Liz from Lizardek asked about the books in my post office tower. Because I read mostly on a Kindle now, only a few were for me – Mariana, by Monica Dickens and a book on Chinese brush painting. The rest are Christmas presents for Will and Caroline. Caroline's stash includes The Saturdays, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Horse and His Boy. Will reads kolokolo, so I'll keep quiet about his ;-). I love to give and get books for Christmas, and before I bought a Kindle, always looked forward to the days after Christmas when I had enough to read, and more! So satisfying.
Now that Caroline is reading English fluently, having lots of English books around for her to choose from gives me the same satisfaction, and we pour through online book lists to figure out what we can find for her to read next.
"Reading English fluently." Three words to savor even more than a tower of books. A few days ago, Prague Monitor’s Emily Prucha posted an article in Half-n-Half about reading in Czech and English. Her story of her daughter's first foray into reading English reminded me of our own bi-literal try. It's a longer tale than I usually tell here - to make up for it, I promise I'll stick to pictures tomorrow!
Kindergarten, or školka, in the Czech Republic is very different from the UK or the States. Kids learn to change clothes on their own, dance the mazurka, and brush their teeth thoroughly. They draw pictures, sing songs and practice lots of socialization skills. They don't study the alphabet, numbers, or much of anything academic and it's generally a relaxing few years. I thought Caroline's last year in školka might be the perfect time for her to get the basics of reading in English behind her, before she needed to switch to Czech.
It didn't take. Caroline believed books were for us to read to her, and she told us so, loudly. Then first grade came along, and all focus switched to learning to read and write in Czech and to sit still in class. Each was tough at first (especially sitting still). By contrast, the basic English her class studied was easy – she did no work and always knew the answer!
The one word Caroline learned in school those first few months was "jumper." She also picked up a cute British accent she’d use at supper sometimes. English remained a blank book, so by January I decided to go guerrilla. We worked on spelling lists while we walked to the store, wrote letters on the weekend, read picture books together at night. If she did all her chores, she took over my computer and played on Starfall.com. Czech is a phonetic language, which makes it beautifully simple to learn to read. English is not. The spelling disgusted C. She refused to believe it could be so illogical, and words like "two" spent weeks on her spelling list. I dug up similarities between Czech, German and English to explain word spellings and turned English's long history into spooky bed time tales. After a while, Caroline decided that English was weird, but cool.
Then second grade arrived, and Caroline found school a lot easier. English class started to get boring. Her teacher and I put our heads together and agreed that I’d help Caroline after school just as usual, but this year she'd give C credit for the extra work. If she had an essay or book report to write in Czech that week, she’d write one in English too. I found workbooks for her and we spent many a Sunday morning playing school.
Last spring Caroline started to read in English for fun. She still writes book reports in both English and Czech, and in the ESL classes each week at school she either works on vocabulary or reading comprehension on her own. She’s joined an after school English class run by Class Acts, and her teacher there inspires her to work even harder. Her essays have become funny and more fluent. It still feels like pulling teeth to get her to sit down and work on writing, but she’d carry a book around and read all day if we let her.
Looking back now, I’m proud of C for her perseverance, grateful to her teacher for the extra motivation, and very glad that James has a few more years until first grade!
And you? If you have kids at home learning two or more languages, what's your best advice for handling the everyday challenges of helping them learn to read and write the languages they're not focused on in school?
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