Beginning to learn to read

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S has just returned to school after the Christmas holidays.  Last term was his first term at primary school and formal literacy was introduced midway through the term using the Read, Write Inc method.  He has been enthusiastic about learning the letter sounds and is starting to blend the sounds together to make simple three and four-letter words such as C-A-T and M-I-L-K.  I have invested in some resources to help him at home including flash cards and a Parent Pack.  We’ve stuck up the letter friezes on his wall which has been great as a visual reminder and he likes to talk about which letter he’ll be learning the next day.

In parallel we’ve introduced Spanish literacy at home – albeit as a much slower rate (at school they learn a new letter sound each day – whereas he only has Spanish once a week).  Unfortunately the arrangement I had in place with Noelia fell though, but luckily I found another teacher at short notice to take over the slot I had arranged with his school.  The one to one classes with Lorena have been great and I hope to continue them for as long as possible.  Although we’re currently focusing on literacy, I like S to cover all sorts of topics too in this class.

As well as focused 1-2-1 support, I think it’s important to work in a group and make friends with other bilingual children.  This term, he will also be starting a Spanish afterschool club. The afterschool club is a new initiative which will focus on reading and writing skills for bilingual children.  One of S’s friends from nursery will also be attending so I hope he will enjoy it.

I struggled to find beginner reading books in Mexico despite visiting several bookshops. Instead I recently ordered some from Spain on Amazon.  32 Cuentos de la A a la Z  is a great collection of little stories with a book for each letter sound.  Best of all they have short, simple sentences and great illustrations.  The set wasn’t cheap but I am sure we will get a lot of use out of them.  The only disadvantage is that they are in cursive so I am having to type out the sentences on the computer so S can read the letters!

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Exploring bi-literacy

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It has always seemed natural for us bring up our children to be bilingual, there being a myriad of positive impacts for children learning two languages from birth.  Being bilingual however, does not automatically mean you can read and write in both languages. In fact, most bilinguals receive their schooling in the majority language and this language will always be the one they feel most confortable with in reading and writing.  True bi-literacy is hard to achieve without bilingual education which unfortunately is uncommon here in the UK.

I know S will probably prefer English as he progresses along his educational journey, but we would like him to have a working knowledge of Spanish, and be functionally literate in both languages.  This will open up opportunities for study or work in a Spanish-speaking country in the future, more than just having oral fluency.

We have decided to introduce reading and writing in Spanish at the same time as S starts school here in the UK.  Both languages share an alphabet and many of the letters have the same or similar sounds.  Having researched the advantages and disadvantages we think learning to read and write in both Spanish and English at the same time will help reinforce key literacy skills and do not feel S will be any more confused, than he is currently using both languages on a daily basis depending on the situation.

S will be starting school in September.  Here in the UK children start in the reception class at primary school at 4-5 years old and this is when they formally start to learn to read and write.  S loves books and he’s excited about being able to read stories to his little sister.

I thought I’d share with you some resources I’ve been exploring to start us on this journey of learning to read and write, both in Spanish and English.  I am interested in both online materials in the form of ebooks, videos and apps, and real books and activities for supporting the process of learning to read and write.

ENGLISH (majority language)

S will be learning in English, his majority language, at school.  Reading and writing well in English will be important for him throughout his school career.  As well as encouraging him to learn to read and write in Spanish, I am keen to support his English literacy skills and to find out more about how these key skills are taught in schools.

There are two main systems in use in the UK for teaching literacy to primary school children, Jolly Phonics and Read Write Inc, I understand both are based on decoding and blending synthetic phonics sounds and the visual recognition of commonly used words known as ‘sight words’.  The school S will be attending uses the Read Write Inc method and I look forward to finding out more about it when he starts in September.

I recently picked up an English activity book aimed at 4-5 year olds by Gold Stars which S has enjoyed. I was actually surprised at how much he already knew and how well he concentrated as we worked through the book together.  I also like the Julia Donaldson Songbirds phonics readers  and activity books  which S will be getting for his birthday. You can buy the whole set of 36 books online at The Book People at great value. I’ve only recently discovered this online bookshop.  I was wondering if there’s an equivalent online discount bookshop in Spain but I have now found out that the price of books in Spain is set nationally to protect small bookshops, and only second-hand shops can offer large discounts.  Siete Vidas is one of these second-hand bookshops which I need to check out.

