One of my English friends is technically Chinese by his origin. Born in South East of England to Chinese parents.
Well, that’s if the Chinese government applies the same rules as Britain: a child born abroad to British parents is a Brit.
My friend can speak Chinese fluently but… guess what, he can’t read Chinese.
Which makes his life somewhat difficult when he goes to China.
He is a middle-aged man with a university degree and a high flying job but has to ask his 10 years old nephews and nieces: ‘what does the sign above this shop say?’
It’s kind of entertaining and embarrassing at the same time.
I know there were times in his life that he wanted to go to live and work in China, but he couldn’t apply for any normal/ Chinese speaking jobs, because obviously, he couldn’t read Chinese.
Damn! What a pain to be somewhere halfway.
Recently I thought to myself: That’s it, there’s no time to be wasted.
Czech is not Chinese, so let’s get this job done and dusted.
Our younger bilingual cherub (age 7) is now a good reader in English although reading in any language is not his cup of tea.
Let’s put it this way: He prefers other activities to reading.
He’s the little athlete in our family of… bookworms.
That’s why I was putting off teaching him how to read in Czech.
I didn’t really want to put any pressure on. Considering he spends most of the day at school.
In my home country, it’d be his first year at school as kids start at the age of 6 or 7.
So we’re technically right on track anyway.
One evening not so long ago, the boys had a shower and were kind of messing around in their and our bedroom.
The Czech ABC book had been next to my bed as a gentle reminder for ages.
So I finally grabbed it and started spontaneously teaching him reading.
I laid down on my tummy across our bed and held the book to read it.
I was asking him about letters in the book, what they were and how you pronounce them in Czech.
We were sounding them out together and reading some syllabes.
My little monkey was kind of laying on my back, looking over my shoulders while I was quizzing him and praising him.
Once children know the English alphabet and can sound the letters out phonetically, reading in Czech is actually not as difficult.
To start with, most of the basic sounds are phonetically similar in English and you just have to introduce some modifications like for eg. Č (like for chocolate in English), Š (like for sheep in English), Ž (like for jour in French) and others.
That’s obviously not all of them, but it’s pretty much always one sound, one letter and it doesn’t really change.
This was pretty much sorted in a couple of afternoons with our older bilingual cherub.
And he was able to start reading in my native language. But he is… a little bookworm, that has to be said.
So with our younger bilingual monkey who still ‘wouldn’t touch a book with a barge pole’ only a few months ago, I didn’t set the bar too high.
But he was doing just fine, enjoying it, practicing words he knew, getting frustrated when he didn’t know….
The main thing was that I could prove to him that: it was not as difficult as he thought and that he could actually do it already without too much effort.
And we had fun together while learning something new, that’s what really matters to me anyway.
I was really proud of Richie, because he did so well and I felt that even his normal attention span increased.
Wow! This was a brilliant start.
Now we’re just gonna keep doing these little fun exercises and build up upon it.
I was very excited about Richie’s progress and mentioned it to one of my in-laws and how clever a boy he is.
(You can read about what my in-laws really think about bilingual parenting in my blog post here.)
And as the family can, this person happily poured a cold bucket over my head by saying:
‘Why does he need to know how to read in Czech? It’s good enough he can speak it.’
Whaaat? You can’t be serious!?
Why does one need to know how to read in the 21st Century I wonder?
This is pretty self-explanatory.
Besides, I don’t know any people who are willingly illiterate.
I have met people in the UK while working as an interpreter that were illiterate and it’s very frustrating.
The bottom line is that nowadays if you can’t read you can’t get access to a huge amount of very useful information… even drawing up money from a cash machine is basically impossible… and you can’t live a very independent life.
I’ve seen people who were illiterate being very easily manipulated by others…. Without even realising it!
But hey, let’s say that this is not my bilingual child’s problem.
He is already literate in one language, so why bother with his other language?
Because I don’t feel it’s fair to leave him just halfway as my Chinese friend is.
Besides, reading in Czech is seriously not rocket science.
Even if he never reads any books by Čapek, Kundera or Havel in their original form, I dread to think that one day, he couldn’t even take a (Czech) girl out for dinner, just because he wouldn’t be able to read what’s on the menu…
Ok, we live in the UK, and my native language is not on the list of top 5 widely spoken languages in the world.
Still, being able to read in this language or any other extra language expands your vocabulary and teaches the dreaded grammar at the same time.
It naturally gets your child’s language skills to the next level, so WHY miss this golden opportunity??
I’ll never know!!
It would be completely bonkers, considering how little effort is required if my child can already read in English.
P.S. Do you ever get frustrated by the assumptions of native English speakers that the other languages are really not that necessary?
Especially to reach a higher level of command of another language? … like reading in it.
P.S.S. Why don’t we see the child’s potential?
Why are we happy to settle for average when reaching higher is not that hard???