Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Teaching a child to read is perhaps the most important skill you can give them. As we all know, reading opens doors and worlds, both real and imagined. Reading and writing are key communication methods for learning another language, for communicating with native speakers in that language, and embracing the cultures of that language. In order to teach reading and writing in French, FranceABC uses a technique called learning to read, reading to learn. But what is learning to read?
What is Learning to Read, Reading to Learn?
This is a common learning technique that educators use and it's a relatively basic concept. Educators, or parents, teach children the foundations of language and reading before moving on to understand complex concepts and gain information through reading. In reading, children must connect the sounds of language with its visual symbols - letters. They understand the sounds each letter makes, especially when combined with other letters, and how those join to make words. In the process, they learn what those words stand for, sometimes using photos and flashcards.
This process helps children gain phonemic awareness which is, 'an understanding that words and syllables are comprised of a sequence of elementary speech sounds. This understanding is essential to learning to read an alphabetic language' (Reading Rocket). Once children begin to grasp this concept, they can start to combine words to make sentences with simple meanings. They continue to build up their ability to parse sentences until they are reading paragraphs and books.
Once this happens, educators begin to work on deeper comprehension: themes, concepts expressed in the book, plot, tone of the story, character development, knowledge acquisition, and so on. This is the 'reading to learn' aspect of the process and the transition takes place around eight or nine years old for many children. This is when children slowly move from shorter picture book to larger books and novels.
How is LtR, RtL Used in Language Learning?
The wonderful thing about learning a second language is that some of the foundational work is already there. Your kids already know that letters make sounds and generally what sounds they make. They know that letters form words and, when placed in a certain order, will make a certain sound. This is the first step in learning to read.
Of course, when you're learning a new language, some letters make different sounds. There are also sometimes new letters or the use of accents - as in French. Your FranceABC tutor will be able to go back to the basics a bit with these letters to teach your child what those accents do. Some of this happens organically as your child expands their vocabulary.
We are able to show children, through speech and example, what sound each of these letters represents and what they sound like in combination with other letters. In learning to read, reading to learn, you start with the most common sounds of a letter (think 'cat', 'hat', 'bat' vs 'gait' or 'gape' in English). As children become more familiar with the basics, we start to work on less common sounds and uses of letters.
Also as in learning English, we start with simple words before moving onto more complex vocabulary. We also ensure that children are learning to spell as they learn the sounds. We ask children to sound out words and sentences and decode their meaning.
The Transition from Learning to Read to Reading to Learn
The transition from learning to read to reading to learn happens as a child's fluency grows. When this happens, understanding and sounding out the words on the pages becomes more natural and happens automatically in their head. This is a good sign as it means we can begin to expand their cultural understanding by adopting more complex reading practices.
At this stage, taking part in something like FranceABC's TedEd program encourages their reading to learn habits. When they aren't spending all of their reading energy on just trying to understand the words on the page, they can use it elsewhere - like acquiring knowledge. We then help them to express that knowledge using both speech and writing.
How You Can Use this Technique at Home
So now that we've answered the question, 'What is learning to read, reading to learn?' we can address how it can be used in your child's daily life.
The most important step in gaining fluency is daily practice. You'll find your student reaches the reading to learn phase much quicker if they're reading regularly. Simple books at home can encourage this. Older students may struggle with the idea that they have to start with simple kids books, but these are only on the agenda for the first little bit! Once their comprehension increases, they can move on to more age-appropriate books.
Another way to encourage regular reading is by watching French shows or films with the subtitles on. Encourage your kids to read out loud while they're still learning in order to practice their pronunciation. Push them to challenge themselves with their reading, but try to stay patient and supportive. Learning can be hard! Remind your child that mistakes happen, and it's only through making mistakes and lots of practice that they'll reach the reading to learn phase.
One final note - a love of reading in their native language will encourage students to want to learn to read and read to learn in their second language. Try to encourage a love of reading among your children in English by reading with them and talking about the books when they're finished.
Speak to your FranceABC tutor for a personal answer to the question what is learning to read, reading to learn and to find out how it will directly relate to your child's learning experience. We're also happy to help with more ideas for encouraging a love of reading in your child!