Reading matters

This post was written as a submission to the Bilingual blog Carnival hosted at Multilingual Mama.

We enjoy reading in our home. I have all sorts of reading material scattered throughout the house (no, I’m not messy, ahem, I just like to be able to pick something up to read no matter where I am) and R reads a lot mostly on his commutes. In fact this what you can see from where I’m sitting right now:

There are even books on the stairs! So it’s no surprise the Sprout has a ton of books already, cleverly scattered throughout the house as well. Books by the potty, check. Books by the bed, check. In the family room, check. Upstairs, check. Yep, he can pick up one of his books pretty much anywhere in the house, bathroom included (hey, it has really helped with learning to use the potty!). Needless to say, since we ARE a multilingual family, living in a multilingual community, we have books in more than one language. We have some in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French. The same goes for Sprout (except Spanish).

I have recently finished reading the Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and I highly recommend it to any parent. We’ve always read aloud to Sprout, since he was a newborn and most of our family thought we were nuts, so this book is really preaching to the choir. I did know about the benefits of reading aloud to young children, although we did it mostly for fun and bonding, however this book has such a wealth of information on how important reading aloud really is, how to go about it and great suggestions for read-alouds by age and even topic. I think this is truly a must have book. The book points out something we already knew, although not totally aware of how much – the contribution of reading aloud to language acquisition. I realise Sprout has a wonderful comprehension of even some difficult vocabulary thanks in a big degree to reading.

Although this book doesn’t really address reading for multilinguals (though it does make a brief reference to reading and English as a second language), this book really got me thinking on reading and multilingual language acquisition, as well as using books to better understand different cultures.

Sprout is bilingual from birth, and as you may have read here before, we use the one parent, one language approach while speaking Portuguese to each other (parents that is). We tend to do the same thing with books. I read the English books and R reads the Portuguese books. Easy peasy. Except, what do you do when your little one asks you to read a book in the other parent’s language? Up until now, it’s been fairly easy – we grab any book and translate freely as we read. But as he starts enjoying stories with more words, rhymes and poems, it’s beginning to get a bit harder. For the most part we still translate freely, but there are a few (mostly in English) like Mother Goose where Papa Sprout will say it’s a book for Mama to read. I wonder how others handle this, especially as they get older. I suppose it will get easier for him to understand that Mama reads certain books and Papa reads others. Part of the issue though is the difficulty to get good books in Portuguese here. Most of his books are in English because it’s so easy (and fairly cheap) to buy them online or at Waterstones, Stonemanor, etc. and to borrow them from the Children’s Library. Much harder for Portuguese and no library I know of. Plus, I am more familiar with English language books for kids and usually will prefer the original language. I have seen some families that have the same book in 2 (or even more ) languages, but the penny pincher in me has a hard time wrapping her head around that idea. Plus, does it make that much sense before he can actually read?

Another issue is books in French. Who shall read them before he can? We have a few and make frequent visits to our local library, but then we just translate them to our language. It’s a pity, because it’s very hard to do with books with more words and jargon we’re not so familiar with (not that it’s very hard to make out in children’s books though, but still I have come across a couple – and the rhymes are totally off).What we’ve just recently started doing is going to story time in French so Sprout has more exposure to the French language. Our local library has readings for the over 3 crowd only, but our local ONE has readings for the 0-3 crowd once a month. Not very much, I know! We went once, and although Sprout was more interested in the play kitchen they had, at least he only heard French around him. This week I have also discovered one of my favourite French bookshops in Brussels, Filigranes (they have a small English section too) has weekly readings Sunday mornings at 10.30. We went today and it was perfect! The reader was much better than the one from ONE, the bookshop is lovely to be in and has a wonderful little café and Sprout actually sat through most of it – until he had to go wee 😉 And of course, we couldn’t leave without adding this fantastic book to our library (Le grand livre des mots français/anglais by Richard Scarry – I had actually been looking for it in English, this is even better! Score!):

I’d love to hear how you handle reading and multilingualism! Please feel free to share in the comments!

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