Skills for life: Bilingual reading

Skills for life: Bilingual Reading! – Teach children to Read in English and Spanish

This is a guest post by Denise Scholes from Abuelita Spanish

From the time a child is born, if not before, language development has begun. Children advancing in language learn first through listening, then speaking. As they advance in age and learning they deepen their understanding of their language through reading and more complex  thinking.

Teach children bilingual reading

The trend to teach young children a second language, like Spanish, has focused primarily on these first two modes of learning; listening and speaking, and for good reason. Learning a second language through songs, interactive games, and verbal instruction has been proven time and time again to successfully wire a child’s brain to understand and communicate in a second language.

This is usually the depth the language learning reaches. Once a child is speaking and communicating sufficiently the focus moves to maintenance. This may include review or expansion of vocabulary words, new phrases, practicing through conversations, or other forms of communal exposure. These are all quality ways to embrace a second language, but some say this alone is not enough. Indeed, there is so much more that children, like adults, can gain through reading.

In schools and homes where the goal is to raise bilingual children who grow into bilingual adults, bilingual reading is a must. If children learn to read in Spanish along with English then continue reading in both languages they are going to continue to advance and deepen their understanding and abilities over time.

6 Benefits to learning to read bilingually from the beginning:

  1. Children see the languages on the same playing field. There is not an emphasis in speaking both but then an imbalance when it comes to reading.
  2. As they learn to read in English they also learn to read in Spanish. This mimics the ideal scenario for children learning to speak in both languages simultaneously from birth.
  3. If they learn to read bilingually from the start they will be more likely to continue reading in both languages into adulthood.
  4. The written word is often more refined which will help children to refine the way they speak and express themselves.
  5. Seeing the words written, along with pictures in the context of stories will help to reinforce their memory of them.
  6. There are no limits to their growth.
    Learning to read in Spanish, especially learning to love it, will empower children to take the language to unknown depths and heights.

Why delay or under emphasize such a beneficial activity for children?

6 Tips for bilingual reading:

  • Read out loud while they are young
    Read out loud to children in their native tongue and in Spanish. This not only reinforces children listening to the language it also encourages reading. This provides formal and complete sentence structure and expressions that are not as commonly used in face to face settings. 
  • Don’t over focus on understanding each word.
    You may choose to look up the translation occasionally when children are very young, perhaps more often as they get older. Doing so will help set an example for children do it on their own later on. While they are young, however, keep the emphasis on comprehension and enjoyment. 
  • Teach them HOW TO READ in Spanish
    Just as you teach children to read in English, teach them to read in Spanish. Include the names and sounds of the letters, letter combinations, pronunciation and sentences structure. Eventually they will start reading in both languages!
  • Encourage them to practice on their own
    When children are first learning how to read, they need to practice, practice, practice. Switch between languages. This will increase their reading ability and their bilingual understanding.
  • Move to more challenging materials in both languages
    As they begin reading more advanced material in their native tongue, encourage children to move to more advanced materials in Spanish. Encourage them to read these materials out loud as well as during personal quite reading time in both languages.
  • Make it fun and enjoyable
    Kids need to like it or they likely won’t want to do it now or later. One of the most important aspects of reading is to LOVE it! When we read children stories we are teaching them to love reading. This is no different when it comes to reading in a second language. Teach them to love reading bilingually, in the future, they’ll keep doing it. One way to do this is to read stories they’ve read before, Read interesting and fun books that are expressive in the desired language.

Materials & Resources:

Recommendations for more fluent or older children:

  • For bilingual children who already read well in their native language encourage them to read classics in Spanish. Here is one example. Reading classics will give them exposure to culture, quality writing, and language context. Ideally they will read books in Spanish that they have read in their own language as well.

Further reading:


One Response to Skills for life: Bilingual Reading! – Teach children to Read in English and Spanish

  1. Peter Rettig July 11, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    A very interesting post. I will forward it to our sons who are bilingual in English and German, but have not continued reading in both languages to their children!
    We’ll also post to our site!