Bilingual is Better
Photo by cesarastudillo

Photo by cesarastudillo

Our weekly Ask an Expert series continues to grow into a treasure cove of information and advice concerning bilingual families. The experts in the panel all shine in their own right; amongst them is bilingual English/Spanish speech language professional, Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, who recently debunked three common myths about speech development in bilingual children. Now, we are excited to announce that Dr. Kester has joined the impressive panel of bilingual experts that collaborate in our weekly series-Ask an Expert.

We invite you to visit Dr. Kester’s website, Bilinguistics, to learn more about her and her team.

They are “dedicated to enhancing speech and language services for Spanish-English bilingual children, enabling those children to achieve their highest communicative and academic potential.”

Click here to send her your questions regarding speech development in bilingual children.

Should I start teaching my son how to read in Spanish?

A couple of weeks ago author and celebrated researcher Barbara Zurer Pearson answered the question: “When should my child learn to read in a second language?”
Today’s question, sent by Claudia Hadad, digs in deeper into the issue of teaching young bilinguals to read in the minority language.

“We use both English and Spanish at home but our native language is Spanish. My son is 5 and already reads in English. Should I start teaching him how to read in Spanish? Would he be confused with the fact that we use the same alphabet but the sounds are different.”

Hi Claudia,

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Children are just as capable of becoming bi-literate as they are of becoming bilingual. Dual language learning does not confuse children. Will your child make mistakes in the process of learning to read in two languages? Yes. Just as monolingual, mono-literate children make mistakes when learning to read, bilinguals will as well. Many of the mistakes bilinguals make in development may be the result of influence from the other language but this is part of the learning process. Some people call that “confused” but with feedback, bilingual children learn to correct those errors, just as monolingual children learn to correct their errors with feedback. Children quickly learn to to use both systems. Recent research also suggests that the earlier a child learns two languages, the better off he will be for dual language reading development .

If your son is already reading in English, he should have a relatively easy time learning to read in Spanish. Spanish is considered a “transparent” language because of its mostly one-to-one letter-to-sound correspondence, while English is considered an “opaque” language because there is often more than one sound associated with a letter. Transparent languages are generally easier to learn because their rules are more consistent than opaque languages. Additionally, the orthographies of English and Spanish are very similar, making it easier for children to transfer knowledge from one language to the other.

For a lot of detail on the differences in the orthographies and sound systems of English and Spanish, please see Gorman & Kester (2004) at the following link:

Happy reading!

Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

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