How we began learning to read and adding other languages

by Alenka

“How did you begin teaching your kids to read? How long it took? How did you add languages? This is so confusing!”

I wish you knew how much I can relate to your anxiety. I used to feel completely overwhelmed, not sure how to start/proceed/make heads of tails out of it… and freaking out along the way: is he learning? Is he getting it? Or am I just waisting my time? Yet every little success – was a celebration and a new source of anxiety…


Back to your questions.
With my older one we are reading books and writing sentences at this point, and since our discovery how to incorporate Doman’s whole word reading into our learning process wasn’t neither fast, nor smooth, I’ll just describe how we approached it with my younger one.

With my younger one we started since day one with physical program. I tried showing him the cards, like it is described in How Smart is your Baby, but it wasn’t a lot of success, so when I finally moved onto my ppt presentations, I just started from set 1.

When we moved on our ppt presentations, I started by showing words in one language (we were speaking all three languages since his birth, but originally I was showing printed out words only in Russian; other languages I added when we were already on the computer – it was just easier this way). Just 5 words. Say 5 Russian words (say, “mommy”, “daddy”, “brother”, “granny”, “grandpa”). After a week I added 1 new word, retired another one (say, “mommy” is leaving, and “home pet” is coming). The next day – add 1 more, retire another (say “daddy” is leaving and “milk” is coming)… I am still using this system. Once I was used to it, I added a set of 5 English words (by that time we already retired all the same Russian words, but they generally “breath down each other’s neck” – while I am retiring some word in Russian, I add it in English. I wish I had a little more time between these words… after I was comfortable with showing words in both languages, I added Spanish. I still haven’t started with my sets of Spanish words that are similar to English. At this point I am just showing any Spanish words/books – I have many books here with fruits, objects, etc. I am planning to jump to my own sequential Spanish words books soon.

I was slowly adding how many presentations/words we watch. At this point, my 20 month old is watching presentations back to back: 7 Russian words, 6 English words, some Spanish word book (ppt), some Encyclopedic Knowledge book in English or Russian. When we started couplets, I slowly added couplets files to this list: so after all the single words, we’d watch Russian couplets presentations (~5) and English Couplets. And, just for fun, I do “our own” couplets with photographs – “Mommy is eating”, “Daddy is running”. These books I am printing out and leaving out on a shelf – we like to read them at bedtime, in the morning, throughout the day. Kids LOVE looking at their own pictures. Why not make it an opportunity to learn to read? Anyway, it takes about 4-5 minutes. If we rush. If we don’t – I let him try to read a word, I let him press keys, I let him show the signs for the words as we see images… it is not as fast as Doman recommends, but somehow it works better for us. We play with words and they love it – that’s all that matter, right?

Honestly, I’ve had enough of “mommy is jumping” types of couplets and already spicing it up with new words that we haven’t seen: “mommy is reading a book”, “grandma is making cookies”. Old words and new ones!

Words like “in”, “the”, “and”, “from”, “to” – no need to show on the cards. When you get to sentences, there will be plenty of opportunities to see them, kids learn them very fast.

I’ve also heard of Natural Reading. I don’t know if it really works or how, but I just picked up an idea of pointing to the words. As opposed to Doman’s system, I am pointing to the words as we read, as we find them outside in the street or in the store.

The idea is, that you show LOTS of words. Some – regularly and consistently. Others – everywhere (reading labels on toothpaste, street signs, road signs, food labeling, book titles, etc). Enjoy it, have fun and… have patience. Many parents get discouraged by the lack of testing and visible results. Some kids figure it out really fast – 18 months, two, three. Some figure it out and prefer to keep it a secret – parents sometimes discover their three-year olds reading the labels or silently moving lips as they follow a line in a book. Some figure it out fast, and then all of sudden stop recognizing any words – they are too busy figuring out the phonics (or learning something new). Around four, five all kids usually have some sensitive period for reading. Some kids are eager to show their success then.

Sensitive Periods – are Montessori ideas. I cans see it working here: starting 11 months my older son would point to different words. By three – even read it to me out loud, but without great enthusiasm. At three he couldn’t care less for it. He would watch the cards, slowly progress, drive me nuts (that one quite fast). Around four years old – his reading interest started blooming. Today he even came up with another fun “Montessori work” all by himself: he took out his old A.P.P. cards and started very carefully writing them down! He loves to write, he loves copying other words. He loves the feeling of accomplishment he gets from reading a book all by himself, from reading a long difficult word. He also loves how he is the only kid in his preschool who can read so well – he doesn’t remember learning to read, so he is convinced other kids can read to and choose not to – he can’t comprehend somebody can’t read yet. Not all days he is so cheerful when it comes to his learning, but I think it’s pretty good results….

I hope you find it encouraging!

One thought on “How we began learning to read and adding other languages

  1. Katja

    Gosh, I speak English, Russian and Spanish, but haven’t even thought of adding Spanish as well, I’m freaked out by the logistics of teaching my LO to read just 2 languages! You’re a star, I should read all of your old posts!