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From Phonics to Comprehension: Adapting Reading Instruction for Multilingual Learners

Guest Post by Andrea Gibbs

Navigating the wonderful world of reading can seem like an epic adventure, especially when your child juggles multiple languages! That's where adapting reading instruction comes in: it's like creating a custom-fit educational journey just for your multilingual superstar.

Imagine using their first language as a secret map to unlock new vocabulary or having colorful visual aids and engaging stories from their own culture to ignite their curiosity. And while repetition may be an old trick in the book, it's a brilliant way to make those tricky letters and sounds stick.

With these thoughtful strategies, our wonderful globe-trotting readers can explore countless new worlds through reading, understanding, and expressing ideas confidently in different languages. Let us find out what are the key points as you embark on this incredible reading journey together. Whether you are a parent or a teacher to a multilingual child, you can explore these strategies and watch their language skills bloom!

Understanding Phonics and Its Importance

Phonics forms the basis of reading instruction by teaching the correlation between written letters and spoken sounds. Phonemic awareness, essential for successful reading, develops through phonics instruction.

For multilingual learners, phonics provides a foundation for understanding the new language structure, offering a systematic approach to learning and pronunciation. Phonics is crucial in reading instruction because it helps students decode words, leading to fluency and comprehension. As multilingual learners often confront different writing systems and alphabets, mastering phonics accelerates language acquisition and reading abilities, reducing potential confusion.

✨ For phonics-based games to teach English to your child, check out this article.

Enhancing Comprehension Skills

Phonics and comprehension are interdependent; proficient decoding skills lead to fluent reading and improved understanding. Developing comprehension skills involves:

Explicit vocabulary instruction:

This direct teaching method involves clearly explaining the meaning and usage of new words, using examples, and practicing their use in various contexts, enhancing a learner's vocabulary knowledge and promoting overall comprehension skills.

Encouraging extensive reading:

Promoting a culture of reading broadly and frequently allows learners to encounter a wide range of vocabulary and language styles, contributing to enhanced reading fluency, vocabulary acquisition, and general knowledge.

Active class participation:

Encouraging learners' engagement in discussions, group activities, and presentations facilitates both receptive and expressive language skills, promotes retention, enhances comprehension, and heightens their interest in the learning process.

Challenges faced by Multilingual Learners

Multilingual learners encounter various obstacles while learning reading skills, including grappling with diverse phonetic structures, syntax, and vocabulary. These difficulties highlight the importance of specialized instruction tailored to these learners' needs. Addressing these challenges entails modifying instructional methods to accommodate students' linguistic backgrounds, avoiding misconceptions, and boosting motivation by designing relatable and engaging content for learners.

Adapting Reading Instruction

Adapting phonics instruction for multilingual learners involves visual aids and linguistically inclusive materials to support understanding.

Teachers should also:

Employing repetition and reinforcement:

This technique involves consistently revisiting taught phonics principles and promoting the repeated application of these rules, thereby ingraining them in the learner's knowledge and aiding their fluency in the new language.

Utilizing learners' first language (L1) as a scaffolding tool:

This strategy leverages the learner's native language as an initial frame of reference, thus acquiring English phonics (or any other second language phonemic skills) and comprehension skills less daunting and more relatable by drawing parallels with the known language structure.

Incorporating culturally responsive texts:

These are teaching materials or literary resources that recognize, appreciate, and incorporate learners' cultural backgrounds into reading instruction, fostering a deeper understanding and respect for diversity and enhancing learners' connections to the text.

Effective Teaching Strategies: From Phonics to Comprehension


Use diverse techniques such as blending, segmenting, and word sorting; integrate games to motivate learners.


Foster reading engagement through questioning, predicting, and summarizing.


Adopt materials like bilingual books, language apps, and online storybooks to appeal to varying learning preferences.

Role of Parents and Peers in Encouraging Multilingual Readers

Create a vibrant, print-rich environment where fascinating stories and illustrations adorn your home, inviting curiosity and fueling a love for reading.

Bilingual books? They work like magic, effortlessly bridging languages and making word discoveries a delightful experience for your child. Be courageous and engage in heartwarming discussions about your favorite books & stories in your native language, building a solid personal connection with the texts.

It is also important to expose the child to the spoken forms of all the languages they are learning, ensuring that the languages they hear (whether from people or movies or cartoons) have standard pronunciation and grammar.

Peers can also engage in group reading activities, creating an inclusive learning atmosphere that nurtures language development.

The Role of Technology and Digital Tools

Technology can significantly impact phonics and comprehension learning. Digital tools, like language apps, eBooks, and gamified learning platforms, provide interactive and tailored learning experiences. Technology offers advantages such as immediate feedback, self-paced learning, and accessibility, bridging the gap between language backgrounds and connecting learners to global content.

The Bottom Line

Tailored instruction for multilingual learners promotes a seamless transition from phonics to comprehension, fostering lifelong reading skills. Educators, parents, and peers can create an inclusive learning community that encourages language development by understanding their unique needs. Embracing technology and engaging instructional strategies can empower multilingual students to reach their full potential. It's up to teachers and educators to adopt these methods, ensuring a diverse and thriving language learning environment.


Author Bio

Andrea is currently the head of content management at SpringHive Web Design Company, a digital agency that provides creative web design, social media marketing, email marketing, and search engine optimization services to small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also a blog contributor at Baby Steps Preschool where she writes storytime themes, parenting tips, and seasonal activities to entertain children.


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