How foreign parents can help their kids read

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It’s important to understand the dominant language in the area you live in to be able to follow everyday signs. Moving to a new country can require numerous adaptations, one of them being the need to learn a new language.

Husband and wife Patrick Xiao and Sue Guo, moved to Canada from Beijing 10 years ago. Their native tongue is Mandarin Chinese. Upon moving, it was crucial that they improved their Englis, in speaking, reading and writing so they could be better integrated in society.

When they arrived in Canada, Guo and her husband were able to manage with the little bit of English instruction they received in China as well as the English as a Second Language program they enrolled in after moving here. Guo also relied on other readily available resources such as TV and radio to improve her English skills.

Susan Bowen, a Grade 2 teacher at Calgary Christian School, explained the importance of being able to read and interpret the messages within our environment.

“Our society is rich in text, from road signs to news reporting. As we continue in this age of information overload, we will be challenged more and more if reading is difficult or strenuous for us,” Bowen said.

Academic concern

Having been here for a decade, Guo said she and her husband now feel comfortable with English, and their daughter initially struggled but caught up quickly. It is their younger son, Patrick, who is having difficulty. Patrick is in Grade 1, and Guo said he is behind the expected reading level.

Bowen said this generates overall concern for his future academics because literacy is the base of educational understanding.

“Early reading fluency is the foundation upon which later academic success is built,” she said. “It is critical for working independently, comprehension and for reading for pleasure.”

Guo said they found out that Patrick was struggling during parent-teacher interviews. Since then, Guo said they have come up with a ways to get him reading. She said they made flash cards, and the rule is that Patrick has to practice pronouncing the words on the cards each day. If he practices as he’s supposed to, he is rewarded.Sydney KargPatrick and his mom Sue read short stories regularly to improve his reading skills.

Photo by Sydney Karg/Calgary Journal

“This really works,” Guo said.

In addition to this, Guo said they will likely seek further assistance for Patrick to help him learn the fundamentals of English. She said they are hoping to enroll him in the Kumon reading program.

Literacy coach Meran Wilson said there are many things foreign parents can do to help their kids learn English.

Resources in Calgary

“Calgary offers many resources for children to be successful readers,” Meran said. “The public library has free programs for children as well as dual language books on CD and DVD. They also have a website for children to access from home or while visiting the library.

“The Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark Science Centre are wonderful places to visit where children can develop language skills and learn about the world around them. When riding in a car, a bus or on the CTrain, parents can talk to their children about the sights they pass.”

Meran said that reading the signs in our environment “develops a memory bank of words.”

Guo has found that helping Patrick practice reading benefits her at the same time.
“When I don’t know a word, I’ll look it up online and learn the meaning,” she said. ” It helps me too.”

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