Raising Readers When You Can't Read Spanish

Raising Readers When You Can’t Read Spanish


Often when I first tell people my son goes to a Spanish immersion school, the very first thing people ask is, “Oh, do you speak Spanish too?” That then is often also followed by a slightly perplexed look when I respond, “Not at all.” Sometimes people think because they don’t know the language, they couldn’t possibly help their child, therefore making immersion education seem like an unlikely choice.  That is not the case! Just because I’m not an astronaut, doesn’t mean my son can’t go to the moon someday. Just because you never got the hang of scuba diving doesn’t mean your kid won’t be a deep sea diver. Speaking for all parents, I don’t want my inabilities to stand in the way of my children discovering their own abilities. Learning Spanish is one of those abilities. Ok, so you can’t read Spanish.  That doesn’t mean you can’t create a Spanish rich environment in which your new reader can thrive.  

I remember the first weeks of kindergarten, when my son brought home some flash cards with just the vowels on them and I sort of panicked. My goodness, the very most basic letters in the alphabet and I’m suddenly second guessing what they really say.  I minored in reading in undergrad! I have a master’s degree in elementary education! Yet here I was kind of stressing over 5 little letters. My son quickly put my mind at ease when he easily read off the sound of each letter, matching them up with picture cards and showing me actions to help me remember.  The first thing to know, as a nonspeaker, is each letter in Spanish represents one sound. Alleluiah! When you really think about the process we all went through learning English, it’s really quite goofy. “N says n but so does k.” “H says h but sometimes it doesn’t make a sound.” Or the misleading, “I before e except after c.” Augh!  But thankfully Spanish doesn’t have these wacky instances and what you see is what you get. Below I’ve included a table with the letters, the letter name and the pronunciation. 


Letter

Letter Name 

(How to say the actual letter)

Pronunciation

 (What it sounds like when reading)

a

a

ah

b

be

bay

c

se

say

d

de

day

e

e

ay

f

efe

effay

g

ge

hay

h

hache

ach-ay

i

i

ee

j

jota

hota

k

k

ka

l

el

el-lay

ll

elle

ay-yay

m

me

eh-may

n

ene

eh-nay

o

o

o

p

pe

pay

q

cu

koo

v

ve

vay

w

doble ve

do blay-vay

x

equis

ay-kees

y

i griega

e-gree-ay-ga

z

zeta

say-ta

 

Just like how we all likely learned the English alphabet (minus all that elemeno business), singing a song is a great way to learn these letters.  And, just like many of us did in the 80s, good old Sesame Street has a catchy way to learn it.  


Beyond knowing the sounds of the alphabet, helping your child to read Spanish can be very similar to how you would help them in English.  Use the very same strategies we expect our kids to use to figure out many of the words yourself. This includes:

  • Use picture clues: Look at the picture and see if it provides any ideas on what it says.
  • Break it up into parts or syllables: Use the above chart to think about what sound each letter would make to help you pronounce the word. 
  • Think about what makes sense paired with what you’ve already read.
  • Use your background knowledge:  You might not know what a word means, but think about what you do know.  Does it sound like anything else you’ve heard in Spanish? 

Think about what you do to help your child as they are learning the language.  Most of these ideas will help you too. Label common objects around the house. Ask Alexa to translate various things for you.  Turn on the captions for your favorite old tv shows (you know, that one episode of Friends you basically have memorized). Have books at the ready at all times. Sure, some of these might seem a little silly, but language is language.  Any exposure is bound to help. 

Above all, read, read, read.  If we want to raise readers, we have to be readers, regardless of what language we are reading in.  Research has shown that boys, who are typically more difficult to engage in reading, are more apt to lose the love of reading around 4-5th grades.  And if they do, it’s not likely to come back. Being a boymom, I know I don’t want this for my sons (or daughter for that matter). So regardless if I can read, write, speak, listen, tweet, whatever in Spanish, I know I’m going to do everything I can to raise my kids as readers.




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