Nov 14, 2011

Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family

A couple of months ago, one of the most famous blogs on raising multilingual children, Multilingual Matters, introduced a book called Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family (CDN, JP, USA) by Dr. Xiao-lei Wang.
I am not a qualified teacher, I know virtually nothing about pedagogy, and I often feel completely underqualified to after-school my kids. If I could find a qualified teacher to take over for me in my part of Japan, I would choose that route. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon, so I need to get a clue really fast. The first clue is in this book.

What I really want is a how-to guide for raising bilingual and biliterate Japanese-English kids in small-city Japan. That will probably never happen, but this is as close as it gets.

Dr. Wang strikes a great balance between academic findings, personal anecdotes, and real-life examples. She has raised trilingual children so she knows where the reader is coming from and is therefore easy to relate to.

After the introductory chapters the book is divided on age group which is very helpful. I have referred to the chapters on planning and Birth to 5 Years (early childhood) numerous times so far, and a glean something new everytime. I enjoyed reading ahead as well, as I have gained an understanding of where my kids are headed and what I should do about it.

I have learned so much from this book so it would be impossible to list but here are three of the biggies:
1. What I thought was a minority language for my kids is actually a heritage language, and I need to treat it as such.
2. Plan, plan, plan. I need to figure out how to make a plan for my kids' biliterate education, make it, and implement it. These kids won't become biliterate on their own.
3. I need to make an effort to match the learning styles from their school, as well as their learning materials. This will keep their interest and ensure I'm not giving them a shock by straying into weird territory.

Another thing I like about this book is how well it is annotated. The list of resources at the end of each chapter is amazing. It really helps me choose materials when I want to delve in deeper.

I wish that I had had this book as a resource before my kids were born. I think I would have changed the way I approached their language development. This should be required reading for anyone raising multilingual kids who wants their kids to develop heir literacy skills in their heritage language(s).


  1. Oh, so do you recommend it then? Will have to look into it!! I am all for planning- it is the implementing I often have trouble with :D

  2. Interesting book. I too am drafting my multilingual teaching plan for next year.. this year I only managed to concentrate on 2 languages instead of 3 as I planned.

  3. Lulu, I definitely recommend this. You know a lot more about teaching and methodology than me so it might not be as much of a learning curve for you, but it's really good.

    Dominique- you do a whole year at a time, I'm impressed! We are only doing two at the moment but this book gave me hope that adding a third is doable in the future.


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