Thursday, July 28, 2005

Holding your child's attention - Strategies for reading in German with non-native speakers

A customer wrote today to ask for some book recommendations for his 3 year old son. He mentioned he was looking for books with short sentences to keep his son engaged. Certainly having interesting and appropriate books is important. But this also got me thinking about what kinds of adjustments can be useful to make when reading with kids in a language other than their strongest language (in our case, of course, German).

Preschool-age kids have one distinct advantage over older kids when it comes to reading books in German - they are not expected to actually be able to read! They can just listen and enjoy. They may also be less hesitant to ask questions when they don't understand and so it's easy to tailor the story to their individual comprehension levels.

In most cases, a child's fluency in a second (or minority) language will lag behind his comprehension in his first language. It's a challenge to find books that are interesting but not too complicated for him so he can enjoy the story. I'd like to suggest the following ideas and books for preschoolers (and older children who are being read to) to help maintain the interest and enjoyment.

Shorten and simplify harder stories.
Read through the story without the child to get the gist and refresh your own German vocabulary if it's helpful. Then paraphrase and omit sentences as you go. For instance, the Conni and Ich habe einen Freund... books are actually quite long, although they are written with 3-4 year olds in mind. These stories can easily be shortened and difficult words and grammar can be replaced with more familiar choices. As long as your child isn't yet truly reading along, he probably will not mind the modification.

Elaborate and expand on simple stories
Bobo Siebenschläfer and the Max series are great books to build upon. They are both written at about a 2 year old level but you can modify them to suit your child's needs. Discuss the pictures or ask questions about the story. These books are both in use in kindergarten classes with non-native speakers - your child may be happy to find a book that he understands word for word.

Non-fiction (Sachbücher)
The Meyers kleine Kinderbibliothek series has books on a wide range of topics like Am Strand, Die Biene, Licht an. Wunderwelt Körper. Similarly, the Wieso, Weshalb, Warum series (Die Uhr..., Das Wetter, etc.) packs lots of little bits of information on every page. It's very natural to pick and choose what you're going to read when looking through these books. They can appeal to kids in a wide age range and of varying degrees of German fluency. My 18 month old likes these as much as my 5 year old.

Take frequent breaks to discuss
This is always a good idea when reading aloud, but it's even more important with your child's minority language so you can gauge his comprehension and perhaps repeat key elements of the story. Ask "why do you think she did _______?" or "What do you think will happen now?" or "How do you think she felt when _______ happened." Ask "Do you know what _____ means?" If your child says no, then simply explain the new word. Reading together shouldn't turn into a quiz session.

Think aloud about the story
This provides alternate vocabulary, helps the child understand what's going on, and provides a chance to hear important details again. For instance, "Hmm Ich mag wenn Susi und ihr Vater die Klippen herunter klettern - es sieht so spannend aus!" Your child gets another opportunity to understand what happened with different words.

It's ok to not understand everything
Make sure your kids know this and model it yourself - if you come across a word unfamiliar to you, say "Hmm I wonder what this means? I wonder if so-and-so knows." Or talk aloud about your best guess based on the things you do understand. Your child will see you modeling deductive reasoning and will see that you are still learning things too. I learn new vocabulary every time I read through some of the Lesemaus books!

Stop as soon as your child shows signs of fatigue
Even if the story is exciting and your child is enjoying it, he may get antsy after a while. It can be hard, even exhausting, to read or listen in German! I know I don't like to read more than one newspaper article at a time - it's just too much - although I can happily sit with a Cornelia Funke book all day long.

Above all, have fun and follow your child's lead! Viel Spaß beim Lesen :)

- Sarah

Some other books recommended for kids ages 3-6 at an intermediate level for reading aloud:
Bildermaus - several stories in each book make it possible to get in a quick read.
Stellaluna (simplified if necessary - the pictures are fantastic)
Mein Esel Benjamin (may require simplification of some vocabulary but the narrator is a small child and the tone is straightforward)

1 comment:

paige said...

Sarah,
my husband and I have a 3-year old daughter, and I only speak Spanish to her, while he speaks English and is teaching her German (He had 3 years of it in school). Also, in AUgust we will all start attending a Saturday German School, so tht I also can learn German.

Your store has been a tremendous resource for us--and we have made recommendations to several people who are looking for German books for their children.

Thank you for all your hard work, and for helping the rest of us get our hands on great German children's books.
Paige