In preparation for our long-haul flight to Mexico in a couple of weeks time, I’ve also been looking into apps and games for my phone.  We’ve been recommended the following apps to try out for our journey: Teach your Monster to Read and Hairy Letters.

SPANISH (minority/home language)

S will be taking Spanish lessons twice a week starting at the end of September with Noelia from De Colores.  The full details still need to be confirmed but the idea is to pick him up early from school twice a week for home-based tuition.  The lessons will be focused on learning to read and write in Spanish, as well as covering the topics he has been working on at school.  The aim is this arrangement to continue all the way through the school, changing the timings to suit the timetable.

I am hoping to pick up some ‘learn to read’  and ‘first reader’ book collections this summer while we are in Mexico, as well as any activity books or games. I’ve found out that in Mexican schools they don’t teach individual phonemes, but syllables, and I have been recommended this system: Mi Libro Mágico.   I look forward to sharing more about what I find out during our trip to Mexico once I get back!  There are also these fun videos to explore – Mono Silabo. These are some beginner reader books that have been recommended so far for me to investigate: La Serie Blanca, Torre de Papel Naranja.

There are also lots of online resources, which are free to download as pdf documents including all official public school text books from the Mexican education authorities, and the text books for first and second grade in Chile.

I have also been investigating ‘learn to read’ methods in Spain, and have discovered Letrilandia, one of the systems used in Spanish primary schools.  This appeals to me and it uses stories to help the children remember the letters and has accompanying stories and videos. I only worry slightly that the cursive text will confuse him as he’s only ever been exposed to print!  I will wait to see what we find in Mexico and what Noelia suggests, but I may invest in the Letrilandia reading and exercise books.

 

 

Buying books online from abroad

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When ever we are visiting a Spanish speaking country I always have books on my mind. I try to sneak into bookshops and make time to browse.  However, I usually feel rushed and don’t really have time to find what I want.

To compensate for this unorganised approach to Spanish reading material, I have been building up a wishlist of books on Amazon Spain for about a year.  I try to read blogs and follow Facebook groups (I highly recommend ‘La biblioteca de los peques: literatura infantil y juvenil’) to find out which are the best children’s books in Spanish and add them to my wishlist.  The Facebook groups are especially useful as they are full of native Spanish speakers who are passionate about children’s literature and keen to answer questions and provide links and recommendations.

A few months ago I got a promotion through from Amazon.es for Día del Libro and decided to bite the bullet ordering a massive 23 books! Amazingly the international shipping was around £15, which I thought was excellent value for a very large, very heavy box of books!

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I’ve now got a good stash of books for both children, fiction and non fiction for upcoming birthdays and Christmas. It was definitely a good idea, so if you’re hesitating about ordering abroad for your minority language books I would encourage you to go for it.  I should have done it earlier!

Audiolibros 

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S has been enjoying audiobooks as part of his bedtime routine for a few months. We have a couple of traditional story books in Spanish that came with audio CDs which was a good starting point but soon we wanted to expand our collection.

Ideally I was looking for stories that last about 10-15 minutes aimed at children aged 5-6. I wanted to avoid ordering a physical CD and paying international shipping, and most importantly I needed the audiobooks in mp3 format available to download directly onto the computer and then use on other devices.  I tried Audible, the Amazon audiobook service, but I didn’t like the app or the way you access and manage the audio files.

Apparently this is a tall order!  The best I could do was these fables. I’m still on the hunt so welcome any recommendations, although I’ve been told audiobooks aren’t as popular in Spain as they are in the UK.  I will also see what I can find in Mexico this summer, and keep you posted.

As an interim solution someone suggested looking on YouTube. Here you’ll find videos of famous children’s picture books either read aloud or as a ‘video book’ with sounds effects and images.  I have now managed to download the audio files using the Listen to YouTube from a good selection of stories to add to our collection. I recommend the YouTube channel Aula de Elena as a good starting point.

UPDATE: I have now found two new sources of free audio books in Spanish for download. The first is Alba Learning – from Spain.  The website is a bit clunky but there is a large section of children’s audio books which are mainly classic fairy tales. LibriVox is US-based and has audio books in many languages. The website looks more professional but unfortunately you can only search by either language or genre but going through the Spanish ones I found some classics like the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island, as well as Grimms fairy tales and fables.  You can also search for individual titles or authors.

Do your bilingual children like audiobooks? I’d love to hear from you.

Vamos a la mar..(y a Guadalajara)

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After a three year gap we are soon due to fly out to Mexico as a family of four.  We will be starting with a week in Guadalajara, visiting the wider family and friends, followed by two weeks at the coast with close family.

