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This is for Gini and Karl to read when they themselves have children:

Help your kids learn to read in French (or any other western language)

Dear Gini and Karl, when you started school and learnt how to read I really learnt a lot while practising with you. You might remember, Gini, that you had two wonderful teachers in grade 1 (yes, Mrs Charlene Badour and Mme Maria Arfanis, I mean you! Thank you! :)) who taught me a lot which later helped me immensely when it was Karl's time to learn how to read.
If you know how, helping your kids excel at reading isn't difficult. But as I might forget the methods and techniques and tricks again over the years I want to write them down so that you can read and use it when you have kids of your own and don't need to relearn and find it out all by yourself again. I really hope you will find my text helpful.

I don't know if you will send your kids to a French school. To be honest I must admit that I wouldn't do it again. But I think it is similar to other languages if you adapt a bit to the language. I think other languages like German or Spanish where you also have clear rules on how to pronounce letters should work pretty much the same. For English you will definitively need to emphasize the whole word method.

My suggestions are surely not exhaustive, there are more ways for sure. But I hope that in case you run in the same or similar problems that I did my article might help you. Of course each child is different with a different style of learning and so you need to adapt it to your individual child's need but hopefully you will get some ideas. Ideally your kids will have teachers who are experienced and whose style of teaching matches well with your kids' style of learning. But if not make sure that you intervene, the earlier the better! Failure is not an option ;) Happy learning!

Before your kids can learn how to read...

Expose your kids to lots and lots of books. The language of the books doesn't really matter. If a kid knows a word in one language s/he knows that this word / concept exists and can easily learn it in another language (e.g. when another language is spoken in school than at home).

But before a kid can learn how to read properly it is still necessary that the child speaks the language that reading is taught in - at least rudimentary. Otherwise reading is just an abstract concept and it is hard to teach the child that understanding the content is the most important after all. The bigger the vocabulary the easier it will be for the child to learn how to read.

To increase your kids' vocabulary read stories to them, let them watch cartoons in French or best let them play with other kids that only speak French. However don't exaggerate the exposure, if your kids want to talk in English or watch a cartoon in English this is totally okay. The important thing is too remember that your kids need to like the new language they are learning.

Okay, now we are ready to start reading...

To help your kids learn how to read you need to teach them both phonics as well as whole words. Both of you learnt best by reading easy stories with lots of pictures and only a short sentence per page. But to learn some phonics still is important, for some kids more than for others.

If your kid is going to school you have to see how the school is teaching it. In case the method of the school is matching your kids' learning style your only role will be to support them and by the end of grade 1 they should be able read. But if this is not the case you need to teach them yourself. Don't wait too long. True, kids and people of all ages can learn how to read. But it is easier and better for your kid's self-esteem if they learn how to read at the "normal" reading age.

Remember most teachers don't mean bad they just don't know better. They are taught certain methods according to the current trend and then use them in class not realizing that no single method is the panacea.

When Karl learnt how to read the trend was to focus on phonics while for Gini the focus was on whole words even though phonics was taught as well. So for Karl I had to find books to read myself and with them he learnt how to read in no time (in only a few weeks).

The fight about how to best teach kids to read is very old. My father still remembered vividly that he was taught reading exclusively with the whole word method. They learnt to read words and stories not even knowing the individual letters. This upset some parents so much that they confused their kids so much that in the end they had problems learning how to read. So it was changed and my mother who is 3 years younger than my father was taught reading exclusively with phonics and syllables. But some kids simply can't learn reading just with phonetics...

Finally educators recognized that none of the methods on their own are great. Learning exclusively with one method lets more kids struggle or not learning how to read properly at all. But as learning methods are always changing as there always needs to be a new trend too often good methods are replaced by worse ones. So as a parent your job is that your kids enjoy reading and you couldn't care less about the most recent studies if they don't help your kids. Knowing how to read is too important, it is the base of most other learning. If you know how to read you can learn many things by yourself. The one who knows how to read holds the key for big achievements.

