Books and bilingualism for Baby & Toddler!

An effective way to support your child’s language development in your native language  is with books! Here is information on how to find appropriate books and how to really engage your baby or toddler in reading to support their language development.

A common question I get from parents is, “At what age should I read with my child?”

You can introduce books to your baby when he is just a few months old. It should be noted that babies and toddlers can pay attention for only short periods of time so they may not listen to the book from beginning to end and you don’t need to read a book word for word.

For babies, you can choose simple books to teach them about their immediate world. It can be a book that only has images and no words but contains something that interests them like animals, cars, or monsters or best of all, images of other babies. Babies are fascinated by babies.

The good thing about using books to improve communication is that even if they are not written in your native language, you can translate and modify them. And you can do this to meet them at their communication level! Communication includes many things, but here, I’m going to focus on receptive and expressive language. If your child’s receptive language (what they comprehend) includes understanding some common words (i.e. some body parts, some toys, some family members, and some favorite foods) and some simple direction (i.e. Come here. Sit down. Time to eat!) then you’re going to want a book that continues to address understanding of things around him, like understanding more objects in the home, understanding some action words, and some basic concepts like up/down. If your child still does not speak much such as speaking only one word at a time and not being able to express his wishes and thoughts then you can best help him by reading books that repeat key vocabulary words and very short phrases again and again. Do not forget to speak a little more slowly and in short sentences and pause at the end of each sentence to give your child the opportunity to repeat the short phrases and really comprehend the words.

Here are tips on choosing books for your toddler (typically 1-3 years old)

  1. Simple drawings are preferable. Find books that aren’t too busy. If there’s too much going on in the book, it will be hard to focus on the key images you want to talk about.
  2. The pictures should be of interest to your child, such as animals, dinosaurs, cars, food, etc.
  3. Avoid books that only talk about colors, numbers, and the alphabet. A small child with few words doesn’t need to learn this vocabulary yet. It is more useful that she learns functional vocabulary she can use daily.


Here are some tips on incorporating books more into your home (for children 1-5 years old)

  1. Buy books at second hand stores. You can find good, durable books that are inexpensive so that if vegetable soup spills on the cover, you won’t panic.
  2. Teach your child to be respectful and careful with books. If your child throws a book,  help him to gently pick it up and remind him, “Books are special to us. We treat them very carefully.”
  3. Leave a book in the car next to your child’s car seat. A child may not eagerly pick it up at first but if you regularly leave books next to his car seat, he may take some interest in them, especially if he doesn’t have an electronic device in his hands.


Here are tips for translating the book from English to your native language.

  1. Write your story using sticky labels and stick them either under the image or on the words (in English). By labeling the story yourself, you can make the book at just the right level for your child and work on meeting their speech goals. I recommend you do this with your speech therapist.
  2. If your child has difficulty understanding words, try to repeat the same words or sentences during reading. For example, if you choose the the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, you can repeat simple action words like eating and sleeping. And, you don’t need to label all of the food either. Maybe just really name (and pause so your child can try to repeat if they’d like) the names of the common foods you see around your home.
  3. . If your child is bilingual, it is not necessary for you to read the book in both languages at the same time. This will actually make comprehending the book more challenging for your child because her brain will focus on the (sound and word) differences in what she’s hearing rather than the overall content. If you want to use books to teach your native language and English, it is better to read it all the way through in one language and then at a later time or day, read it to him in a different language.
  4. Consult your speech therapist to advise you on the activities and books you can use with your child. The therapist can give you ideas about the most appropriate books to target your child’s language goals and you can give the therapist information on your child’s interests so that the two of you can choose the right books and the right activities to go along with them!


Parents (and some speech therapists) may have the idea that they should stimulate their children with very flashy things like apps on the tablet, music on the cell phone, and games that make lots of lights and sounds. This is in thanks to marketing by toy companies that tell you these things are educational. Simple games, books, and activities which move at a slower pace so they have time to absorb what they’re learning are far better. Capturing their interest and stimulating their imagination is leads to long-term learning.  Also,  activities in which your child shares time with other people, whether they be you, the parents, or other children, will support their overall development much better than anything electronic . The key is in interaction between parents and child during reading and play! For more information on how to make reading activities fun and engaging, visit the website.

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