Reading in English as a foreign language

 

Learning to read English as a foreign language is quite a rapid process for an average ability child, who can already read in his/her own home language. Certainly it is not as laborious as learning to read in the first language. Why? Simply because the child has already understood the concept of reading - what reading is all about - so he only needs to decode the foreign language on the page. Once he has decoded the foreign language text, the words will convey a message with some meaning. I still remember the delight on a Japanese child's face when he found that he could read in English as well as Japanese. He decoded a phrase in roman letters and, after a few seconds delay, he realised that it said something he understood as he already knew the language orally. His success was partly due to the fact he decoded text he already knew orally.

Each child is an individual and develops his own set of skills for reading. How he reads text mirrors his own individual skills, his reading experience in his own language as well as the way reading is taught at school and used within his own society. (cf Arabic and Chinese societies) Included in the ability to decode text to obtain meaning, it is also important to include the ability to decode pictures (Visual Literacy). When a child reads, he uses an amalgam of many skills to work out how to read a word or phrase. In reading a story book some of these clues may be contextually based on previous language or on information from pictures. Decoding is a skill, which many children enjoy.

Printed script

The print style may be different from what children use in early years education. This is often the case in France and other Latin-based cultures. For the Arab educated child, writing (which is in a completely different script) goes from right to left - the opposite from English script. Many Chinese children are not used to seeing the Roman Alphabet except in logos and advertisements. It is important for us to see printed script through the child's eyes and help them to make the necessary eye/hand changes needed for reading. Children can be helped by being made more aware of the English words, which they can see and hear used in their own environment.

        The Alphabet

- At what point is it best to introduce the Alphabet? Children need to be able to talk about the alphabet letters, otherwise how can they spell? If their script uses roman letters and they have to describe them in their own language, this hinders progress and may even lead to reading with their own accent in English.

- What do you teach? Most parents who have learned English know the Alphabet song and so know the names of the letters. Do you teach the name of the letters and also the sound of the letters? (What the letters are called and what they say?).

        Language Awareness

At what stage do you talk about the rhyming sounds children have heard in the rhymes you already enjoy together? Many children are fascinated by rhyming sounds and alliteration; once they have sufficient vocabulary and confidence, they often quite naturally play with sounds. We can help them by joining in and showing them how to play with them in English (sea and see, meet and eat, meat)  Some adults may not be aware that, although there are 26 Alphabet letters, there are 44 sounds in standard English.

        When to introduce reading in English?

Children, who can already read in their own language, often ask to read in English and are disappointed if you don't go along with their request. It is important that their first efforts are successful as we are forming attitudes as to whether reading is 'easy peasy' or too difficult. If a child develops a negative attitude to reading and books in English, it takes time and a great deal of effort to change his feelings. For this reason REALBOOK NEWS introduces picture books with simple text that children can easily pick-up orally and later read. As in learning to read in the first language, satisfaction and enjoyment often comes from the detailed illustration, which completes the reading experience.


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