It’s time to rethink our approach to literacy in Spanish.

May 10, 2016

Spanish and English are different. So why do we teach literacy as if they’re not?

During addalingua working sessions with Dr. Tara Fortune, director of the Immersion Research and Professional Development Program at CARLA, she reiterated how vitally important it is that literacy instruction maintains the contextual and linguistic integrity of the language.

We couldn’t agree more, and that’s why add.a.lingua’s grade level instructional frameworks for Spanish (and Mandarin Chinese) literacy have been developed to address the unique aspects of each language.

The importance of a language specific approach to literacy has just been underscored by a new study from Claude Goldenberg of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. The study finds that awareness of individual letter sounds, which is the foundational skill for early literacy instruction in English, isn’t as important when teaching beginning readers in Spanish:

“The study shows that Spanish-speaking students achieved reading comprehension in Spanish without [phonemic] instruction, raising questions about the approach being used to teach a growing number of Spanish-speaking children in the United States to read in Spanish.”

By contrast, syllabic awareness is critical to effective early Spanish literacy instruction:

“In Spanish, the relationships between letters and their corresponding sounds tend to be more consistent, whereas a single letter in English can represent a range of different sounds that must be learned.”

As Claude Goldenberg notes, approaching reading instruction in other languages based on what works in English is a mistake:

“Here’s a specific instance of where reading policy and practice has been very markedly influenced based on a context– English-speaking kids learning to read in English – that is not all that general. We need to be aware of the assumptions we’re making when we take findings from one linguistic context and apply them to another.”

The bottom line? Our approach to literacy instruction in the immersion language should look markedly different than our approach in English.

While this study focused on Spanish, the finding holds true for Mandarin Chinese literacy instruction too. For example, in Mandarin Chinese immersion contexts, rather than focusing on letter or syllable sounds, we ensure students make the connection between character parts and meaning (radicals)–which will ultimately aid in reading comprehension.

Want to learn more about how addalingua helps maintain the integrity of the Spanish and Mandarin Chinese languages in early literacy instruction? Get in touch.

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