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Old 01-13-2020, 07:16 AM
Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Can my 6-y.o. cousin learn to read English better by also studying Spanish?


I have a cousin, some 15 years my junior, whom I will call JACKIE because that is not her name. Jackie is a single mom with one child whom I will call DIANA. Jackie, like mini parents of only one child, thanks her baby is of incalculable genius, and so was quite set back when Diana's kindergarten teacher told her she was having difficulty reading. As I understand it, there has been no diagnosis of anything pathological; Dianah is simply not at the top of her class as Jackie expects.

Jackie is an engineer whose work frequently takes her to Mexico and so requires her to speak Spanish in professional contexts. She often does so at home simply to keep in practice, and so Diana has acquired not if you words of that language. Diana's father is not in the picture, and so far as I know, there is nobody else in their life who regularly talks Spanish to Diana.

Recently Jackie wondered aloud to me whether her daughter's difficulty with reading might be because of the lack of phonemic orthography in English, Coming to me because my three bio-kids are very close in age to Diana and none have suffered similar difficulties. I replied that I don't know but that it might be possible. Jackie then speculated that teaching Diana to read Spanish might assist the little girl in her acquisition of English literacy. Again she requested my input; again I declined to offer much, partly because I simply don't know for sure and partly because offering criticism of other people's parenting is fraught with peril. Bbut I am dubious. Jackie and Diana live in Chattanooga, and thus the vast majority of the baby's interactions are with English-speaking people and literature. Teaching Diana to be multilingual is a good idea in and of itself, I think, but adding the task of acquiring Spanish-literacy proficiency when she is already having difficulty with literacy in her primary language just doesn't seem like the best idea to me. If I were going to give Jackie advice (Which I am not), I would say to double down on home drills in English, but not before consulting a specialist in the topic.

But that's just me. What do you think? Would encouraging my baby niece to read and write Spanish help her to learn literacy in English?
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:23 AM
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If you think about it, the phonemic consistency of Spanish is not a million miles away from the phonics that is taught in many early years contexts in English-speaking schools, before we expose them to the full brunt of English spelling.

So... I can see how it could help, but I could imagine ways it wouldn't. Hard to judge without actually being there (and without being an education professional)
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:02 AM
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Anecdotally a former co-worker grew up in Mexico going to local schools (his family moved there from the U.S. to manage a manufacturing plant) and his English spelling was often terrible and looked as if he was trying to write English words as if they were Spanish words. Like, Brian might be spelled Braian. On the other hand, he was a terrible student and didn't care about education and spelling.

On the third hand, lots of six year olds are terrible spellers; they're still learning!
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:21 AM
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I'm not sure this is relevant, but my kids all went to French immersion schools and were taught to read French before English. Parents were enjoined not to teach them to read in English for fear of interfering with their French. One of my kids taught himself to read around 4 years old but none of this seemed to make any difference. At one point the self-taught one was reading aloud to his year and a half older sister and she kept correcting his reading errors. My wife caught on and asked her to start reading. She objected that she could not read English. My wife insisted she try so she did and then chuckled that maybe she could read English after all.

I don't know what conclusion to draw from all this except it probably doesn't matter what you do. Probably the most important thing to do is read to your kids. Every day.
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:32 AM
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The whole point of phonic reading instruction is that the learner already is fluent in listening and speaking the language in which literacy is being taught. That fluency is used as a bridge towards decoding the printed form of the language. If Diana isn't already fluent in Spanish, using it as a daily language, then she isn't likely to have any advantage with acquiring general reading skills through Spanish. So unless she's bilingual, there's no point.

Besides, the consistency of English orthography is not really the issue with struggling readers anyway.
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
I'm not sure this is relevant, but my kids all went to French immersion schools and were taught to read French before English. Parents were enjoined not to teach them to read in English for fear of interfering with their French. One of my kids taught himself to read around 4 years old but none of this seemed to make any difference. At one point the self-taught one was reading aloud to his year and a half older sister and she kept correcting his reading errors. My wife caught on and asked her to start reading. She objected that she could not read English. My wife insisted she try so she did and then chuckled that maybe she could read English after all.

I don't know what conclusion to draw from all this except it probably doesn't matter what you do. Probably the most important thing to do is read to your kids. Every day.

Why did you want to teach them to speak French before English? Where do you live?
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:58 AM
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The key to this whole question is why Diana is struggling with reading. With some reasons for struggling, learning another language might help, while with other reasons, it might hurt. And it sounds to me like nobody has yet consulted the foremost expert on the question of what trouble Diana has with reading.

