Our daughter is 11 months old and raised in a bilingual home. Our goal is to teach her to read in my native language first. To help with this, I bought fridge magnets in my language's alphabet, alphabet cubes, and books.

I have shown and spoken out loud the pronunciation of various letters and words using the magnets/cubes/books, but, unsurprisingly, she just wants to play with these.

Am I starting too early and should wait a bit (about how long?) or, should I keep at it anyways and it will show results later?

I am also a professional musician and let her sit near or on my lap when I practice, so she just gets exposed to the music. Should I do similarly with reading at this point--some sort of natural exposure vs constructive teaching attempts?

  • 6
    It's never too soon to start reading to a child, but teaching reading is a different thing. Why not start around the second or third time your daughter seems to show an real interest in the link between spoken words and squiggles on paper? Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 21:04
  • Pretty much the same way you would have someone teach you something; when you show an interest in it. I wonder if you'd have any interest in learning how the CV joints in your car work to allow the engine to transmit power to the wheels in a smooth and uniform fashion while you're driving in a circle, and why a standard universal joint wouldn't? Me neither.. :)
    – Caius Jard
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 16:52
  • 1
    not really same. Lets face it, do kids express an interest in learning how to use a toilet? Yet they have to be taught or imagine the alternative. So waiting for an interest for some things can result in a lag of development Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 18:00

7 Answers 7


In our experience, the main reading-promoting activities at this early age were limited to reading aloud to children. We used good quality books with lots of pictures, often board books. Having the parent engaged in reading is important, so we always had a good supply of children's books that were also interesting to adults.

At its best, reading to children can be very interactive and engaging. This helps keeping both the adult and the child focussed on the story. We used different voices, impersonating story characters, and also made plenty of gestures that went along with the story, putting on a bit of a performance. We made pauses to let the child finish the sentences in familiar books (this worked really well with finishing the rhymes in poems). We also made pauses to ask the kids questions. The questions also helped to keep everyone engaged.

Reading to children has good results on subsequent measures of child's achievement, a fact also supported by research (see, for example, Ece Demir-Lira et al, 2019). In addition to this, and much later (between 3 and 4 years of age), we introduced other reading-promoting activities to the children. This included reading games, spelling games, and teaching how to write, and teaching how to read.


To address this question, we asked whether naturally occurring parent-child book reading interactions between 1 and 2.5 years-of-age predict elementary school language and literacy outcomes, controlling for the quantity of other talk parents provide their children, family socioeconomic status, and children's own early language skill. We find that the quantity of parent-child book reading interactions predicts children's later receptive vocabulary, reading comprehension, and internal motivation to read (but not decoding, external motivation to read, or math skill), controlling for these other factors. Importantly, we also find that parent language that occurs during book reading interactions is more sophisticated than parent language outside book reading interactions in terms of vocabulary diversity and syntactic complexity.

Ece Demir-Lira Ö, Applebaum LR, Goldin-Meadow S, Levine SC. Parents' early book reading to children: Relation to children's later language and literacy outcomes controlling for other parent language input. Dev Sci. 2019 May;22(3):e12764. doi: 10.1111/desc.12764. Epub 2019 Jan 15. PMID: 30325107; PMCID: PMC6927670: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30325107/


when to start reading books to a child

As soon as it's fun for everyone involved. 11 months is fine if you and your daughter enjoy it.

and attempt teaching reading?

Too early. At 11 month you should focus mainly on spoken word. Don't make it a chore or something with a learning goal. Cuddle, tickle, talk, look at pictures, play around with words, be silly. The more positive associations with reading you create the more natural and easier will the actual learning to read happen. This can vary a fair bit: some kids can read decently at 3 or 4, for others nothing much happens before they go to school.

Should I do similarly with reading at this point--some sort of natural exposure vs constructive teaching attempts?



Pre-reading is definitely possible at 11 months.

A bilingual child whom I take care of has been happily "reading" the logos of cars since about that age. As we walked down the street, I would point out the logo of each car and say "Audi" or "Mitsubishi" or whatever. Very soon, he was making identifiably unique noises for several makes of car: "Owee" and "Shi", for instance.

He often mixed up Ford and Subaru ("Four" and "Bu"), because the shields are the same kind of oval. And "Jeep" and "Volvo", which both only show the name on the back of the car, were originally both "Vowo". However, for both the Volvo logo and the Volvo name, he said the same word from almost the beginning.

I was surprised how quickly he could memorize the logos of brands that we only saw rarely, like Jaguar and Porsche. However, even now, there are some brands, like Honda and Mazda that he does not react to at all. He simply points at them and waits for me to say the name, without repeating it.

He loved this activity. It took a long time to walk down the street, because he had to stop at every car... and sometimes check whether the logo was the same on the back as on the front.

A driver once parked his car, and noticed this toddler watching him. He got out of his car and pointed at it and said "Car", helpfully. And he was rather surprised when the toddler replied: "BMW".

Now the boy is two, and this activity interests him less, because it's become too commonplace.


Use books with good pictures as well as good stories

In English children's books, I thoroughly recommend the various Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler books. Individually they're OK, but together they're brilliant.

The illustrations not only show visually what the words are talking about, but also have a bunch of other details. Half the interaction when reading is looking for the squirrels and things like that.

Jack Kent's books are much older, but are similarly good versions of traditional stories.

These give you a clear progression for the child. The first thing is the bright colours simply to get attention. Then the child links the sound of your voice to the book, and kids are built to look for language. The words don't necessarily mean anything to them at that age, but they learn the sound they make. And the characters in the story, and the colours of their clothes, and what actions they're doing, are things you can point out, so that the child learns what "run" means, and "swim", and "rabbit", and "yellow", and so on.

And finally, when the child knows the story by heart, they can start reading it themselves, linking a story they already know to squiggles on a page which they're still figuring out.

  • Books with interaction are really good at catching attention, too (from experience with a relative who has a learning disabled child, so a lot more time spent at this stage of learning). The Usborne touchy-feely series and the Cheerios play book series are the two I know. Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 16:25
  • Julia Donaldson has had some other good collaborations, e.g. with Nick Sharatt, whose illustrations may be more appealing to very young ones (their Goat Goes to Playgroup was a favourite of my daughter, who also enjoyed some of his sole works e.g. Mrs PIrate which she'd memorised by age 2; she still won't let me get rid of them). JD is also a pleasure to read compared to many authors - her rhymes and her metres work consistently. Later on Axel Scheffler's illustrations provide a nice game of hide and seek
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 14:22

In addition to the other answers, letting her play with the magnets and letter cubes is also still great. Those symbols become a familiar part of her world.


It is natural for the first-time parents to over-estimate the capabilities of a child - a year or two later one realizes how naïve one might have been expecting from a one-year-old the level of comprehension and response that they will be capable only when they are two or three... I am saying it from my own experience.

This however does not negate the fact that talking to a child, reading to them, and otherwise interacting with them, as if they were a human being capable of udnerstanding, stimulates their development. So, by all means, read them night-time stories in yoru language... but be aware that what they are responding to is mainly your voice, intonation, and simple presence at their side (btw, this could be an important time of the bedtime routine, which will become crucial one the child is autonomous, but still needs to be put to bed).


There are certain learning processes that aren't quite well developed until your child becomes a toddler... From my own experience as a father of two, I can tell you that kids seem to lack the concentration/focus to learn/study as we adults do. I can also tell you that every child is different and each of them learn at their own pace.

Try getting cute little books full of pictures to teach the baby a few words in both languages, and then talk to the baby in the two languages too, and this baby will NATURALLY learn that second language. When the baby grows into a toddler you can start teaching the letters and how to put them together.

Do not overestimate or ask too much from your baby. The children perform giant leaps when it comes to learning. Your toddler will naturally grow up to become a full-fledged speaker of both languages! :)

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