It goes without saying that you need to be very familiar with any dialect to capture it on paper. You need to be able to speak it yourself and “hear it inside your head” while writing it down. You need some innate talent, a natural “good ear,” in the same way that good musicians are “born.”
With that said, writing dialect is a balancing act. The trick is to deviate from standard orthography enough to impart the flavor and the distinctive “sound” you want, but not so much that the reading becomes difficult. And try to err on the standard side. If you write too phonetically, few will understand you (or put in the effort to try to). This is true for the King’s English (a dialect), Brooklynese, or southern Georgia. By definition, dialect departs from standard speech, but don’t overdo it. Use just enough in your writing to get by.
Let me illustrate this point with two pretty fair practitioners of black American dialect, William Styron and Roark Bradford:
“’Yam,” Arnold replied . . . ‘Majah Riblees he lib dar, ap yonnah road ap yonnah . . . Yam, me tek ‘ee dar, missy, me tek ‘ee dar . . . Yam, missy, me tek ‘ee Majah Riblees!’” (Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner, pp. 262-3)
“’Anywhar you says, John Henry,’ Julie Anne told him. ‘You go and den turn around and you see me standin’ at yo’ side. All de time like dat, John Henry.’” (Bradford, John Henry, p. 121)
See the difference? To be fair, Styron was trying to make a sociological point with his almost un-readable Afro-Virginia patois, and that small sample is all that he uses. Otherwise his book would suffer.
I have to say that Bradford has struck a more proper balance. To be phonetically “true,” he could have written:
“’Anywhar you says, John Henry,’ Julie Anne told him. ‘You go an’ ‘en tuin roun’ an’ ya see me stannin’ at yo’ side. All uh time lak dat, John Henry.’”
But he didn’t take it this far, and his version works much better than my corruption of it. It gives us the Louisiana flavor without stressing the reader.
Dialect is an important component in much of children’s literature, notably in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Twain tells us he used the dialect of Hannibal, Missouri, his home town. It reads like this:
“Hang the boy, cain’t I never learn anything? Ain’t he played me tricks enough for me t’know better? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. He pears t’know just how long he can tease before the anger starts.” (Twain, Tom Sawyer)
Dialect should be used gently in children’s literature, as it is above, since children are just starting to get the hang of reading grammatically correct English. However, using dialect does help them to sound out words and figure out their meanings based on that, so don’t be afraid to use dialect if you’re writing for kids!
Again, try to tread lightly whenever you use dialect. No reader, regardless of age, wants to be alienated by the language used in your book.
Sharing bedtime stories with your child is an important night-time ritual for many parents. In fact, research has shown that children of parents who have bedtime stories show increased brain activity, particularly vocabulary and logic skills. Those skills will serve as the foundation for a better reader for the rest of their life. Bedtime stories also deepen your relationship with your kids and help to establish a bedtime routine (something every parent needs for their child). It’s also a time for both parents and children to wind down for the day.
Having said that, coming up with a bedtime story for your child EVERY night can be a little overwhelming. You can only read the same books so many times before your child gets bored. You can only talk about the same characters (princesses and superheroes) for so long.
Courtesy of Pixabay
So what do you do when your child asks for a story and your mind goes blank?
1. Put your child in the story.
Whether it’s princesses or superheroes (or superhero princesses), allowing your child the opportunity to be in the story stretches their thinking muscles and enhances their linguistic skills. It also gives the chance to develop and enhance another muscle, their imagination.
Courtesy of Pixabay
2. If you are reading a book, ask them, “What do you think happens next?”
Courtesy of Pixabay
3. Put your child in the storyteller’s seat. Ask them to tell you their favorite story.
Asking your child to retell a story back to you gives you (the master storyteller) a break. In addition to allowing them to practice another important skill, memory. Because children (actually everyone) remembers what they believe is important, allowing your child to tell the story gives you a front row seat into what your child values.
