One of the most important ways we are passing on Hispanic heritage to our children is through teaching them Spanish. Helping them learn to read in Spanish (biliteracy) is a wonderful way to motivate them to continue learning the language, plus it is a great way to bond and show cariño to your kids!
What is biliteracy and why does it matter for your bilingual child? If you are like me, you have had many moments of feeling frustrated and perhaps downright discouraged about your efforts to raise your children to be bilingual. It takes much more work than you realized, and you’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. But at the end of the day you are left wondering exactly how much Spanish your children have absorbed, and whether they will ever speak more than a few scattered phrases.
We started our bilingual journey with the best of intentions, and it is clear that our children understand most of what is said to them in Spanish. Yet if we wanted it to go beyond passive bilingualism (where they understand but don’t speak the language), it was clear that we needed to up our game.
And so we have been focusing on teaching our children to read in Spanish. Our family loves to sit down together over a healthy breakfast and read, so now I make sure to pick out books in Spanish! Reading together in Spanish is not only great family bonding time, it also helps children really understand the language.
Biliteracy, or being literate in two languages, is fundamental to turning passive bilinguals into active learners. Here is why it is worth the effort:
Biliteracy: Why It Matters for Your Bilingual Child
Learning to read in another language…
…builds confidence. Sometimes bilingual children are actually more nervous to speak Spanish than a child encountering it for the first time. They know enough to know how much they don’t know! They know how the language should sound but not enough to speak it that way themselves. As one US born child once said to his Costa Rican mother, “Mom, me siento weird when I speak Spanish.” (“Mom, I feel weird when I speak Spanish.”) Gaining a new skill helps build their confidence in the language.
…slows the language down for them. Encountering the stream of spoken language can be overwhelming if you struggle to understand many of the words. When you read you can go at your own pace, even looking up words if you need to. It can also spark many “aha!” moments, especially since Spanish has so many cognates in English. These connections are often more obvious in the written language than spoken, such as “idea” which is written the same way in both languages but pronounced differently.
…actively engages the child with the language. Rather than just passively listening and then responding in English, reading forces the child to focus on the words, saying them either out loud or in their heads. This is actually a profound shift, as they are really paying attention to the language in a very new and more active way.
…expands vocabulary. As great as your own vocabulary is in the language, your child will run across many new words in books. This is a real boon for non-native speakers like myself, since I tend to use one word for a concept (for example, escribir, to write), when of course there are actually several ways to say the same thing (apuntar, anotar, numerar, copiar…).
…teaches grammar. When a child sees the words on the page, it is often easier for them to understand exactly what is being spoken and how sentences are constructed in the target language.
…opens up a world of literature. Once your child really begins to find his feet with reading in the language, he will have access to a whole world of literature, including favorite books (and comics!) that you may have grown up with.
…shares heritage and culture. So much of heritage and culture is passed down in books, whether Don Quixote or Mafalda. While of course you may also end up reading translations of their favorite books from English at first, as they gain confidence and interest, you can introduce them to other books as well.
…encourages togetherness. Just as anytime when a child begins to read, it is a team effort and can lead to some really sweet bonding time as you explore together. My favorite times of day are when we read together over breakfast (or sometimes my oldest reads to his brother!).
I love that my boys are starting to read together in Spanish! This is a big deal for us, as they had been losing interest in learning Spanish. Their pronunciation isn't perfect, but it's a start! Reading together over breakfast has made a big difference, especially as my oldest starts to do more of the reading himself. How do you motivate your kids to read in their second language? #mkbkids #kbn #momsoninstagram #kidbloggersofig #bilingual #bilingualbooks #ad #cheerios #cerealconcarino #generalmills
I love how easy it is to give my kids a healthy breakfast with Cheerios! I know I’m giving them something good for them that they’ll both enjoy, plus it leaves me more time for snuggling up with them to read. Cheerios also makes a great snack to fuel homework time!
If you want more time to sit down with your kids over breakfast, visit Cereal con cariño, where you can watch fun videos, download cereal recipes you can do with your kids, and download a $1 OFF coupon for General Mills Cereal! For those in California and Texas, you can also find out about events General Mills is sponsoring in your area.