10 Literacy Tips for Parents of Bilingual Children

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How to read to your child in Spanish: 10 literacy tips for parents of bilingual children that make reading in Spanish easy and fun.

By Corrie Wiik

Are you looking for ways to make reading to your kids in Spanish easy and fun? 

Early literacy plays a key role in a child’s language development and is an effective tool for raising bilingual children.

At the heart of early years literacy is the beautiful, yet simple act of reading aloud: when parents nurture a love for reading at an early age, it can have a significant impact on the child’s linguistic proficiency.
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, found in one study

Corrie Wiik, guest Author

Spanish Reading For Kids – Overview

For parents of bilingual children, beyond the irrefutable academic benefits, reading in Spanish can immerse the child in the richness of different cultures, traditions, values and diverse voices.

It also broadens the child’s vocabulary, allowing them to develop and tap into two communication systems; enriching their phonological awareness, their understanding of idioms, colloquial phrases and familiarity with tenses. 

Reading aloud is one of my family’s four daily Spanish activities in our bilingual parenting strategy.

Looking for some screen time activities? Check out this post- Leveraging screen time for your bilingual kids

Resources- Easy Reading In Spanish

From the very beginning of our journey in raising bilingual children in English and Spanish, I have always prioritized building a bilingual bookshelf in our home.

Creating a print rich environment with a range of resources is central to our Time & Place approach

The goal for me has always been to make reading in Spanish joyful so that my kids associate languages and reading with pleasure and will more likely become lifelong readers. 

Allowing your child to choose a book to read can be a powerful way to engage them. Tapping into their interests and finding thematic books to encourage those passions also nurtures a love for books. 

There are many resources bilingual families can enjoy to support biliteracy at home: From vocabulary flashcards, magazines and books, to podcasts, audiobooks and story podcasts and even Spanish reading apps.

Tapping into a range of visual and auditory stimuli will provide a strong foundation for bilingual language development.

Make resources easily available to your child, so that they will naturally engage with the materials. For younger children, low shelves with activity baskets can help organize resources in an accessible way. Displaying books forward-facing can also help draw the child in, as they can recognize the titles from the illustrations.

A favorite set of books over here is the “Estaciones” board book series from Blue Manatee Press, which you can find here.

10 Literacy Tips For Bilingual Families

There are many contexts in which parents of bilingual children can support their child’s language acquisition at home.

1. Read Nursery Rhymes

Music is sticky: repetitive lyrics combined with catchy rhythms can naturally get stuck in our head! I have experienced firsthand how my children recall far more vocabulary from nursery rhymes and songs. Reading authentic Spanish poetry for children and pairing it with sing-alongs has been one of the most effective tools for my children’s language acquisition. Both Canticos and Lufi & Friends are wonderful resources that pair reading with familiar children’s songs. I also highly recommend the anthology Pio Peep for a treasured collection of traditional Spanish nursery rhymes.

 2. Translations of Familiar Titles

I prefer to read authentic and culturally rich books in Spanish, since these books are more often written by native speakers and provide a glimpse into the richness and beauty of Hispanic culture. That said, another effective way to engage kids in reading in Spanish is to choose translations of familiar titles. 

Some of the most popular Eric Carle titles are available in Spanish, or titles like Buenas Noches Luna (Good Night Moon) and El Pez Pucheros (The Pout Pout Fish).  

The advantage of selecting translations is that the child will be able to anticipate the story with a greater sense of context and meaning and this, in turn, provides more joy in the reading experience.

3. Choose Topics of Interest

Our children go through phases of interests. Whether your child is currently fascinated by dinosaurs, bugs or fairies, tap into what makes them tick and source thematic books to encourage your child’s engagement with literacy. 
Seeking joy and instilling a love of reading early on is key for nurturing lifelong readers and thematic reading allows the child to connect more personally and curiously with the printed material.

4. Read Bilingual Books

Undoubtedly, a helpful tool for bi-literacy is bilingual books. Reading books with parallel texts (this is where English is placed alongside its Spanish translation) can provide support for non-native speakers, while also cross-referencing and building familiarity with new sentence structures and vocabulary.

Dual-language books are more inclusive and often provide more opportunities for connecting with the text in fun and engaging ways.
Another great bilingual resource we use often use is the Highlights High Five Bilingüe magazine.

Related post: 8 Magazine Subscriptions in Spanish for Kids

5. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!

What are the most treasured stories you recall from your childhood? These stories are undoubtedly the ones you read over and over again.

Repetition is tied to familiarity, another important factor for a child’s development. Children thrive on routines and reading the same books helps to provide a sense of familiarity.

Beyond that, the rhythms and rhymes within stories that are repeated helps to consolidate vocabulary and builds comprehension.

Mom with little girl reading book in sofa

 6. Talk about the story

A powerful context for literacy is discussion: we can enhance language acquisition by talking to our child about the story. 

Give them space to express themselves with feelings, opinions and observations. Avoid quizzing them about the events, but rather, focus on nurturing an open discussion through open questions: ‘How does that make you feel?’ ‘What do you think might happen next?’. 

I love how this can often develop a shared experience and bond with the child, and at times even lead to inside family jokes or references that stem from a book!

7. Re-enact the story

Children need context for learning, so moving towards application is important if the child is to retain the vocabulary they have been exposed to in the literature.

Beyond talking about the story, establish real-life context wherever possible. For example, if you just read a book where fruit was referenced, involve your child in the kitchen later in preparing a snack with fruit and repeat the Spanish vocabulary with them. 

You could also encourage your child to re-enact stories with puppetry and imaginative play. They could use dolls, figurines or even create storyboards.

8. Write about the story

For older children, writing about the story is another strategy for developing language, while building creative writing skills.

Whether your child writes an alternative ending to a story, develops a character further, or simply writes a review of the story, they are reinforcing their learning and building deeper connections to the language in the text.

9. Take advantage of FREE literacy programs

Libraries are an excellent resource for free literature for your family. However, not all libraries have a developed Spanish children’s books collection.

Fortunately, there are other options available, including the award-winning national children’s bilingual literacy program, ‘Read Conmigo’ and ‘Make Make’. These digital libraries are a fantastic resource for parents. The Read Conmigo program is launching a brand new website in the fall 2021.Another great resource is the free Stories by Gus on the Go app that provides interactive story-based learning for children in Spanish.

10. Listen to audio books and podcasts

Finally, audio books and podcasts are fantastic, screen-free options for engaging your child in the target language. 

Not only do they entertain your child and develop their imagination, but they enhance vital literacy skills such as comprehension, phonemic awareness, broadening their vocabulary range and overall fluency.

My go-to is playing Spanish podcasts for kids in the background during open-play time at home, and on the go while running errands in the car. In addition, Spanish audio books are a great alternative for reluctant readers: providing many of the literary benefits of reading disguised!

Whichever resources you choose for your child, remember that children spell love T-I-M-E. 

By intentionally setting aside 15-20 minutes a day to read in Spanish, you are not only developing your child’s fluency, but also inspiring a joy and love for bilingual literacy that will impact them for a lifetime.

This is a guest post by Corrie Wiik. Corrie is raising bilingual children in San Diego, CA. She is a former Spanish teacher and the founder of the Spanish education blog Mama Llama Linguist and curriculum shop Llamitas Spanish. You can also connect with her on Instagram @mamallamalinguist and follow her on Pinterest

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Christa Jimenez

Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by

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