Courtesy of Pixabay
4. Take an old story and add a unique spin to it.
This is an old trick that people ranging from writers to Disney use. Take an old story that everyone knows like “Red Riding Hood” and re-imagine it. What is Red Riding Hood could fly? What if Jack didn’t climb the beanstalk, choosing to take the elevator?
Courtesy of Pixabay
The point of these suggestions is to make storytelling fun and interactive. Storytime should not be a tired old routine that you do because you have to. Storytime should be an important time for your child to relax and develop the skills that will serve them in their lifetime.
Reading is a skill that every parent knows is essential for their child to thrive in the modern world. Gaining your children exposed to reading helps foster brain development, language development, and more at a critical time in their development. The skills and behaviors learned in those early years can have a strong impact on your child throughout their life. Starting early helps build a foundation that your child can improve on in the later years. In other words, the earlier, the better!
Gaining reading skills is such an important task that pediatricians now offer reading as a prescription for children as well as their parents (for their newborns). Not gaining these skills can be detrimental. According to an article from Quello.com, children with parents who read to them an hour a day had a vocabulary of 10,000 words of more by the time they reached Kindergarten! Low literacy can also impact children as they get older. According to Intellihealth.com, surveys show that children who don’t develop the appropriate reading levels by third grade harve a harder time graduating from high school. Adult patients with low literacy had more problems with their treatment and medication compared to those with well-developed literacy.
Children often begin their path to reading in Kindergarten, but that path can (and should) begin earlier than that. The more exposure your child has to reading, the easier reading can become for them. The earlier you expose your child to reading, the better. It can begin at home, with you. Sadly, a survey found that only half of parents with young children read to their children every day (see here). We can improve that!
You can be a reading superhero. A reading superhero is a parent or other adult who demonstrates and shares their love of reading with children so they can battle for literacy!
All it takes is a minimum of 15 minutes…
Here’s how you can get started….
1. Read to your kids every day (even if it’s just 15 minutes a day!)
Reading to your kids every day sets the foundation for reading behavior in the future. Depending on your child’s age, this can range from just a few minutes reading aloud and allowing a child to play with a book or can be a 30-minute (or more) dedicated storytime. Find the time and balance that works right for you and your family.
2. Have a dedicated time and place to read.
One way to encourage a habit is to repeat a behavior in the same place at the same time. Reading to your children in a comfy chair or by their bedside consistently helps children starts the process. After awhile, children will expect to have a book when they get in that chair (even if you aren’t there with them!).
Don’t worry though if your child wants to read a book at a different time or in a different location. Reading is reading! The point is to establish the behavior.
Choose a comfortable, quiet spot and start reading!
3. Keep books and magazines around the house.
Another easy way to encourage literacy is to have books and magazines around the house. Buy a couple of children’s books (based on your child’s interests) and magazines to keep your child busy. Encourage them to read when they feel bored. Develop activities and stories based on the books you read (Sands Hetherington did this and became a 6-time award -winning author!)
All it takes two or three books to start.
4. Encourage and praise reading behaviors.
Talk about reading and encourage reading in your home! When your child finishes a book, ask them about it. Ask them to read the book to you and others (like siblings or their favorite teddy bear). Get them in habit of seeing reading as a natural and positive activity in your house. Your child will follow suit.
5. Read yourself!
Children model what they see. If they see that you as a parent enjoy and make time for reading. They will model that behavior
You’ve got your orders. Now go out and start reading!
Need more help? Check out these additional tips and resources:
“Born to Read” (Insight on how to read your child) http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/parenting/research/upload/Babies-20are-20Born-20to-20Read-20Updated.pdf
“Importance of Reading” http://www.mychildrensmedicaid.org/content/importance-reading
“Born to Read” http://www.ala.org/alsc/issuesadv/borntoread/resources
“Reach Out and Read Program (Physician-led literacy program for kids): http://www.reachoutandread.org/