Developing Reading Fluency with Children


In some of our previous blogs, we’ve talked about Enjoying Reading with your Child and Making Reading a Routine Reality. But how about helping children to become independent readers?


Author, teacher trainer, and owner of her own language school in Japan, Mari Nakamura, has developed a Three-Stage Literacy Program at her school, English Square. In a recent article for The Language Teacher, she focuses on promoting reading fluency among elementary school age children. She considers what is reading fluency, what are appropriate materials, and what activities can we use to help.


What is reading fluency?

To read fluently, we need to recognize words accurately and automatically. Before this, however, children first need to develop letter recognition, know their sounds and the meaning of words before processing sentences and so on.  Although we may read for a variety of specific reasons and personal goals, we generally read to understand the message, communicating with the writer, and expanding our knowledge. With that can come enjoyment, but when faced with material that is too difficult, children can get frustrated and possibly put off reading.


What reading materials should we use?

In developing reading fluency, we know that children benefit most from many opportunities to read easy passages orally, repeatedly, and with guidance. Research has also shown that knowing at least 98% of the words is necessary to be able to construct meaning with a high degree of success, which also helps kids stay motivated to read. Of course, the content must also at the right maturity level as well as being engaging and interesting, for example, by expanding their knowledge whilst making them think more about their lives and the world around them.


How can we help foster reading fluency and independence?

For fluency development, Mari suggests using stories children are familiar with, especially ones that they’d read (or had read to them) when they were younger. In addition to repeated reading of easy materials and providing assistance when needed, we can also add developmentally appropriate activities. For example, with children who are more hesitant, we might read a word or a sentence first then get them to read it aloud afterwards. They might also try shadowing, even under their breath at first, trying to keep up with whoever is reading. We can even show children how to shadow with Dino Lingo Books, for example, reading the words aloud as they listen to the audio. They can also learn to run their finger along as they hear the words being read.


When children are faced with longer, more difficult words, we can show them how to break them up into their syllables, like ty-ran-no-sau-rus. By covering up parts of the words with my fingers, I can also leave the parts that my children (AA) either know how to read or can try to sound out. However, saying some words can still be challenging, so one thing that works well (with children as well as adult learners of English), is building difficult words up backwards, as shown below. And chanting expressively invariably adds to the fun!


Me: Say, ‘rus’ (expressively)

AA: ‘rus’ (laughing)
Me: ‘SAUrus’

AA: ‘saurus’ (quietly)
Me: Great. Louder. ‘SAUrus’!

AA: ‘SAURUS’! (laughing)

Me: ‘tyranno’

AA: ‘tyran…’ (giggling)

Me: ‘ranno’

AA: ‘ranno’

Me: Good. ‘tyRANno’

AA: ‘tyRANno’

Me: ‘tyranno, tyRANno, TYRANNO’! (getting louder)
AA: ‘tyranno, tyRANno, TYRANNO’! (laughing again)

Me: ‘saurus, saurus, saurus!’

AA: ‘saurus, saurus, saurus’!

Me: Tyrannosaurus!

AA: Tyrannosaurus!

Me: Alright! Tyrannosaurus! Rrrrr!

AA: Rrrr!! (laughing) Tyrannosaurus!! (laughing)

So, what kinds of reading fluency activities work for you and your kids? Please feel free to share your ideas and experiences, and let us know how you get along with any of the above activities and techniques.

Philip Shigeo Brown

What Parents Want to Know about Bilingualism


It’s generally recognized that most people across the globe are bilingual or multilingual and use 2 or more languages or dialects in everyday life. And the diversity of bilinguals within multicultural societies continues to grow. Beyond sharing fascinating facts about how this came to be (Bilingualism’s Best Kept Secret), Prof. Grosjean addresses 11 of the most frequently asked questions by parents and carers (collated by Corey Heller, founder of Multilingual Living). Here they are below with bullet point summary answers (but please feel free to click on the link for the original, full article):

What parents want to know about bilingualism
(Also published in The Bilingual Family Newsletter, 2009, 26(4), 1-6.)

How can one tell if children are getting enough exposure to each language?

