Being multilingual

Why reading aloud is important

We usually tend to read less to our children when they start reading by themselves. It’s such a big milestone to be able to read everything from the ingredients on the food-packages, the countless adverts, to the biggest book on the shelf!

The world of words is now open and we, parents or caregivers, can relax. – Or not?

An article on Mindshift and some discussions I recently had with my children and some friends made me realize that we should keep on reading to our children even if they already comfortably read to themselves.

“Reading aloud to older children — even up to age 14, who can comfortably read to themselves — has benefits both academic and emotional, says Jim Trelease, who could easily be called King of the Read-Aloud. Trelease, a Boston-based journalist, turned his passion for reading aloud to his children into The Read-Aloud Handbook in 1979; it has since been an unequivocal bestseller with sales in the mult-millions, and Trelease is releasing the seventh, and final, edition in June.”

Fact is that when someone reads to us we focus on the pronunciation, the intonation, the content . If we read to ourselves, we often don’t even know how a new word is pronounced and would probably not recognize it when someone uses it in a conversation.

What about bilinguals?

Many bilinguals – children and adults – are very good in finding out naturally how a word is pronounced in the other language(s). But being able to read a text in a phonetically perfect way doesn’t mean that we captured its meaning. In fact, if asked to find a synonyme or to paraphrase what we’ve read, we often struggle. Sometimes we even get the wrong sense of our readings simply because we misunderstand a word. – When using the word “eventually” in English, for example, I still need to keep in mind that it means “finally/at length” such as “schließlich” in German or “finalmente” in Italian, whereas “eventuell” in German or “eventualmente” in Italian express an uncertainety.

Of course, monolinguals can struggle too with comprehend the semantic width of a word, but they have more chances to use these words in their everyday conversations at home and they have more opportunities to correct and consolidate the use of the vocabulary acquired while reading.

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

“To be successful at reading comprehension, students need to …” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

Why it is important that teachers keep reading to the children

Our nine-year-olds usually had “two solid years of drill and skill, a lot of testing, a lot of work, and they’re competent, but they’re thinking in terms of reading as a sweet experience”, and we, as parents and teachers, are pleased they do. But children may tend to choose books that are not challenging enough to keep up the learning curve. Especially when left alone to choose their readings. Therefore “when a teacher reads a good book above student reading level, he shows students that the good stuff — the really great books — are coming down the road, if they stick with it” and, by choosing books that are slightly above the level of our children’s competence, they can build and improve build the vocabulary and the general proficiency of that language.

 “Research collected on middle school read-alouds showed that 58 percent of teachers read aloud to their students – and nearly 100 percent of reading and special education teachers. And, while middle-school students reported liking read-alouds, little data has been collected on the “extent and nature” of reading aloud to twelve- to fourteen-year-olds.”

Personally, I think that all children and adults benefit from someone reading aloud to them, not only EAL or SEN students. – The article in Mindshift points out that they still lack of data about twelve- to fourteen-year-olds. I think this is mainly due to the lack of time parents and teachers have to read to them, and that students of these age groups (and older) wouldn’t probably appreciate an adult reading to them? Therefore my suggestion would be to make them listen to slightly older peers. This kind of research would probably give similar results as the study with middle-school students.


Other positive side effects from reading aloud

Reading aloud doesn’t only help students to consolidate their knowledge of the language but helps them also to wade into complicated or difficult subjects. When things happen to the characters in the story, and not to themselves, they can approach delicate topics.

“Why do you think so many children’s stories have orphans as characters? Because every child either worries or fantasizes about being orphaned.”

Reading about delicate topics aloud helps to address them in an easier and healthier way. Sharing different point of views, reflecting together on what has been read can help to cope better with similar situations in real life.

Reading aloud is also something adults use to do in book clubs. I observed that book clubs are very popular these days. People who like to read, feel the need to talk about the books and to exchange views about what they’ve read, to compare, to find synonyms, paraphrase, compare. And this is exactly what children do during group reading at school too.


Samuel Richardson, by Miss Highmore, published...
Samuel Richardson, by Miss Highmore, published 1804. See source website for additional information. This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. According to the NPG’s website the work was published prior to 1859, and so the author is reasonably presumed dead by 1939. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Modelling the pleasure of reading is the key

In his study, Trelease acknowledges that “modelling the pleasure of reading is important, but there are more reasons read-alouds work so well — like “broadening the menu.””

“Broadening the menu” becomes even more important if a child has difficulties with reading. According to Wandering Eductators’ Dr. Jessica Voigts, who homeschools her daughter Lillie, reading aloud can make reading more pleasurable for someone with dyslexia. “Reading together – with her watching the words as I read, and then her reading to me – is a way to be together, to experience the world, to enjoy a common pleasure. I read to her, about two-thirds of the time, and then she takes over for one-third of the time. We pass the book back and forth, although we’re usually right next to each other,” she said.

And though her daughter struggles, Voigt admitted she reads to Lillie for more than just academic benefits. “This is a time — tweens, teens — when life is full of craziness. This is one way to have a place of rest, of being, something to count on each day. Shared words have power, an energy that you can’t get from TV, radio, or online,” she said.

“The power of shared words is a big reason to keep on reading aloud after children are able to read for themselves”

English: Four children reading the book How th...
English: Four children reading the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Did you stop reading aloud to your children when they started to read?

Would you consider reading to them again? What is your experience with this?



6 replies »

    • Thank you, Anna Rose for your comment. I didn’t have younger siblings but I always enjoyed reading to others. – I observed that when my kids started to read by themselves I stopped reading to them, probably as a natural consequence of realizing that they are independent readers now? But I also noticed that every time I read something aloud, even if it was only a short newspaper article, they would eagerly listening. I keep on reading to them and to my husband too because I’m convinced that it really helps not only to comprehend the language(s) but also to generally foster our conversations.


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