Reading, at its core, mirrors the way we speak. Therefore, one of the most effective strategies to enhance the reading process in bilingual children is through reading aloud.
This tactic holds particular value when teaching reading in bilingual environments, allowing the simultaneous practice of skills such as decoding, intonation, prosody, and pronunciation in both the native language and the second language being learned.
Children raised in bilingual settings encounter numerous challenges, with one of them being the acquisition of reading skills. Ideally, a child should learn to read first in their native language, to become familiar with the foundational elements of the reading process beyond mere comprehension of the phonetic code.
However, at times, this sequence isn't feasible, and the child is exposed to two or more languages from an early age. In such cases, it's important to identify in which language the child is most proficient and commence the reading journey using that language's code, progressively adding the phonetic code of the other language.
Numerous studies demonstrate that children who are fluent readers in their native language can acquire reading skills in a second language more rapidly. This is due to their understanding of common elements in the reading process that repeat across different languages, such as the use of symbols to represent sounds, which combine to form words. Several words come together to construct sentences, and multiple sentences comprise a paragraph.
Moreover, children who have fluency in their native language are also acquainted with strategies to comprehend the meaning of new words, identify key ideas in the text, and analyze the message the author seeks to convey.
Research also indicates that reading aloud contributes to the development of fluency, which positively impacts comprehension – the primary goal of the reading process.
How to Practice Bilingual Aloud Reading?
Firstly, ensure you have texts in both English and Spanish, or in the languages your child is learning.
Select moderately-sized texts, ranging from 25 to 100 words, depending on your child's age.
Choosing appropriate books for bilingual reading becomes simpler when opting for topics that interest the child, maintaining their attention and enhancing motivation.
Employ the strategy of taking turns to read, especially if you notice that your child exhibits limited motivation for reading or faces difficulties in one or both languages.
For instance, if they're learning to decode, they can read the letters, syllables, or words they're already familiar with, while you handle those they don't know yet. If your child has advanced reading skills but doesn't recognize all the words, you can suggest that they read the words they recognize, and you will read those they don't know or comprehend.
Then, gradually increase the complexity: one sentence by them and one by you, one paragraph by them and one by you, or even one page by them and one by you. Always remember to tailor the reading activity to your child's skills in each language.
Another effective strategy is the "restless fingers" technique to assess the difficulty of vocabulary in a text. Encourage your child to raise a finger for each word they don't know in the text. If they raise all five fingers before finishing a page, it means the book is too complex for them, and you should find something more suitable for their age and reading level in each of the languages they're learning.
Lastly, encourage active participation during the aloud reading. Pose questions, find images of unfamiliar words, allow them to connect with their everyday experiences, and encourage them to read using different voices.
Fun plays a crucial role in learning, and by incorporating engaging elements into the aloud reading, you'll observe how your child improves fluency, comprehension, and motivation in both their native language and the new language they're learning.
If you want to explore more strategies for stimulating bilingual reading in your child, I recommend my book "From Escuela to School," where you'll find activities and recommendations to develop your child's reading skills in both Spanish and English.