S only has vague memories of our last visit when he was almost two. At that point he was only just beginning to talk. In fact some of his first words were inspired by our time at the beach, including coco (coconut).  His very excited about our trip, and has been talking about it for months. He’s looking forward to drinking lots of agua de coco, he’s excited about the flight and

S will be almost five during our visit.  He is now a confident communicator and has a well developed Spanish vocabulary.  Being a few years older he will be able to understand not only the language but also gain significantly from both cultural experiences and family interactions.  I feel our trip this year will have an important impact on not just his language but also his cultural identity.   It will be a great boost for his Spanish just before he starts school full-time in the majority language (English) in September.  This visit to Mexico is an ideal opportunity to build on connections with his Abuelos and Tía as well as try to build relationships with wider family and primos.  I’d love to see him playing and interacting with children in Spanish.  Most of his Spanish interactions at the moment are with adults, (family, teachers, lodgers, babysitters etc) so this is an area I’m keen to develop.

It will of course also be E’s first time in Mexico. She will be just over one and beginning to walk and talk.  So far she can say three ‘words’, mamá, papá and ta da! It will be interesting to see if she picks up new words during our trip.  The Mexican side of the family have yet to meet her in person, so everyone is very excited.

The flight will be more challenging than last time with two children. With E just starting to walk it will be hard to keep her in her seat for the longest flight London to Mexico city (12 hours!).  This time we’re taking a direct route to Mexico, flying with AeroMexico to Guadalajara via Mexico City.  And consciously avoiding Trump’s America!

 

Minority language magazine subscription: a review of Caracola. 

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We’ve now been subscribed to Caracola, a monthly Spanish magazine aimed at 4 to 7 year olds, for six months.  Time for a review!

Firstly, the quality of Caracola is well ahead of most magazines aimed at children in the UK.   These tend to be spin-offs of children’s TV, full of ads, wrapped in plastic with a free toy stuck to the front.

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Here’s a quick snap of the children’s magazines from our local shop 

Caracola is fun and educational with a good selection of fiction and non fiction reading material and activities.  I find it’s pitched at just right level for my nearly 5 year old bilingual boy.

Each edition starts with a fully illustrated story, like you would find in a picture book. This was a big selling point for me as it is effectively like having a new book each month. This story is also available as an audio track, which is a great idea. However you have to access the audio through a specific app and you can’t save the files for later or transfer them to another device. Unfortunately, this means that the audio book version isn’t very practical to use so we don’t often listen to it.

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A page from one of the cover stories, el Árbol de Julia

One of our favourite sections are the illustrated features on non fiction topics, such as animals or science. My son loves non fiction books but we’ve mainly got English ones so it’s great to get regular Spanish content. I often learn new facts and vocabulary myself!

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Facts for curious minds

There are regular comic strips too, about a little space hero called SamSam, a little brown bear and a family.  S enjoys all these sections and looks forward to the new magazine each month.

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Comic book strips

As well as reading material there are always craft type activities to do and large busy pictures where you have to find certain objects.  S often doesn’t want to complete these sections, but prefers the reading, however I’m hoping he’ll try them one day and then we’ll have all the previous editions to work through!

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Juegos: puzzles, games or crafts

Overall I’ve been really impressed with Caracola.  I think a quality children’s magazine subscription is a great way to get new monthly reading material in the minority language.  We’ve signed up for a year’s subscription with international shipping to the UK and will definitely be renewing. The publisher, Bayard, produces a range of children’s magazines for all ages. We will try the next one, Leo Leo, when S reaches seven.   The magazine is printed on high quality paper and should last well.  I am to keep them all for my daughter when she’s old enough.

Do you subscribe to any children’s magazines in the minority language? I’d love to hear about any others you would recommend.

 

¿Por qué?

I wrote this post just before E was born (about 8 months ago) and never published it. So here we go now.

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¿Por qué las aranas tienen ocho patas? ¿Por qué antes no había personas? ¿Por qué no hablamos con la boca cerrada? …….. the list goes on.  We are now deep into the why stage.  It is fascinating to see S’s enquiring mind question and wonder about everything around him; and also challenging trying to explain complicated concepts like evolution or gravity in a way that a three year old can understand.  We also have the circular logic of why, why, why which of course drives us crazy!

Please share your funny ‘why?’ questions. I am sure they are driving you crazy too!