Read to Your Future Bilingual Baby

Read to your baby

When my mom was pregnant with me, the first thing she did was buy children’s books to read to me. Everyone thought she was crazy. Babies need a crib, clothes, bottles, maybe even some toys, but not books, people would say.

Nowadays, parents still ask themselves whether reading to a baby, who probably doesn’t understand the story being read, makes any sense. Well, actually doctors and speech-language pathologists do highly recommend reading to babies from birth. Stories read out loud stimulate language development in the baby. The content of the story itself doesn’t matter as much as the interaction between the baby and an adult, the use of different tones of voice and the use of expression, all of which can help in the in the child’s emotional development.

Introduction to the mother tongue

Reading stories out loud helps all babies, but it is especially useful when trying to raise a bilingual child. Children’s books can introduce colors, numbers, shapes and a rich vocabulary in the language you are intending to teach. Of course, speaking to the baby throughout the day is the most important thing to do in order to pass down your native language, but books help parents to a use a more varied vocabulary with expressions the baby might not usually hear in day-to-day conversation. If you read stories in your mother tongue to your baby every night, by the end of the first year your child will be familiar with all of the sounds he or she needs to know in order to start speaking the language.

Tips for reading to your baby

  • Read with expression and use different intonations to show the meaning of words
  • Choose books with large, colorful illustrations
  • Let your baby turn the page if his motor skills allow. He will love it and feel more involved.

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Silvia is a Brazilian journalist, teacher, and mom. She grew up in Canada as a bilingual child, speaking only Portuguese at home and English everywhere else. Throughout her adult life, she has lived, studied and worked in both Brazil and Canada. Silvia thinks that bilingualism has opened so many doors for her and she wants the same for her children.