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Raising Multilingual Kids and Teens with Books

Tips to get your children reading and practicing a new language at home.

Topics: Learning Reading
Parent/caregiver and young child reading a book together

Trying to teach your kids a new language? Whether it's the language of your family's heritage or simply a new one, learning a new language is good for children's development. It helps them pick up important life skills like listening, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

These ideas can help you support your child as they learn and practice at home. As they build their skills, let them know that it's OK to make mistakes. That's part of the learning process!

The tips below are grouped by age, but many apply to children of all ages and learning levels. Check them out to see which ones fit your kids best.

For Kids Age 3–8

Let kids choose their own books from a selection. Chances are, your kid will be more willing to learn if they're interested in what they're reading. If they really love a particular book or series, re-read it! Reading the story over and over will help them become more familiar with the words, meaning, and flow of the language.

Read aloud together and listen to audiobooks. Sounds are a big part of learning a new language. Not only is it great to snuggle up and share stories as a family, kids benefit from listening to them. And if the language is a part of your family's background, try to connect the stories you read to your own experiences. These discussions can help your child make sense of the story and reflect on what they hear.

Check for storytimes at the local library. Many public libraries host storytelling events and author visits for kids, reading books in different languages. Try taking your little ones to these sessions so they can practice listening, reading, and speaking the language with their community.

Make it fun! Motivate your kids to be multilingual by making it a fun experience. When possible, grab your books and read together at the park or library. Or set up a reading corner at home where everyone can let their imaginations run wild.

For Kids Age 9–12 and Teens

Look for translated versions of their favorite books. Don't be afraid to encourage your kids to re-read their favorite books in a second (or third) language. Reading translations of books they're familiar with can expose your readers to more than the story. They can learn cultural phrases and expressions, vocabulary, and grammar.

Have discussions based on the books they read. This gives kids and teens a chance to ask questions, reflect on what they read, and make connections between languages. They can get a deeper understanding of the story and learn about different perspectives, too.

Practice creating stories together. You don't have to be fluent to be a storyteller. Encourage your kids to start using simple words and phrases in conversations and speaking more frequently at home. Then help them make up their own stories based on the books they read!

Try writing more often. Reading and writing go hand in hand. As your child's reading skills grow, try to get them to write more often too. Help them practice writing in the language and putting short sentences together. Set aside time to write every week, and then share during family nights.

Raisa Masood

Raisa is passionate about helping kids thrive, which has led to her making a career out of reading and watching children's media. As a content editor at Common Sense, she works on tips and advice for families on managing media and tech at home. She has also previously worked in children's publishing and nonprofit organizations. Raisa loves to read, travel, and watch football (aka soccer). You can find her exploring New York City during her free time, and trying to hunt down the best dumplings in the city (she has a never-ending list).