We recently had our Spring Showcase. It was the first community event we were able to host after this long year of pandemic. With COVID-safe measures, limited space, and a long list of considerations, families who attend our “Academic Spanish for the Little Ones” got to watch for themselves how much their kids are learning.
They did so well! They performed two songs and showed what the daily routine in class looks like for the Literacy curriculum.
Parents were amazed by seeing kids reading in Spanish at a young age (3 and 4 years old). After talking, answering questions, and sharing tips about how to practice at home, I realized over the years we have been teaching students of all ages and levels to read in Spanish.
I wanted to share the 5 TIPS that work for kids to efficiently learn how to read, even if they have no previous exposure to the language.
TIP #1. Knowing the fundaments
Learning in Spanish is mechanical. In contrast with English that has many rules and where the same letters can be pronounced in different ways.
In Spanish, all of the letters make different sounds (with just two exceptions C and S) and these sounds are ALWAYS the same! The M + the A will always make "Mah".
It is a beautiful process because it is predictive. This gives such confidence to the kids since they see how they are learning and can apply it. As in English, frustration can easily arise.
Knowing this, when teaching a child how to read in Spanish, the focus needs to be placed on following the steps to understand and apply these mechanics, and then just practice and practice.
TIP #2. Individual Practice
Practice is the key, the more the better.
But it needs to be of quality and supervised so the child can learn the correct pronunciation and make the corrections needed.
That is why for us, the secret to practice is to make it individual. A kid who practices at his level will be able to stretch and grow in the area he needs to. We meet each student at their own level and support them to advance from there. This helps them feel stronger and confident.
For the younger students, we apply an individualized step-by-step method, with intensive practice.
If they’ve had exposure to the language or speak it at home, it impacts the way they learn, and, hence, the way we teach. That is why individual attention is key. To really help in the specific sounds or mechanisms the kid needs.
In a classroom setting, individualized attention is not always possible, but there are ways to know where each child is and organize them into smaller groups based on these commons needs.
TIP #3 Use English
A kid who is already in 1st, 2nd, or higher grades and learns Spanish as a second language already knows how to read in English.
We utilize this previous knowledge and teach in a fairly quick process. There is a core mechanic that is the same in both languages. We share the same alphabet (except for one letter, our beloved ñ).
For kids after Kinder, it is great to tap into their knowledge and make connections between the languages.
The main challenge here will be to re-teach and re-learn the phonemes and sounds. Since their brain is already trained in English mode, and will naturally pronounce the words with this set of phonemes.
Trilingual and multilingual kids have an advantage here. This is one of the reasons they say it is easier to learn a third language. They are used to using different technics and different sounds when decoding the words and making the sounds together.
Key #4 Repetition, repetition, fluency!
So, this is great. The kids have learned the Spanish rules for reading, the sounds, and how to decode the words.
Now, they need to harness all of this work and aim for fluency. As mentioned on Key # 2 Individual practice is the way of building a fluent reading ability. And now we add to that: REPETITION.
One great practice is to read the same passage over and over to build muscle reflex. The kid will most likely say he or she is bored! After the 3-5th time… It is ok. It is not supposed to be exciting. It is a boot camp for the brain, like lifting weights. It will make it stronger and in good shape to develop fluency.
When this is done correctly, they will be fluent readers soon, even if they don't understand the actual meaning of the words.
This is Lilah, at the age of 6, she reads fully her second book in Spanish, as part of our Reading Curriculum. She does amazing, and as you can see at the end of the book, she didn't quite understand the meaning of the words.
This is the beauty of reading in Spanish, students can grasp the reading mechanics, as they expand their vocabulary.
Key #5 Natural pronunciation
Having strong reading skills in Spanish gives the students the confidence to pursue the language at a proficient and bilingual level. Having great pronunciation will elevate their level automatically. A natural accent gives the impression of much higher performance.
Our little secret here: use songs! Kids’ songs, pop songs, have them singing and the natural pronunciation will come much easier. And they’ll get a taste of Latino music!
In conclusion, when teaching children how to read in Spanish they need to start at the reading fundamentals and the mechanics of reading. These are quite easy because they always follow the same rules.
Monitoring children while they practice, making it individual, and encouraging them to make all the necessary adjustments will help them improve.
Some exercises that help a lot are the read the same passage over and over, it builds the mouth muscles and gives a lot of confidence. Using Latino songs, whether for kids or just pop that plays in the radio will add a fun touch and works great to shape a beautiful pronunciation!
What is your favorite song in Spanish or a song you know? We would love to hear about it, please leave a comment below.
Mucha suerte, gracias por leer y nos vemos pronto!
Ps. If you'd like to start practicing with the basic phonemes and vowels, we got you covered. Click on this video!