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Background : We're an already bilingual household without English. We don't plan on introducing English at home, since our child will pick it up from daycare, school and other places outside the house.

Problem : Reading from "board books" which are easy to handle, with large colorful pictures is highly recommended for newborns and infants. I'd like to do that in my native language, but I haven't found any suitable books, as opposed to the wide variety of quality kids books available in English.

Can I buy these English books, and "read" them to my child in my native language? For example, point at the dog in the book, but say dog in my native language, even though the writing is in English? Or Should I write over the english script with my native language? (My language's script is not Roman)

PS : I've seen this question which seems related - How to read an English story book to the kid when we don't talk in English at home? But the answers dont really address my question of reading out in my native language even if the book is written in English. And that OP seems to have opted to read the book in English, and speak to the child in English, which is not what I want to do.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – anongoodnurse Nov 15 at 14:20
  • It doesn't answer the question, but ... there was a group (whose name I can't remember) that was working on making children's books in foreign languages, specifically using native stories. I can't remember if it's the same group that was having people embroider children's books (as they would last longer). (I used to go to library conferences, so would hear about these sorts of projects) – Joe Nov 15 at 20:07
  • Why would you use "board books" when better alternatives are available? This is the Internet/Technology age after all. My daughter is only 18 months and knows the entire Alphabet and numbers up to 20 for 2 languages already, because she uses apps on a tablet. And that's pretty much without any interaction/help with/from me at all. – Daniele Testa Nov 16 at 1:32
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    Have you tried the version of amazon geared for your mother country? I go to amazon.de often to get German language books for myself and my children. Does such a site exist for your country? – The Dude Nov 17 at 1:33
  • It might be worth pointing out that books for very small children would be written with simple words and vocabulary, and the properties of those words that make them suitable for small children might not carry over when they're translated into other languages. – nick012000 Nov 17 at 12:58
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I have personally tried this. The only difficulty that I've found is that once your child reaches "reading age", these books can offer some starting points. However, if your child has consistently heard you say "chat" on a specific page, but the letters written are "cat", it'll pose a hurdle.

Incidentally, I also initially did this with all the books that use "he" for unnecessarily gendered characters, where I read "she" instead. This posed the same "memorization" issue. Kids remember the words you say, and as they "read" the books in their early learning stages, they'll be repeating the words they know by heart. Because of this, when the letters on the page don't match, there's confusion and possibly annoyance.

Of course, there's always Google Glass, which can change the words in real-time using augmented reality... but maybe a bit overkill. ;)

Edit: I forgot to add, that I think your idea of rewriting the text in the book in your native language is a good idea. Use masking tape to fully cover over the words and write clearly so that it can be legible to your child as a young reader.

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You may not get a choice, particularly as your child gets older. Mine has lots of books in both English and her mother tongue. When I pick up a book she will often request demand it be read in one language or the other, regardless of what language it's written in. This is fine for picture books, but becomes more challenging with more advanced texts.

I can see there might be pedagogical objections, but it doesn't seem to do her any harm and it certainly helps my language skills!

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I would say that the biggest concern is what the other language is. In addition to learning vocabulary (which I think isn't a problem here, since you're saying it out loud), children pick up on a host of other things from reading, including cultural norms and conventions, common phrases that might not directly translate, and in particular they pick up details about the written language itself.

I work with a Kindergarten reading program, where we read to kindergartners (5 years old here), and one of the things we focus on is that even with the non-readers, it's important to follow along the page with our finger so the child gets used to the conventions of written language: in English, that would include reading left to right, top to bottom, for example.

So if your language is, say, Czech, or Russian, something else that is sufficiently close to English in how it is read, then I don't imagine that will cause too much of an issue at any point, at least until the child is old enough to start recognizing letters. However, if your language is Japanese or Chinese or Arabic or Hebrew, some language that does not read left-to-right and even perhaps does not paginate the same way, this will add some challenges as your child ages.

As an infant, I would not be too concerned with this; an infant is primarily picking up verbal language, not written. But as the child ages, it's probably a good idea to have at least some books that are written in the preferred language, especially if that language has a different reading format than English - unless you're worried about confusion in this particular element, anyway (I don't know if that's a concern or not, but it's something to consider).

Some resources for building language skills that are not specific to different languages:

  • ReadingRockets.org which is a great resource for early readers mentions that around age 3, one of the recommended practices for reading to a child is to:

Develop phonological awareness skills as a foundation for learning sound-symbol relationships.

  • ZerotoThree.org is aimed a bit younger (as the name implies), and they focus on the verbal skills. They do include that even at the 12-24 month age range one skill they're learning is to learn how a book works (by letting the child turn the pages, for example), and that's where you could have some differences if you're talking about a language that reads other than left to right, but for the most part they stress that the key at that age is simply the words themselves.
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    That's interesting... my native language reads left to right, top to bottom just like English, although the script is very different. I won't beat around the bush - it's Hindi, an indian language. – learner101 Nov 14 at 18:12
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I’m sort of breaking the rules (I think) by not directly answering the question, but instead offering a different solution: how about books without words at all? Picture books. My kids favorite picture book has always been Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, which has a few words, which frankly don’t matter because my kids had more fun pointing to the animals and following the balloon that floats farther away on each page than worry about the one or two words. And, making animal sounds (what does an armadillo say?) Here’s a list of more wordless, or mostly wordless) books that might be a good place to start. With picture books you just make up stories each time, or variations of the same story. An added benefit in your home would be that these books can be “read” in ANY language.

