children. These include the following:
Our GraphoGame literacy learning app for children was designed specifically to facilitate children phonemic awareness at home or school. In other words, GraphoGame helps children to connect written language segments with the corresponding speech sounds.
Awareness of Print
Print is ubiquitous. It can be seen in alphabet books and storybooks, on signs and billboards, and in magazines, and newspapers. With that said, many children are likely to come across it before starting school.
Children’s level of print awareness is a very strong predictor of their future reading achievement. Children with an awareness of print understand that written communication is related to oral communication. They see that, like verbal communication, printed language carries meaning. Children who lack print awareness may not become effective readers.
Imagine relying on a few words to communicate an idea. Whether spoken or written, your communication won’t be engaging or persuasive.
Children need to build a strong vocabulary for school, work readiness, and general life skills. They need to constantly learn new words so they can have a rich vocabulary that will help them communicate better and make a positive impression on others.
Kids learn the first words from their parents and other older household members. Hence, families play an important role in children’s performance of vocabulary.
Many children start to speak before they go to school but very few can spell the words that they use. Spelling skills help children differentiate words that are pronounced the same way but are written differently.
Children can be taught how to spell correctly in a variety of ways, including:
The primary use of words is to convey meaning. Words mean nothing if children can’t understand how and why they’ve been used. Comprehension skills are essential to ensure children understand what they read.
A variety of strategies can be deployed to help children improve their reading or text comprehension skills. These include the following:
Families and educators should team up to improve children’s literacy development
When it comes to early literacy development, the main takeaway is that all children are different. Parents should work together with educators to help every child acquire the skills they need to achieve literacy success.
Image credit: Jerry Wang on Unsplash
Co-founder & Head of Partnerships at GraphoGame
Albert Einstein, king of the pithy statement, once said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
And, it will come as no surprise, that the eminent scientist has been proven right time and again. In fact, studies into the effects of reading on childhood development highlight that reading for pleasure doesn’t just help a child’s educational performance.
Children who read daily not only do better in school, but have a more extensive vocabulary, better general knowledge, and an improved understanding and interest in other cultures.
Why does reading matter?
Research by BookTrust, the largest children’s reading charity in the UK, has found that reading allows children to develop a wide range of literacy skills, as well as setting the foundations for social interactions.
Based on research from 2014, BookTrust advises that book experiences for children should start from as early as 3-4 months of age, and their enhanced language and communication skills become evident from around 8 months old.
Books also provide a ‘stable source of information’ for a child, which allows them to make sense of what they encounter in the world. This vital background knowledge of “the world out there” helps improve their cognitive development.
Reading as childhood #lifehacks
It’s no stretch to say that childhood reading helps children to develop critical life skills, as well as thinking skills. That’s not all that some time with a good book can do for your little one.
Reading is Fundamental
There are some great ways to promote reading to your child, including:
While there are impressive statistics around reading and your child’s development, it can also be deeply enjoyable. Exposing your child to a wide range of literary texts - from books to poetry - is a wonderful way to engage them in a lifelong love affair.
Image credit: Ben White on Unsplash
Project Director at GraphoGame