  • Since there is no good measure of ‘enough’, maximize and balance input, aiming for a daily basis especially for children to be able to use, not just understand, languages
  • Interaction with people is better than just watching TV or DVDs
  • Ensure there are monolingual situations for each language where children have to use the same language (and cannot code-switch)

Which is the “best” method for helping children become bilingual (e.g. one parent – one language, the minority language at home, etc.)?

  • Prof Grosjean prefers and recommends minority language at home: Although one of the parents has to speak their second (or third) language, and the language will need to be reinforced by other people to give it a strong base, the majority (community/school) language has less problem finding its place; the weaker language (the home language) will receive much more input than if only one parent uses it, and it can be easier for the child to associate one language at home, another outside.
  • However, each method has its pros and cons and the effectiveness will depend on the child, parents, local circumstances, etc.

Is it all right to change from one method to another or one language to another in the home?

  • Changes in circumstances may require changes in method but the genuine, communicative need for both languages is fundamental to ensure their continued use (not just a ‘need’ imposed by parents!)
  • If children are old enough, discussing changes in strategy with them can help transition

What does research say, in layman’s terms, about the benefits of bilingualism / multilingualism over monolingualism?

  • More recent studies suggest bilinguals outperform monolinguals in certain tasks, for example, involving selective control; they perform just as well with analysis of representations; and sometimes do less well in monolingual vocabulary tests (where their other language may be dominant)
  • Prof. Grosjean warns people to be wary of older studies due to lack of control factors

Is it all right to raise a child in a non-native language, even if parents don’t speak the language absolutely perfectly (but well enough) and they don’t have a perfect native accent (but it is good enough)?

  • Again, having a genuine need to use the languages is key, together with supporting factors, such as the amount and type of input (as mentioned above)

Are there specific golden rules that every family should follow about raising children in more than one language?

  • Although every family and situation is different, Prof. Grosjean first highlights the value of understanding the factors that promote additional language acquisition, emphazing ‘the need factor’, language input, the roles of the family, school and community, as well as attitudes towards the language, the culture, and bilingualism. Again, Prof. Grosjean points out the importance of monolingual situations to facilitate genuine communicative need.
  • Support for parents and children to understand what it means to be bi-/multilingual as well as bi-/multicultural is also invaluable and often key to ensuring the process is mostly a positive experience, despite the inevitable challenges

Is it worth it for a spouse to speak his/her language even if they are only with the child a little bit of the time?

  • Even if exposure is limited, some is better than none, and one never knows what role a language may play in the child’s future

How should one deal with more than two languages in the family and how can one add an additional language to an already bilingual household?

  • Once again, Prof. Grosjean stresses ‘the need factor’ and setting up monolingual situations for each language 

What will happen to the children’s bilingualism when they start going to school in the community language?

  • The community language will likely become the dominant language
  • Children may try to use it exclusively with their parents, especially from around 6 years old until their early teens, often so as not to feel ‘different’ 

What should be done when children have been diagnosed with a speech impediment and they are told that their bilingualism / multilingualism is the cause? Is it all right to go against what the speech therapist / school therapist may say and still speak a native language at home?

  • “Bilingualism researcher and speech therapist, Susanne Döpke, states clearly that bilingualism is not the cause of language delay and language disorders”
  • Moreover, “…discontinuing the home language is not going to improve the bilingual child’s abilities in the majority (school) language; on the contrary, it may have other prejudicial consequences” 

What about cultural issues such as bilingual children assimilating into the community while also retaining their connection to the parents’ cultures?

  • Being mindful of what it means to be bicultural and how that affects children’s sense of identity is important
  • Some children reject one language/cultural identity over the other, and a few reject both, but most seem to eventually accept both to varying degrees and, “…biculturals who are allowed to be who they are, and who accept their dual heritage, are invaluable members of society who bridge the gap between the cultures they belong to”


As parents, we not only find ourselves thinking about questions such as the ones above, but also need to focus on the day-to-day practicalities and longer term. Our earlier blog entry, How to Raise a Bilingual Child, covers a number of key points in brief, from starting as early as possible with a consistent language policy (e.g. One Parent One Language or Minority Language At Home) to understanding individual differences and development, the critical period, and what motivates you as well as your child.