I will now describe both methods. I will give you ideas on how you can teach them and link to pages I liked. However as the content of the internet is ever fleeting I can't garantuee that those pages will still be up when you are reading it but I will try to check periodically and substitute them if necessary.

One more thing before I start: We talk about reading skills but in reality reading is not just a skill but also for a big part memorization.

When we read as adults we don't spell out the words letter by letter but we look at a word and immediately recognize the whole word because we have memorized it. That's why you read much slower as a beginning reader or in a foreign language you haven't read much in yet. Reading is part memorization and part skill. The deciphering of a word letter by letter is a skill which you need to be able to read new words or words you have forgotten but to speed things up and read fluemtly you need to have memorized them and recognize them with one short look. That's why you really need both methods.

I start with the whole word method here but you should really practise both methods with your child at the same time. While you were a lot more motivated by reading little booklets you also learnt the letters and syllables so that finally you were also able to decode new words all by yourself. From what I have seen with you and your friends if you continuously practise reading books and studying syllables your children should be able to read those short books by themselves after 2-4 months. If you don't see any progress by then there might be other causes.

the whole word method

For the whole word method you need many small booklets with short stories. To find them can be a bit of a challenge as buying them quickly empties your pocket. Usually libraries have some in stock however and you might also find some at places where used books are sold. Some can also be found on the internet. And don't forget to asked me for them, Gini and Karl, I have saved some of yours so that you can reuse them when you have kids

Booklets like these are ideal. They have lots of pictures for your child to look at and only short sentences with words your child will mostly know. The words and parts of the sentences are also often repeated in the text so that your child will finally memorize them.

Sit down with your child on a confortable sofa. Now you start reading the booklet to them while they are listening and looking at the pictures. After you have done this twice it is time for your child to read the text out loud to you. Whenever they are stopping or making an error you say the missing word out loud or correct them gently (Sometimes I would put my finger under the text and only move forward when you had said the word correctly. I would also put it under the missed or uncorrectly pronounced syllable to show you where you needed to look. Sometimes instead of correcting you immediately I would just make a little noise to get you to look again).

Don't change to a new book too soon. Repeat the same stories over and over. Yes, the aim is that your child knows them more or less by heart. That way they will learn the words and finally recognize them when they see them somewhere else. That's the whole point of the word method after all, the kid learns new words by memorizing them.
It is really important that you read with your child like this regularely that is at least 3 to 4 times a week.

Often it is said that it is important that you read the book out loud first so that your child learns how to read well right from the start. The first booklets I did it exactly like this. But then came the time when you knew enough phonics and words and wanted to read the book all by yourself first and of course I let you do it. It gave you a lot of pride that you were now able to read a whole book all by yourself.

If you like you can also create your own books with your child. Together with your kid imagine a story and write it down, as closely to the words of your kid as possible. Take some papers and fold them and write only one sentence per page while your child draws that part of the story on the other side which is expressed in the sentence.

You really don't need to worry that memorizing is not reading. In fact it is. How often do you decode a word when you are reading a book? Not very often I guess. You do it only when you encounter a new word that you didn't know before.

Here are three websites where you can find free books for beginning readers in French:




If possible you should go to the library or buy some books though as I find that kids love to turn pages and feel the book with their hands. It is also easier for you to put your finger under the words which helps the kids to focus on that word and not get lost in the sea of letters.

With you two I used Dora, Go Diego, l'autobus magique and other beginning readers books.

It seems that the human brain works in a way that many children will finally recognize the patterns all by themselves but if you also let your child study letters and syllables you will definitively speed up this progress.

the phonics method

First your kid needs to learn the sounds of the letters of the alphabet. As written French uses mostly small letters they are naturally more important to know than the capital letters.

For reading it is not really important to know the name of the letter, it is much more important to know the sound that it makes. So you should say the sound of the letter.

When your kid knows the alphabet you start with syllables like la, le, li, lo, lu, lé, lè, lê and then later you add syllables like lou, loi etc and finally go to words with 2 or more syllables.

Two websites that seem very good to me regarding this method are:




Some words of warning: most kids are not ready at this age to learn difficult grammar rules. So avoid lengthy abstract explanations and make lots of examples instead.

