Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Teaching to Read in English and Spanish. What's the difference?

A common mistake made by teachers of Spanish-English dual language programs is to teach students to read using the same techniques in both languages. This mistake is not only made by teachers but by textbook companies here in the United States who wish to create a Spanish "version" of their reading programs. First of all, it is most important to realize that learning to read in English is different from learning to read in Spanish. Of course all students need to learn direction, punctuation and how to hold a pencil and form letters. However, learning to decode and spell is quite different in each language. English is a much more phonetically complex language than Spanish. In Spanish each vowel makes only one sound and it never changes. Consonants will sometimes have two different sounds but the difference of when each sound is used is clear and follows consistent rules. Even accents always follow specific rules and there are rare exceptions to the rules.

Unlike English, Spanish does not require years of study in order to learn how to spell or read. Once, a child has learned the basic rules of spelling, they should be able to read or write practically anything without making spelling errors. Sometimes, what could be a fairly simple process is elongated so as to match what peers are doing at the same time in English. Students in fifth grade will still be given spelling tests in Spanish. This really shouldn't be necessary. Once they know the phonetic rules of Spanish they should be able to spell just about anything and rely on the use of spelling rules as a guide. It appears that teachers and text book companies need to model how Reading is taught in Spanish-speaking countries and use that as a guideline for creating programs that address Spanish reader's unique needs.

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