Bilingual Reading Balance for Older Children


With school year started our # 1 goal with my 3rd grader is

to find the reading balance between our 2 main languages: Russian and English.

Summer was little easier. He had a lot of time in his hands and was able to read in two languages every day. But school days are different. We have limited amount of time, there is required reading he brings home every day, there are sport activities every other night and finally – he needs to rest and just do his kid stuff: build Lego battle, jump on the trampoline, ride bikes with his friends!

So how do we maintain sanity and stay on top of reading balance between two languages?

Find your reading balance between 2 languages.

Find your reading balance between 2 languages.

First thing we’ve had to do is take the longer-term view: skipping one night of Russian reading is not a big deal, as long as my son getting plenty of exposure throughout the whole week. Sometimes that means putting in a an hour in one night rather than just 30 min, or talking to him in Russian for a while about an English-language book he’s reading (which is also a good way to reinforce my role as the “Russian” parent, and to accustom him to the idea of translating and thinking in multiple languages at once, which will be a useful skill later in his bilingual development).

 Second, the most important part of this — and the biggest challenge — is making sure there are always enough books around in the minority language. Do everything you can to keep a wide variety of reading material available in your household’s minority language! The children will have access to majority-language books everywhere they go (school, bookstores, libraries, gifts, etc.), but their selection in the minority language is going to be largely limited to whatever you acquire for them.  Keep your books handy:  if you or your child is looking to long for a book, time and interest could be lost already and you won’t get enough reading this time.

Third. What you don’t want to do here is let reading in the minority language become a luxury or a “treat” rather than a regular part of household life. It’s even more important, in fact, because the child is now getting much more exposure to the majority language at school. The minority language should be even more of a focus at home.

Forth, read together with your child even if she can read on her own.  My oldest son can now read on his own, but he and I still also read together as well. We work on the harder books together. I try to make “reading time” a solid hour every day, but of course that doesn’t always work as his schedule gets fuller.

In a pinch, you can still get lots of minority language use in by talking about majority-language books your child is reading. But it doesn’t build the same reading skills that a text printed in the minority language does. Work on keeping those around, and be sure your child is reading them just as much — or more — at home as he or she is reading the majority language.

Remember, there’s exposure to written English (or whatever the majority language in your situation is) everywhere. You see it on signs, advertisements, shop windows, and even television screens. The minority language is up to you.