As French is not my mother tongue I went on leo.org, clicked on the French flag, typed in the word and clicked on the loudspeaker sign to listen to the right pronounciation whenever I was unsure how to pronounce a word correctly. Leo.org is actually a dictionary that translates from several different languages to German. As you two speak French fluently you will not need this in case your kids go to school in French as well. But if they go to school in another language, and who knows where you will decide to live, websites like this might come in handy.

Other materials I found helpful are e.g. my "mon premier Bescherelle illustre". It explains the phonics at the beginning of the book and then has lots of words with pictures (and a short sentence) for every letter.

You can also clap the syllables with your child like ca-mi-on, mai-son etc.
Say a word and ask your child what the first syllable, the last or the middle one is.
Say a word and a syllable and ask your children if they hear that syllable in the word or not. (Be careful that your children really hear it and isn't just guessing, let them say the word and overemphasize the syllable in the word to make sure for example).

Try to find rhymes with your child to sensibilize your child not only to the beginnings of words but also of similar endings.

To help your children strenghten their short term memory which is needed to remember the syllables that came before when they are deciphering a word you can try a game:
First player says:
I am going on a trip and I take an apple with me. Second player adds a new item:
I am going on a trip and I take an apple and a flashlight with me.
and so on until one of the players makes a mistake
Then you can start the game again.

You can also find pictures of words that only have 2 or 3 syllables. Write the word under the picture so that the size matches. Cut out the pictures and the different syllables and let your child find the right syllables that fit to the picture.


If your kids go to school they will learn how to write letters and words there as part of the curriculum already. Many people say that learning reading and writing go hand in hand and it is certainly always better to use as many senses as possible. You can find pictures of simple words and let your child copy those words. You can show them pictures and the syllables they need for all the words are on top of the page and they need to write the correct ones under the picture.

Every child is different and learns things differently, some things come easy and others are more difficult. It is up to you as a parent to see what strenghts and weaknesses your child has and adapt your approach accordingly.

Learning to read takes time so be patient. And it needs to be practised constantly. I have met some people in my life who didn't and therefore subsequently forgot how to read again. I think you have heard me talk about my experiences during my driving classes. I went to a special driving school where I could get my licence in 3 weeks instead of 6 months. But as it was a special school they also had students there that had some kind of problems and I met three young men there that couldn't read. One of them could read but had forgotten it after leaving school and not reading for a year or two. The other two never really knew how to read. I found this terribly sad. Make sure your kids don't end up like them. With reading it is like with swimming or riding a bike. It is never to late to learn it and you can learn it even with old age but it is so much easier and comes so much more natural if you learn it as a child that you really need to make sure that this is a skill your kids know well!

If your child struggles with reading despite your best efforts you might want to have your child's eyes checked. For this you need a special eye doctor who has particular experience with this, it's not your normal eye doctor. I have read about children who were missing spatial sight and thus had a hard time to learn how to read. I also read a story about a boy who had some blind spots when looking and so mostly missed syllables in the middle of a word. But all those kids could be helped with some special excercises for their eyes.

It also should be clear that children who have hearing or speaking problems probably need extra patience.

And I noticed that kids who had difficulties learning how to swim or ride a bicycle often also had a harder time to learn how to read. It seems that the gross motor skills (and maybe the fine motor skills too) affect your ability to learn how to read. In this case you need to be very patient. It will probably take longer. But don't give up. Eventually they will learn how to read as well. A friend of mine had a son like this. It was heartbreaking at first and she needed to change him to a school where the teachers were more patient and understanding. But after 3 years her son took off and became one of the best students in his class. So take heart and be patient with your kid. Your kid deserves it!

As you were learning how to read in a language that was not your mother tongue, you were very eager to also learn to read in your main language. And even though in school you had to read in French at home you were reading books in your favorite language. I let you do it and interestingly it also helped with your reading in French.

And finally: always remember that even kids that can read themselves still like to be read too. :)

Copyright © 2004-2022 Katja Socher, tuxgraphics.org