Fortunately, whatever your situation these days, there is a wealth of resources and support online, as well as an increasing number of multicultural communities and grassroots movements. For example, Multilingual Living, offers an excellent advice from getting started and teaching at home to being a non-native and addressing common problems. And for me, trying to raise our kids tri-lingually/culturally and not sure where we may go in the world, one thing that particularly stands out about Dino Lingo is that it’s actually much more than a bilingual site due to all the multilingual options.

Authored by: Philip Shigeo Brown

More about Dino Lingo learning sets for bilingual children



The 3 most common questions asked by parents who want to raise a bilingual child.

1- Isn’t it better to teach the 2nd language after a child properly speaks the first?

2- Do children get confused when they hear 2 different languages at home?

3- What should I do if my child doesn’t want to speak another language?


Isn’t it better to teach the 2nd language after a child properly speaks the first?

This is not necessarily true. Speaking it later will make the child think it is less important, additionally it is guaranteed that the children will learn the dominant language in school so it is good to give priority to the minority language.


Do children get confused when they hear 2 different languages at home?

Children can easily differentiate between the differences in male and female speech, polite and direct speechand so on. Children don’t get confused by hearing different languages from different people, they are aware that it is one of the differences between people.


What should I do if my child doesn’t want to speak another language?

It is normal that kids prefer to speak the most dominant language in their environment and do not understand a parent that speaks a different laguage. However you can always motivate your child with attractive rewards (e.g. ice cream, chocolate bar, a trip to the amusement park) for listening to you or repeating what you say. It is good to remember that they will get used to the second language after a short while. Even if they don’t understand what you say at the beginning, they will get used to the sound and intonation and eventually grasp what you mean.




Start Simple

Start with some simple greetings and every day words.

E.g. good morning/ how are you? Be consistent, use the words or phrases you have chosen every day.  Items in your environment that you see or use every day can be used repeatedly and naturally in the 2nd language.

Here you are/thank you, good morning/goodnight,

Ball, dog, cup, door etc. are useful and easy to use naturally everyday.  Use the language naturally and be patient for your child to use it back to you. Slowly introduce new words and phrases but continue to use the ones your child has learned.



After doing particularly well, or completing a set goal, why not treat your child. It could be something simple like going out for an ice cream, or make a surprise picnic and eat together in a local park.



The Element of Surprise.


Add an element of surprise to things, surprises have been proven to increase motivation. Play hide and seek and count in the 2nd language, or vary hide and seek and take turns to hide an object, such as a ball, use the 2nd language word for it as you hunt.  For very young children, Peekaboo is lots of fun.



Make It Fun.

Always make it fun! How about a field trip to a park, a zoo or an aquarium? Talk about what you see in the 2nd language. Name the animals at the zoo or aquarium. Or have fun with a board game like snakes and ladders or bingo.

They will pick up word very quickly when they are focused on the fun of the game.



Short and Simple.


Kids lose interest quickly if the task is too difficult so only give them a few words at a time to learn. They will learn much more when they are interested and they will gain confidence. Confidence is paramount, give them the satisfaction of feeling, “I can do it’. Tell them often, ‘you can do it’.


Monitor Progress.

Test your child’s knowledge frequently. Instead of a written test you can use worksheets or just ask simple questions like show me your “はな”(nose) or give me the ”ボール.”  A game like Simon says is good for reviewing body parts and simple actions.


Set Clear Goals

Have clear goals about your target for the end of the year. Do you want to teach a) greetings and basics b) conversational competence, c) reading and writing skill, d) native level competence, e) etc. Keep your goal in mind and always be working towards it. Take time to look back and see how far you’ve come.


Combine Digital and Traditional Materials

Applications and language DVDs are good but also use traditional hands on materials such as flashcards and picture dictionaries. Watch how your child uses the materials and where they do best and follow that lead. Kids learn in different ways so pay observe how your child learns best and enjoys what they are doing.


Use Your Connections

Ask grandparents, neighbours and relatives if its OK to have a Skype chat with them. Language aside it is good for your child to create and maintain bonds with relatives overseas. Connecting with likeminded people is important for you too. Facebook groups are a good resource for support and information, or find an online forum or chat group for exchanging ideas and working out any problems you might experience.