Jackie should sit down with Diana (and ideally, also with Diana's teacher, if that's possible), and just ask her why she thinks she's having difficulties.
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Old 01-13-2020, 11:20 AM
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I apologize for the hijack, Skald, but what is the doohickey peppered throughout your OP? It looks like capital OBJ inside a dash-lined box. Or, am I the only one seeing it? TIA.
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Old 01-13-2020, 11:23 AM
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I apologize for the hijack, Skald, but what is the doohickey peppered throughout your OP? It looks like capital OBJ inside a dash-lined box. Or, am I the only one seeing it? TIA.
I'm assuming it's an artifact of the speech to text software he's using.
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Old 01-13-2020, 11:32 AM
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Originally Posted by burpo the wonder mutt View Post
I apologize for the hijack, Skald, but what is the doohickey peppered throughout your OP? It looks like capital OBJ inside a dash-lined box. Or, am I the only one seeing it? TIA.
I have no idea, and neither voiceover on the iPhone nor MacBook reads it. Dictation must've put it in somehow.
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Old 01-13-2020, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
I'm assuming it's an artifact of the speech to text software he's using.
Thanks, Mangetout, much obliged.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
I have no idea, and neither voiceover on the iPhone nor MacBook reads it. Dictation must've put it in somehow.
I just discovered it doesn't come across my phone, either. Maybe it's a :fnord: put in by our robot overlords.
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Old 01-13-2020, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by burpo the wonder mutt View Post
I apologize for the hijack, Skald, but what is the doohickey peppered throughout your OP? It looks like capital OBJ inside a dash-lined box. Or, am I the only one seeing it? TIA.
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%EF%BF%BC
Quote:
(computing) The object replacement character, sometimes used to represent an embedded object in a document when it is converted to plain text.
Dunno what that has to do with dictation software, though.
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Old 01-13-2020, 12:14 PM
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The weird character in the OP is U+FFFC (Object replacement character). It's supposed to be a "placeholder in the text for an unspecified object", whatever that means. I guess it's an artifact of Skald the Rhymer's text-to-speech software, but I don't know what it was intending to do.
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Old 01-13-2020, 12:15 PM
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The key to this whole question is why Diana is struggling with reading.
I agree 100%. It's true that English-speaking children take longer to learn to read, but in the long run a child should reach the same proficiency (more or less) regardless of the language.

If, on the other hand, a child is dyslexic, for example, that could be more pronounced when learning to read in English. However, any advantage to learning to read in another language would best be accomplished by attending a dual-language program--one that is truly dual-language (50-50), and properly delivered, with qualified teachers. "Also studying" Spanish on the side is probably not going to make a great difference, although I don't think it would hurt, either.
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Old 01-13-2020, 05:53 PM
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Also, the kid is in kindergarten. There's nothing wrong with not reading at 5 or 6. Kids develop at different rates; it has nothing to do with their intelligence.
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Old 01-13-2020, 07:11 PM
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I don't know of any research which would support Jackie's theory.*

So long as Diana isn't falling behind expected benchmarks for her age, all Jackie really needs to do is work hard to instill a love of reading in the lil girl. That means lots of together-time reading, lots of encouragement, lots of fun trips to the library. If the teacher reports actual skill deficiencies, interventions should be taken with the guidance of the school's literacy specialists.

*I am not an early childhood education specialist

Last edited by Johnny Bravo; 01-13-2020 at 07:15 PM.
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:17 PM
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Also, the kid is in kindergarten. There's nothing wrong with not reading at 5 or 6. Kids develop at different rates; it has nothing to do with their intelligence.
This. Unless she's at the bottom of her class or her teachers have seen something that alarms them, this is meaningless. Kids develop at their own rates. It's often about interest as much as anything.
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:22 PM
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Many of the kids who have come through the family tutoring biz have had eye problems that were not being diagnosed properly. I'm partial to the Visagraph.
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:38 PM
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Why did you want to teach them to speak French before English? Where do you live?
Québec, peut-être.
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Old 01-14-2020, 02:00 AM
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I'm told I spoke only Japanese (probably because we had a Japanese maid) until we left Japan when I was four (only remember the bad words now) and eye cne tawk and rite iinglish reel gooder!

Seriously though, I don't know if this a real concern or not, but what if the child speaks and is more comfortable with the second language, especially if others praise him/her for his/her fluency, and lets the English slip even more?

Last edited by lingyi; 01-14-2020 at 02:02 AM.
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:29 AM
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I think that teaching the child how to pronounce random collections of letters, is likely to be helpful, if the child has not already been given a good basis in phonics.

At the point where the letters, and particularly the letter combinations, are pronounced differently than they are for English words, it probably ceases to be useful -- unless the child has developed an unwillingness to use phonic methods in English, in which case learning that phonic methods can be used to read would itself be a worthwhile exercise.

On the other hand, if your cousin really wants to teach her friend Spanish, so she has someone to talk to and practice with .... well, single parents often relate to their kids like that, but I don't think the Spanish would be helpful with the reading.
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Old 01-14-2020, 06:17 AM
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I teach English in Taiwan, including teaching kindergarten children to read English. They are concurrently learning to read in Chinese as well.

I wouldn't do it if the purpose is to try to use that to help the kid learn to read. The amount of work required to teach Spanish vocabulary easily is 50 times as much work as helping her just learn to read English better.

Not all kids get reading right away. No brilliant children are off the top of the charts in all subjects.

