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Early Reading In Spanish Helps Children Learn To Read English

Mother and Daughter reading together

Parents who are fluent in more than one language know that being able to speak multiple languages is a positive life skill, but they may not know that children who have strong reading skills in another language will actually learn to read English better than those who don't.

In a study titled English Reading Growth in Spanish-Speaking Bilingual Students: Moderating Effect of English Proficiency on Cross-Linguistic Influence and co-authored by  Jackie Eunjung Relyea of Harvard University and Steven J. Amendum of the University of Delaware found that children who had strong early reading skills in Spanish by the time they started kindergarten had stronger reading skills in English by the time they reached fourth grade, According to the University of Delaware.

“This suggests that well-developed Spanish reading proficiency early on likely plays a greater role in English reading development than a student’s proficiency in speaking English,” noted Amendum. The study basically found that students who had strong Spanish reading skills when they entered kindergarten performed better as they progressed grade levels, even when compared to those who spoke Spanish fluently but weren't as skilled with reading the language.

The study reinforces that parents should feel confident reading to their children in any language they choose because having stronger reading skills in another language can be beneficial in helping children learn English. Many parents feel they need to read to their children in English, especially if English isn't their first language, so their child will be able to transition into school easier. This study proves that children with strong reading skills in another language see more growth when learning English.

“Even early skills like being able to hear sounds in words transfer easily across languages, so, if a child can segment the sounds in the word ‘sol,’ then the process is the same if someone asks what sounds the child hears in the word ‘top,’” said Amendum.

He added that children who speak a different language at home need to be reassured that those language skills will help, not hinder, their future English language learning. “We can’t ignore native language,” Amendum said. “Helping kids become bilingual and biliterate is always a great long-term outcome for kids. We want to support a child’s native early reading and language skills, and to help teachers and families understand how they can use a first language to help students learn a second language, while continuing to develop their native language.”

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