Let your child’s kindergarten teacher or caregiver know about your aim of raising a bilingual child. It’s important that other people in your child’s life know what you are doing and can be supportive. Teachers at kindergarten or other caregivers can make sure that your child doesn’t experience any difficulties among their friends/peers.





  • The earlier the better.If you are going to be a mother soon, remember that your child can recognize your voice before he or she is born. And before your child is 6 months old, he or she knows the difference between the main language and other languages.


  • Try OPOL.OPOL means One Parent, One Language. If you are a French mother, then you speak French to your child. If your husband is Russian, then he speaks Russian. Each parent speaks his or her native language to the child.


  • Try MLAH.MLAH means Minority Language At Home. In this style, both parents speak the minority language in the house. If you are a Japanese mother with an American husband living in the USA, both of you speak Japanese at home. This method is especially good if your child does not have many chances to use the second language outside the house.


  • Be consistent.For either OPOL or MLAH, both of you have to be consistent. When you start mixing languages or using these methods only on certain occasions, your child may not become bilingual. Or your child may become a passive bilingual where he or she understands the language but does not speak it.


  • Remember that every child is different.Some studies show that girls start talking earlier than boys. Also, some boys are better at learning languages than girls. But children all around the world eventually reach their own level of language competence.


  • Be aware of the critical period.The peak of development of your child’s brain is at age 3. After age 5, it becomes difficult for your child to understand accents. And as a teenager, it is almost impossible for your child to have a natural language skill.


  • Motivate your child.Give your child a reason to speak the second language. You can create opportunities by finding families who speak the language and plan playdates with them. You can hire a nanny or a babysitter who speaks the language. You can go to cultural centers. You can borrow DVDs, CDs and picture books from the library. You can travel to countries where the language is spoken. You have a lot of choices.


  • Motivate yourself.If both of you, as the mother and father, teach your child your own language, you will bond with your child. You can give your child a chance to perform better in school and to be more creative. Your child will get more job offers. And your child will grow as a global-minded person.


What is the Most Popular 2nd Language around the World?


It is well known that English is the most common foreign language in all around the world but did you know that Tagalog is the most common foreign language in Saudi Arabia and Polish is a language that is very familiar to the British? What is more surprising is Argentinians hear more Italian than Spanish and Mandarin is the most popular 2nd language in Australia. According to the list compiled by MoveHub, more than half the countries in the world have a minority language other than English.

Most common 2nd languages in Europe


Most Common 2nd languages in Americas



Read more about the most popular 2nd languages here

Source: MoveHub

What to do when bilingual kids mix languages (code-switching, a.k.a. code-mixing)

What to do when bilingual kids mix languages (code-switching, a.k.a. code-mixing)

• Don’t worry if your child mixes languages—language mixing is a common (and typically short-lived) phase of bilingual development.

• Trust your child is not confused—she may not know (or be able to explain) that she’s using two languages, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that she has two linguistic systems.

• Understand a bit about how and why children mix when evaluating your child’s language use.

• Minority languages may need extra support, and frequent use of both languages together can make it difficult to keep an eye on the support for each language.

• Set realistic expectations for your young learner—there are no perfect bilinguals in the world, and remember that language learning is a lifelong process—it’s never done.

Source: King, K., & Mackey, A. (2007). The bilingual edge: Why, when, and how to teach your child a second language. New York: Collins  (p.184)

How to motivate children to learn a 2nd language (p.267)

