Do you read English books to your children?

Reading is a hugely beneficial way to improve your language, both in your native language and in subsequent languages you learn. And reading to children exposes them to a lot of words in a short amount of time, and repeatedly. And it’s great for connection time and feeling close as a family. All the experts agree – read to your children!

But do you ever wonder if you should read more books, or if your accent is a barrier? Are you nervous about making mistakes in your reading? If so, read on for some tips about how to feel more confident reading English books with your kids.

1. Practice

My first tip is quite obvious…practice. If you can before reading time have a quick read through. Notice if there are any tricky words for you to pronounce, or any rhymes or rhythyms to the words. More about rhymes and rhythms below.

You might find a video of the book being read on Youtube, and these are very useful for helping to understand the pronunciation and rhythm of reading, but don’t use this as a substitute! Your kids want to hear your voice.

Previewing the book also will give you an idea of the contents, if it’s suitable for your child, or if there’re any issues you might want to avoid. But don’t reject the book if you think the language is too hard for your child. Experts also agree it’s great to expose children to all levels of language in order for them to improve their language.

2. Don’t worry about making mistakes

When I read books in English I make mistakes, usually because I’m not looking at the words properly. How many times have my children corrected me? Zero! It’s not that important to them if you stumble a bit. Even when I read so so slowly in Japanese they are kind enough to keep listening!

If you make a mistake when reading, correct it, and carry on. No big deal. Children are generally listening to the whole of the story, the feelings and the actions, they’re not English teachers who’ll catch your every mistake.

Some parents worry that their children will pick up their accent, but this is not really a problem. Children nowadays have a lot of exposure to English through TV, videos and other media. Research shows that children pick up the accents that they hear most, so if they’re watching a lot of American shows they’ll naturally acquire a more American accent. 

3. Follow the words with your finger

Research shows that young children will naturally focus on the pictures and hardly glance at the words at all during story time. You can teach children a lot by running your finger along the words as you read. They’ll learn that we read from top to bottom, and left to right in English. Especially if your language uses a different script this is valuable information that your finger alone can teach!

Rather than point at each word, running your finger just under the word as you say it will help the child learn that words also are read left to right, and as they begin to learn phonics they’ll notice the sounds matching the letters.

Don’t worry if you don’t do this all the time with all books. Sometimes it’s great to vary what you do, and sometimes you can just enjoy the pictures together.

4. Look for rhyming words

In the UK when children are learning to read they first learn the phonics – the sounds letters make, then how to blend the sounds together to read a word. Learning rhyming words is one later stages in learning to read but it’s really important.

When you read the words read and read – how do you know if its /reed/ or /red/? and is tear /teer/ or /tair/? English is tricky! So looking for rhymes gives us clues about the pronunciation.

Many children’s books are written with rhymes so practice noticing them with your kids and working out together how to say the words! Rhyming books often have a rhythm to them as well, which makes reading even easier and more like a song.

5. Give your children a choice

The best way to engage your kids is to give them a choice, you don’t need to read to them every single day in English, and you don’t have to use your finger to follow the words on every page.

If your children get to choose the books they like they’ll respond with more enthusiasm and engagement then if you always choose. And even babies can express a preference for one book or another.

Finally don’t stop! You don’t need to stop reading just because your child can read, or even when they become teenagers. It’s such good practice so keep it up if you both want to!

Let me know how you feel about reading in English, do you love it or hate it? 

Happy Reading!