There are tons and tons of resources online about techniques for teaching children to read, including readers which have only short vowel sounds or only long vowel sounds.
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Old 01-14-2020, 08:10 AM
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Jackie needs to read to her. Daily. This will help.

My daughter was slow to read, also. I bought a book entitled, The Writing Road to Reading. The theory was you learn to read by writing. I don't remember the techniques. This was 35 years ago.

She became an avid reader.
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Old 01-14-2020, 04:20 PM
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I think that teaching the child how to pronounce random collections of letters, is likely to be helpful, if the child has not already been given a good basis in phonics.

At the point where the letters, and particularly the letter combinations, are pronounced differently than they are for English words, it probably ceases to be useful -- unless the child has developed an unwillingness to use phonic methods in English, in which case learning that phonic methods can be used to read would itself be a worthwhile exercise.

On the other hand, if your cousin really wants to teach her friend Spanish, so she has someone to talk to and practice with .... well, single parents often relate to their kids like that, but I don't think the Spanish would be helpful with the reading.
ALL OF THIS.

I was really surprised to learn (from my sister, as she's trying to teach her kid how to read) that these days not everyone teaches phonics, which I think is an utter mistake -- after watching my kids learn how to read, I am a firm believer that (unless the child is very bright and can figure it out on her own) you have to start with a firm foundation in phonics. I did the "random collection of letters" trick with my kids when they were learning to read. They loved it, and it really cemented to them that phonics was a thing.
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Old 01-15-2020, 11:17 AM
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Letters don't make sounds. Letters represent sounds. People make sounds, using a language that they have naturally learned without the involvement of print. Phonics draws upon this to make a bridge between the language a learner already knows and reading, which is an entirely different (and unnatural) cognitive process. Furthermore, to become a proficient reader, the learner must be able to eventually move away from phonics, or he or she will be stuck in subvocalization. Learners make this move in a nonanalytical way--IOW, they aren't engaging in some kind of metacognitive process to do this.

People seem to think that "sounding out words" is learning new language, and is the end goal of reading, but it's not--it's just a bridge, and it especially wouldn't work with English orthography if that's all there were to it. English-speaking children are (usually) able to move beyond that despite the extensive variation in the origins of Engish spelling, which makes patterns of correlation widely erratic. No one would ever be able to read if phonics were the equivalent of reading, especially speakers of languages like Chinese, which is represented by pictograpghs.

So to learn to read Spanish before English would not only require that the child already speak Spanish, but wouldn't obviate the inherent challenges of learning English. Research does show cognitive advantages to (truly) bilingual education, and I would bet that it would indeed help, but it's not clear if that's what this parent is considering.
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Old 01-15-2020, 12:42 PM
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Learning Latin made me a much better English speaker, because Latin grammar is typically caught using English comparisons (e.g., "in English we say, "in order to," while in Latin we use ut plus the subjunctive..."). I'm not sure if learning French and Spanish helped.
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Old 01-15-2020, 01:19 PM
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Learning Latin made me a much better English speaker, . . .
I'd be curious to know what you mean by "better speaker." Do you mean that you were making grammatical errors when speaking English, and that your Latin teacher (or Latin textbook) corrected you? Or do you mean that your Latin teacher taught you more eloquent ways of speaking? How did you actually change your English speaking because of Latin? Can you remember any examples of specific changes?

Or do you mean that your Latin lessons gave you an analytical awareness to the English grammar which you already spoke more or less correctly without thinking about it?
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Old 01-16-2020, 02:48 PM
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Why did you want to teach them to speak French before English? Where do you live?
We live in Montreal and were totally fluent in English, as much as any 5 year old is. The thing is that the French immersion school requested that we not teach them to read English before they had learned to read French. But I don't it made the least difference. As adults, they are bilingual, although they are fairly rusty since they all left Montreal. Actually, they all live in the US.
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:11 PM
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I'd be curious to know what you mean by "better speaker." Do you mean that you were making grammatical errors when speaking English, and that your Latin teacher (or Latin textbook) corrected you? Or do you mean that your Latin teacher taught you more eloquent ways of speaking? How did you actually change your English speaking because of Latin? Can you remember any examples of specific changes?

Or do you mean that your Latin lessons gave you an analytical awareness to the English grammar which you already spoke more or less correctly without thinking about it?
I should have said a better writer. I'm not sure if it affected my speech. But learning Latin made me think about sentence structure and other things that I never thought about otherwise because I'm a native English speaker, and that made me improve my sentence structure. It also made me better at spelling words since I was more likely to recognize the underlying suffixes and the like.
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Old 01-17-2020, 01:57 AM
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Learning Latin made me a much better English speaker, because Latin grammar is typically caught using English comparisons (e.g., "in English we say, "in order to," while in Latin we use ut plus the subjunctive..."). I'm not sure if learning French and Spanish helped.
Cool, but I'm not sure what this has to do with kindergarten children learning to read.

For the OP, something else to note:

Many parents aren't particularly good at teaching their kids, so it's something to be aware of. This is especially for those who have artificially high expectations of their kids as they don't have the necessary patience.
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