It’s probably just me, but the thought of writing in books gives me the willies (it seems wrong), but you could also, as others have suggested, write in your own story in your own language, if it’s important to you to have written words for your child to follow along. A middle of the road approach might be to use removable labels so at some point your child to will have an opportunity to “read” these books to you, with their own story, in whatever language your child chooses.

  • I think that's what the OP is talking about - large format picture books of that nature. – Joe Nov 14 at 19:27
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I agree with @Ian MacDonald that it should cause no harm at all until you start to teach the child their letters.

I started reading to/with my first child at about 3-4 months. There were words, and I read them, but because they were in our language. Their first word was "Moo". That reflected the power of the pictures and our interactions, not the words on the page, so have a go. Good books are good books.

If, by the time teaching letters comes around, they are learning English, then the words won't confuse them if you read in English.

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This isn't proof of anything but we are a trilingual family. We have book in French, English and Chinese. When the kids were younger, I would usually read or explain what I see but I would always tell them "This is an English book, I'll read it in French" or "Do you want me to read to words or explain the images?" (some book have very bad wording but the image are great).

Now that they are a bit older, I ask them to help me "I'll tell my own story. I can't read to words because it's Chinese. Can you help me with some characters?".

I would sometime change the names to their in some book but I said "your name isn't written in the book but I find it funny if I say yours instead.".

I would say to try and get at least some book in your own language so they can be exposed to it.

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Assuming there is probably not a lot of text in the book in total ... why not grab some post-its or a label maker, and just translate the text in the book?

That way, you can read it out much more easily, and the child can follow along as they are (or become) able to.

  • This was suggested by the OP themselves. – anongoodnurse Nov 15 at 14:19
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I used to read a lot to my daughters. However, when they were very young, "reading" just meant showing them the images while saying something related and interesting. It's simple for you if you can actually just read aloud the text written in the book, but it can be anything else. The same text in another language is a good option, too, but you can change it. In fact you can even "read" to your children books that aren't intended for children if the images are interesting or you don't have anything else at hand. For example, with a bit of imagination it's easy to "read" an issue of Scientific American to a 4 year old. Compared to that, just translating the text from a book for children is just a tiny change - which I used to do quite often.

  • Reading isn't quite the same as describing. I read nursery rhymes to my baby. The lilting sing-song nature of reading/speaking nursery rhymes is much more interesting/stimulating to a baby/toddler than the comparatively monotonous voice used in description. Imagine, for example, the difference between reading "Hickory Dickory Dock" and describing it. See (Baby) Talk to Me. The same applies to many early childhood books (e.g. Goodnight Moon.) :) – anongoodnurse Nov 16 at 0:20
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I speak and read to my children in Spanish, and my spouse speaks and reads to them in German. Our common language when we met was English. We lived in various countries for a few years but now we live in the US. I'll base my answer on our experience raising bilingual children.

You can indeed read any book to your child in your own language. For the simplest books, you can wing it -- i.e., make up your own language version as you go along. Eventually you'll get to books where you'll want to spend a few minutes on your own doing a bit of preparation, so that you feel happy with your version. This is not cheating. It's perfectly fine to do this.

Later on, if your child finds the English text distracting, you can put an index card over the English. This is a case where a bit of advance preparation can be helpful, so you can remember what you wanted to say on a particular page, without having to lift the index card.

I recommend the books about bilingualism in children by George Saunders. These books helped us feel more confident about what we were doing, in the beginning.

In late elementary and early middle school, I sometimes did need to read to and with my younger son in the original English, for some assignments for school or for personal interest. In these cases, I liberally commented in Spanish as we went along. That's okay too. For example this is how we read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

At some point I had some fun adapting some English texts to Reader's Theater scripts in Spanish. This is fine too, as long as you don't publish your scripts! I used them for an after-school Spanish literacy project I did with my older son and some other bilingual children. I selected easy readers from the library that had a lot of dialog. These Reader's Theater scripts in Spanish were very helpful in helping my children develop fluency in reading in our language. And it was tremendous fun for everyone. We even performed one of our adaptations at the public library once, and took it on the road to perform at Spanish-speaking family day care providers.

Here's a tip. I made a point of teaching my children to read in Spanish before it was time to start reading in English in school. This was very helpful.

By the way, some children mix their languages when speaking until age three or even later. This is nothing to worry about. If this happens, just make sure that you consistently answer in your home language, and the child will sort things out eventually.

When you are out and about, do not let anyone make you feel embarrassed about speaking to your child in your language in front of others. Sooner or later you'll encounter someone who'll have a hard time accepting it. But this negativity comes from ignorance. Just ignore it.

Don't forget to see what's available in our own language in your local public library and also in the school library system. Some libraries have good collections of children's books in other languages.

You may also be able to find children's books and stories in your language on the internet, published in such a way that anyone is welcome to download and print. The Mexican government, for example, has a lot of these free texts online.

Remember that basically, reading to or with your child is an opportunity for physical, emotional and intellectual closeness. You can use that time to solidify your bond, build cultural knowledge, and entertain! Therefore, feel free to use the pictures in the books in any way that works for you. You can use the published text as a basis for telling a story in your own language, or as a jumping-off point for whatever you like.

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