Bilingual is Better

My son Isaiah LOVES books, much like Roxana’s daughter. However, he is a bit younger (just turned 5) and is still learning the fundamentals of reading in English. Since starting at a Montessori preschool last fall, he has made leaps and bounds in his reading abilities and has a good handle on the basics. In addition to his English homework and the reading exposure he gets at school, I read to him in Spanish and English every day. I’m a little stumped, though, about helping him cross the barrier into a full-blown Spanish reader as he has done in English.

We have a bit of a reversed situation from many of you, or at least those of you who use the mL@H method. As I’ve previously explained, my son gets most of his Spanish exposure at his father’s house, and has therefore decided that, at least conversationally, English is his language of choice at my house. So we speak mostly English except with extended family, listen to almost exclusively Spanish music and radio, and read in both languages. I don’t have quite the advantage that some may have in terms of using Spanish vocabulary on a daily basis with Isaiah and then finding it in our books. If he’s not getting the Spanish reading reinforcement at school, how can I indicate to him that reading in Spanish is just as important/interesting and is not going to be a chore?

Other than the encouragement factor, my big roadblocks are the logistics. Montessori schools don’t use phonics as some of us may have learned them. They use a multi-sensory approach, and that’s how Isaiah has grown to understand how letters make sounds, sounds make words, and so on. I can’t exactly replicate his Montessori practice in Spanish at home, so will teaching him the traditional phonics-only way serve to confuse him? I’m unsure of whether I should wait until he has completely mastered English reading before I confuse his sounds with another alphabet.

I have experimented a bit with simple Spanish board books to see if he adjusts his vowel sounds, etc. when he knows the book is not in English. I’ve found that he first tries with the English sounds, though (such as “eh” for E instead of “ay”). That’s when I start to wonder if I’m doing more harm than good…i.e. replacing the sounds he needs to know for school with the Spanish phonetics or just risking making reading a frustrating endeavor.

I’d love to have some feedback about your experiences with preschoolers or kindergarteners and learning reading in two languages. Although I know it can happen simultaneously, would there be a benefit in waiting until Isaiah is at a higher level of English reading before I have him dive into reading to me in Spanish?

{Photo by alex ragone}

Recent Posts