how to motivate children to learn a second language


Say ” Happy Birthday” in a different language


Chinese – 生日快乐 – Shēngrì kuàilè

German – Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag

Japanese – お誕生日おめでとうございます – Otanjōbiomedetōgozaimasu

Dutch – gelukkige verjaardag

Arabic – عيد ميلاد سعيد

Czech – všechno nejlepší k narozeninám

Greek – χαρούμενα γενέθλια – charoúmena genéthlia

Finnish – Hyvää syntymäpäivää

Turkish – Mutlu yıllar

French – joyeux anniversaire

Hebrew – יום הולדת שמח

Polish – z okazji urodzin

Hindi – जन्मदिन की शुभकामनाएँ – Janmadina kī śubhakāmanā’ēm


Italian – Compleanno felice

Korean – 생일 축하합니다  – saeng-il chughahabnida

Japanese – お誕生日おめでとうございます – Otanjōbiomedetōgozaimasu

Portuguese – feliz aniversário

Spanish – feliz cumpleaños

Swedish – Grattis på födelsedagen

Romanian – fericit ziua de naştere

Norwegian – Gratulerer med dagen

Vietnamese – Chúc mừng sinh nhật

Ukranian – днем народження – dnem narodzhennya

Urdu – سالگِرہ مبارک – salgirah mubarak

Thai – สุขสันต์วันเกิด – sook sun wan gerd

Malay – Selamat hari lahir

Latin – Felix dies natalis

Language learning for kids

Popular Children’s Literature of Italy

–          Aesop’s Fables (Dover Children’s Thrift Classics):

(Author- Aesop, Pat Stewart) Ages 4 to 8

–          The Adventures of Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet:

(Author- Carlo Collodi, Iassen Ghiuselev)  Ages 9 to 12

–          Pompeii:

(Author- Peter Connolly) Ages 9 to 12

–          The Buried City of Pompeii: What It Was Like When Vesuvius Exploded (I Was There):

(Author: Shelley Tanaka, Greg Ruhl)

            Ages  9 to 12

–          Vulca the Etruscan (Journey Through Time Series):

(Author: Roberta Angeletti, Beatrice Masini) Ages 8 to 12

–          Leonardo and the Flying Boy:

(Author: Laurence Anholt) Ages 8 to 14

–          Bravo, Zan Angelo!: A Commedia Dell’Arte Tale With Story & Pictures:

(Author: Niki Daly) Age 10+

–          The Legend of Old Befana:

(Author: Tomie De Paola) Ages 4 to 10

–           Big Anthony: His Story:

(Author: Tomie De Paola) Ages 4 to 8

–          Opera Cat:

(Author: Tess Weaver, Andrea Wesson) Ages 4 to 8

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Inventions for Kids: French Inventions, DID YOU KNOW???

  • AQUALUNG: a breathing apparatus that supplied oxygen to divers and allowed them to stay underwater for several hours. It was invented in 1943 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
  • BAROMETER: a device that measures air (barometric) pressure. It measures the weight of the column of air that extends from the instrument to the top of the atmosphere. There are two types of barometers commonly used today, mercury and aneroid (meaning “fluidless”). Earlier water barometers (also known as “storm glasses”) date from the 17th century. The mercury barometer was invented by the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli.
  • BATTERY: a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Each battery has two electrodes, an anode (the positive end) and a cathode (the negative end). An electrical circuit runs between these two electrodes, going through a chemical called an electrolyte (which can be either liquid or solid). This unit consisting of two electrodes is called a cell (often called a voltaic cell or pile). It was invented by Alessandro Volta.
  • BICYCLE: a wooden scooter-like contraption called a celerifere; it was invented about 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac of France.
  • ELECTRIC IRON: The electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley
  • MAYONNAISE: invented in France hundreds of years ago, probably in 1756 by the French chef working for the Duke de Richelieu, The first ready-made mayonnaise was sold in the US in 1905 at Richard Hellman’s deli in New York.
  • METER (and the METRIC SYSTEM): Was invented in France. In 1790, the French National Assembly directed the Academy of Sciences of Paris to standardize the units of measurement. A committee from the Academy used a decimal system and defined the meter to be one 10-millionths of the distance from the equator to the Earth’s Pole (that is, the Earth’s circumference would be equal to 40 million meters). The committee included the mathematicians Jean Charles de Borda (1733-1799), Joseph-Louis Comte de Lagrange (1736-1813), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), Gaspard Monge (1746 -1818), and Marie Jean Antoine Nicholas Caritat, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794).
  • PENCIL: invented in 1564 when a huge graphite (black carbon) mine was discovered in England. The pure graphite was sawn into sheets and then cut into square rods. The graphite rods were inserted into hand-carved wooden holders, forming pencils.

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