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My daughter is almost 2 years old. Both my husband and I are native Chinese speakers living in US. My daughter went to an English-speaking daycare since 9 months old. We have adopted a minority language at home system since her birth so we only speak Chinese to her at home. We also subscribed to Chinese languages TV channels through Dish network. So far she understands both languages.

My daughter loves books a lot. I bought the majority of her books in Chinese However, should I read some English books for her as well? She only reads English books in daycare. How about teaching English letters and words? Should I leave it all to her daycare teachers? I feel that if I leave it all to her daycare, she will know less letters and words comparing to other kids in daycare. I just bought her some English books. Should I translate all those English into Chinese or Should I just read her the way it is?

Could someone please give me your insight? Thanks.

Andy Campbell

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I think books are great and are a great way to spend time with your children. As a linguist my opinion is that you should avoid any structured attempt to teach your children to read and write in any language until they’ve fully mastered the language as it is spoken.

But reading out loud to your child is not necessarily part of any such attempt, but provides vocabulary and grammar in the language of the book, and a wonderful way to interact with your child.

My son is growing up in an environment with 4 languages: English and Italian (his parents languages) and Spanish and Catalan (the local languages). My wife and I each speak to him in our native language and he gets the local languages outside the house. At first I was hesitant to read books in any other languages except my own, but now I believe the books have their own linguistic personality. It is not “you” speaking in English when you read them to your child, but the book that “speaks” English.

My boy is very clear which books are in which languages, but he always speaks to me in English and my wife in Italian even if it is to interrupt a book in another language.

If you are very strict about having only Chinese at home (for example guests also speak Chinese and you have NO English TV or phone conversations) then maybe you should avoid reading English books in the home. But you can read them in the park or while you are out.

I don’t think there is any reason to believe translating English books into Chinese would do any harm (so long as the Chinese version is the same each time) but so long as you are not worried about your pronunciation in English (a worry I have in some of our foreign languages) I think it would be fine to read English books to her as well.

Hope this helps.

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Thank you so much for your advice. You do address several of my concerns.
I find my translation many times makes a wonderful book sound very boring. Since we also subscribe to local English channels, the language rule at home is not so strict. After reading your suggestion, I think I will start to read English book in English from now on. I am a little worried about my pronunciation in English as well, only because it makes my reading more difficult, not that I think my daughter will pick it up from me. I know from my experience she will not. However, comparing to translate constantly, I would choose reading any time over translating.

Thanks again.  

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