This message was written by Sarah Sierens and Kristel Detollenaere, language specialists in the teacher training at HOGENT. They found inspiration at Foyer VZW, Freinetschool De Mandala and the Boekenkaravaan of De Schoolbrug during the project Little Children – Great Opportunities. 

In a previous blog post, you could read an answer to two questions that teachers ask themselves when it comes to multilingual reading: Which books are suitable and where can I find them. In other words, the learning material is there. But how should we proceed now?


Who will read a book in another language? 

It goes without saying that if you do not master a language, you should appeal to someone who does. It is best to have picture books in other languages ​​read by a native speaker. In the first place, you can think of a multilingual teacher. We talked to Roxanne Vlerick, a teacher in a diverse preschool in Belgium (De Mandala Freinetschool, Ghent). The preschool’s teacher team is made up of several multilingual teachers, and multilingual reading is natural to them. Roxanne says: “Reading aloud in the home language of preschoolers ensures, among other things, higher well-being in the classroom. The imagination of the preschoolers is also stimulated more strongly because the language barrier disappears.” 

Other multilingual school employees may want to read aloud in their home languages. Just think of the administrative staff, after-school care supervisors, cleaning staff, and so on. You can also bet on kangaroo reading. In this case, you can have multilingual students, preferably from the third grade, read out loud in their home language in kindergarten or preschool. 

And yet, the main partners in multilingual reading aloud are mostly outside the school walls. We mean the parents of the multilingual children. Don’t assume that multilingual parents will offer themselves spontaneously for book reading. If the school does not have a broad and grounded vision of multilingualism, this will not happen quickly. After all, multilingual reading is not an isolated practice, but it is part of a series of initiatives to close the gap between the school, the home environment, and also the library. What are you with a nice selection of books and a lot of enthusiasm, if readers cannot find their way to you? Teacher Roxanne confirms this: “Set the bar low is the key here. Our local mediator plays a very important role in this. She motivates and mobilizes parents to find their way to school. The child can be there, the parents can be there, and the home language is allowed into the classroom.” 

Once a broad vision of multilingualism has been installed in your school, you can continue to focus on strengthening the bridge between school and parents. The involvement of multilingual parents in the school and classroom environment is essential for every diverse school. The positive effects of parental involvement and parental participation on children’s development have been described several times, so supporting that involvement and opening the doors to home languages ​​at school is very important. 

You can motivate parents to read aloud in other languages by convincing them of the benefits, including the positive effect on the language development of their children. Some multilingual parents are concerned that the use of the home language will hinder the development of the school language. Nothing is less true. Multilingual reading not only increases well-being in the classroom, but it also offers a stepping stone to learning the school language. After all, skills and strategies that you practice in the home language can be extended to another language.


Extra attention for the readers 

The material is there, the readers or storytellers are present. Your obstacles have been overcome. But what about your readers? As a teacher, you are very familiar with the way you convey stories to preschoolers. Don’t assume that parents can do this on their own. Make them feel comfortable and support them well: 

  • Present general reading and storytelling techniques very concretely to parents. Act as a role model. Make a clear distinction between how you would do it and how you wouldn’t. Emphasize a clear facial expression, varied intonation, supporting gestures, and a slow reading or narration tempo. If necessary, make two contrasting videos that the readers can watch several times. 
  • Also, consider the language level of the reader. Some parents cannot read or have difficulty reading, but they do feel good about “silent books”. 
  • In the first place, give parents the opportunity to bring a book or choose from your offer. Of course, you let them take the book home in advance so that they can prepare. Make sure the books meet the criteria mentioned in our previous blog message. That makes reading or telling a story much easier.


Some reading tips for multilingual reading

Multilingual reading is not so different from monolingual reading. The way in which you get started with the multilingual book depends on your objective. You may want to scaffold well-being in the classroom. In addition, you also stimulate a positive attitude towards language diversity. But you can also go a step further and use the home language as a scaffold for learning the school language. This is not an either/or story. Both goals can be perfectly pursued together during a multilingual reading moment.


Before reading

As with monolingual reading, you first briefly discuss the cover and title of the book. You read the title in another language and let the preschoolers predict what the story is about, just like you do with regular storytelling. You may translate words between the reading language and the school language. As in the books below, the image on the cover helps understand the title.

Vary your work method. For example, use a hand puppet that reads the title and asks the preschoolers to help translate. The hand puppet can also ask the reader to help with the pronunciation of the title, or to read it aloud in Arabic, for example, and so on. In this way, linking two languages ensures a higher involvement and therefore a better understanding of the story, but it can also stimulate language sensitivity. Ex. “Coccodrillo! That is very much like a crocodile! “


While reading

There are two ways of multilingual reading, roughly speaking. You can offer the entire story in the other language, or you can include both languages per page.

In the preschool De Mandala, where multilingual reading mainly focuses on language awareness, the story is read entirely in the home language. Teacher Roxanne says the following about this: “We notice that the magic of the story disappears when we switch to Dutch per page. We vary as much as possible in the home language offered, but always read books in full.”

If you want to focus on story comprehension and the link with the school language, you may choose to include both languages ​​per page. Moreover, the concentration and involvement with all preschoolers remain high.

Otherwise, the points for attention are the same as those for monolingual reading. Use a good facial expression, ensure a varied use of voice, make eye contact. Also, keep your reading pace low. Indicate and express what you see in the pictures. Visual support is very important.


After reading

After reading activities can serve two purposes. In the first place, you can work out short activities that are language sensitizing, so that you create openness for multiple languages ​​in your preschoolers. You link this with the story content or the illustrations to the picture book.

Popular activities include counting in the other language, singing songs,… 


Language Awareness Activities: Counting Dottie’s chicks in different languages; Sing “Happy Birthday” in multiple languages ​​for little fish. “Cumpleaños feliz”, “Tanti auguri a te”, etc.

On the other hand, it is also interesting to strengthen story comprehension and stimulate vocabulary learning. You can do this, among other things, by making a story table together with the children. This way, pre-schoolers can replay the story in both their home language and Dutch. On the Pinterest page of the book caravan, you will find a lot of inspiration material for processing picture books that were published in multiple languages. You will find numerous activities linked to international classics such as “The Most Beautiful Fish in the Sea”, “The Gruffalo”, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, “Elmer”, and so on. “Grouchy Duck”, “A Home for Harry” and the stories of Frog are also featured. In these books, there is a strong link between the illustrations and the text, which makes language comprehension and processing easier. Working with Story Cubes or story dice to retell stories is also interesting.


To conclude, multilingual reading is a wonderful and enriching way to bring multilingualism into your classroom, with benefits for preschoolers, readers, and yourself. So there is no reason not to.

Please follow and like us:
How can we read multilingual books to our children in preschool?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *