From: How to read an English story book to the kid when we don't talk in English at home?

If you start immediately, it won't matter what language you're speaking; either way it will be babble :) Language comprehension takes time, regardless of whether the exposure is monolingual or bilingual. But early exposure, even in the womb, has been shown to increase a child's level of responsiveness to specific languages, which (presumably) facilitates learning the language later on.

It seems to me that if I start this as a ritual, I'll feel like talking to walls since I will know that the kid doesn't understand what the hell I am speaking and won't be responding either.

Hence the question: How to motivate yourself to read stories to a kid whom you know cannot understand and respond accordingly?

5 Answers 5


I think @deworde has the best advice to help motivate you to read stories. However, I wanted to add an answer that mentions options other than reading.

Until they are about six months old, babies will rely on tone of voice and sentence patterns to help learn to understand you.

The more you interact with them, the better they'll be able to learn how to understand you.

So don't just limit yourself to reading stories. Have "conversations" with them. Tell them about your day. Explain what you are doing, and why, even when doing routine chores. Sing to them. Tell them how much you love them, frequently.

Consider proper use of "baby talk" when talking to them.

  • Those links and researches have actually motivated me. Thanks. Instead of stories, can I sing poems? That'll be easier since I already know the tune. May 16, 2013 at 14:09
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    "Instead of stories, can I sing poems?" I'd say absolutely, but you might want to consider supplementing with normal conversational English, since cadence plays a factor.
    – user420
    May 16, 2013 at 14:25
  • +1 Like the alternate options. Yes, poems are really good and powerful, especially for newborns. The only issue is possibly the limitations of poetry for independent reading and conversing (as Beofett's already pointed out), but that's a long way down the line. Most baby books are more poem than prose anyway.
    – deworde
    May 16, 2013 at 14:36
  • @Beofett Please use some simple english. since cadence plays a factor. Cadence means "Balanced, rhythmic flow, as of poetry or oratory." as per freedictionary. Please explain your sentence again. Poem will provide cadence. May 16, 2013 at 15:17
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    @AnishaKaul What I mean is that cadence (a more appropriate definition is "the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activity") for poetry is very different than cadence in normal speech ("conversational speech"). So if you are reading poems, your son will be exposed to a pattern of how the language sounds that will be different from the pattern of how that same language sounds during every day speech. Exposing him to both types will be beneficial.
    – user420
    May 16, 2013 at 15:26

The key here is Don't Read Books You Don't Enjoy.

Peter: [reading a review of a boxing match in a hushed, storytelling way] The champ caught Smith with a savage left hook...

Michael: What are you reading her?

Peter: [responding to Michael in same tone] It doesn't matter what I read, it's the tone you use. She doesn't understand the words anyway, now where were we?

-- Three Men and a Baby

I found children's books like "I Want My Hat Back" and "The Gruffalo" genuinely enjoyable short reads, but a lot of what I read to my daughter in the early stages were my own books, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld Novels, the Hobbit, and blogs I was reading. If there's a book you don't enjoy reading, move to a different book.

Obviously if you don't enjoy reading, then you'll find it harder to encourage a child to read. But there are tons of good books out there that are adult-enjoyable, but still child-friendly.

Also be aware, it's not exactly like talking to a wall. Your baby will respond to your voice, even if they don't react like a child will. And as I said in a related answer, it's far easier to deal with baby-level reactions when reading a story than when trying to converse, because you don't expect interruption or response when reading.

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    This is great advice. Reading material you enjoy makes it much easier to make this into a habit (especially if you're going to try for this level of dedication!). I read Hunter S. Thompson to my son when he was born, as well as my own interpretation of Star Wars: A New Hope. Even books and stories you remember fondly from your childhood are good choices. My wife loved to read Winnie the Pooh to our son, because she remembered her parents reading it to her as a little girl. Likewise, Goodnight Moon was always my favorite.
    – user420
    May 16, 2013 at 12:40
  • @Beofett Broken link. But yes to Winnie the Pooh. One of the best books I have ever read, and I only read it because it was a gift at the birth.
    – deworde
    May 16, 2013 at 14:16
  • @deworde Oops... fixed!
    – user420
    May 16, 2013 at 14:17
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    I read Don Quixote to my son all the time when he was an infant. When they are old enough to understand and care, they will definitely let you know.
    – DQdlM
    May 16, 2013 at 15:31

If you want your child to understand language, you have to talk to your child. A study was done on the differing number of words per hour spoken to a child in low income, middle class, and professional families. The difference was startling. A low income child would hear 600 words per hour. A middle class child 1200. A professional class child 2100. A quantitative difference in IQ and school performance is observed based soley on the sheer number of words heard by age 3. The tone of the conversation - positive or negative - and amount of praise also appears to have an effect. You can read an overview of this research here.

So you should find yourself very motivated to talk to your child from birth as much as possible. The sheer volume of words spoken in a positive manner will have a significant impact on your child's academic and life success. Reading stories is one of the easiest ways that you can provide a positive and nurturing stream of conversation to your child. Why wouldn't you?


Even if you are speaking their native language children don't understand all of what is being understood, especially if they are very young. Children enjoy the act of listening and looking at the pictures, and being with their parent. Don't worry about the comprehension, that will come in time. Your motivation is simply the enjoyment of reading a story with your child.

  • +1 That's exactly what I meant by "it won't matter what language you're speaking; either way it will be babble :)".
    – user420
    May 16, 2013 at 12:34

Personally I found the easiest way I made storytelling more interesting was by adding bits to it. When they are too young to understand, you can be as outrageous as you like. For instance, you can start reading them Winnie The Pooh, but introduce Paddington Bear into it along the way. Now Paddington and Pooh may not get along, because of their different tastes in condiments.

Basically, you can make it as silly as you like.

As they get older, you can still have fun, even when you are asked to repeat the same story for the thirtieth time. You may however find they prefer stories as they are supposed to be told. In these instances, I would see how many ducks I could introduce into a story before my daughter got suspicious.

Above all though, you need to remember that the storytelling isn't really about you. You are doing it to entertain and possibly educate your child. There will come a time when they no longer want to listen, so you may as well make the most of it while they are still glued to your every word.

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