Rivers of Multilingual Reading – Torrent or Trickle? Sabine Little, University of Sheffield

Sabine Little, University of Sheffield. This study seeks to explore how multilingual children experience reading across their various languages, and what influences this experience.

Rivers of Multilingual Reading – Torrent or Trickle?

Following Cliff Hodge’s (2010) “Rivers of Reading” approach, the study engaged with a six multilingual families, including seven children aged 8-13 years, over a period of 10-12 months to identify critical incidents in the children’s journey as developing readers, including the impact of family members, formal schooling, shared reading experiences, and availability of resources. The study focused on the following questions:

-How do multilingual children negotiate reading in their various languages?

-What importance does their level of language play when it comes to notions of choice and preference?

-How do multiple languages relate to their developing identity as a reader – and how does reading relate to their identity as a multilingual person?

-What is the balance of texts and sources across the languages?

-Does an awareness of themselves as a multilingual reader influence future behaviour in terms of choice and frequency?

The findings show that multilingual children have complex reasons for including resources in their “River of Reading”, focusing not only on content (liked or disliked), but also on a complex network of representations, with the book standing for social memories of shared reading, linguistic encounters (first book read in a language, etc.) and representations of migration and identity. Most children in the study had at least a somewhat asynchronous biliterate development, resulting in accessing books and resources of different difficulty levels across the child’s languages. However, several families have identified strategies to overcome asynchronous biliteracy, through use of audio books and/or parallel reading in the heritage language and in English. While books were by far the most prevalent resource featured, online and digital reading, as well as newspapers and magazines, featured in children’s Rivers of Reading. Engaging in the practice of constructing the River of Reading was seen by children and parents as a positive way to focus of achievements in heritage language and literacy development.

The findings were disseminated at the following conferences:

UKLA Conference, Cardiff, 2018

The findings also contributed to the establishment of a multilingual children’s library at Sheffield Central Libraries, including a multilingual reading scheme, funded by an AHRC Other Worlds Research Initiative Grant (Cross-Language Dynamics Strand).


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