Dear Multilingual Mania,

I teach in a second grade bilingual classroom and I was wondering if you could help me out with a question that I have about teaching reading. We teach language arts in Spanish, and we are also supposed to teach language arts in English since we are getting kids ready to begin to transition into all English starting in fourth grade. My partner teacher is suggesting that we read the same exact books in both English and Spanish, and that we also have students translate what they write in Spanish into English so that they have practice also writing in English. What are your thoughts about this suggestion? Thank you, Lisa

Hi Lisa,

In order to build high levels of biliteracy, it’s not necessary that students read the same exact text in both languages. What is more important is that similar reading strategies and skills are taught when reading different texts in both languages. For example, if you are reading a story in Spanish and focusing on the reading comprehension skill of “sequence of events”, you can read a completely different story in English and focus on the same skill of “sequence of events”. Another suggestion is that you can also read a completely different nonfiction text in English and focus on “sequencing”-such as in the sequencing of the life cycle of a butterfly. Sequencing is sequencing, no matter which language or which text is used. If students can sequence in one language, they will be able to sequence in another language.

Another strategy that you can use to build biliteracy and high levels of proficiency in both languages is to read similar books and stories between the two languages. For example, when studying about the theme of “Cinderella Tales Around the World”, you might read Estrellita de Oro and other Cinderella versions in Spanish, while reading a variety of Cinderella stories in English. During instruction in both Spanish and English, you can focus on the skill of story structure, teaching about the characters, setting (i.e. where the story takes place), sequence of events, etc. Then you can compare and contrast the different versions that you have read in each language!

When writing, it’s also recommended that you focus on similar skills, structures and themes between the two languages rather than having students translate the exact same text that they wrote into another language. If you are studying seals in English and want students to write a paragraph about their life cycle, habitat, adaptations, and other important information, then it makes perfect sense to study similar topics about an entirely different animal that they can write about in English!

It promotes higher levels of metalinguistic awareness (i.e., “thinking about language”) when we focus on similar strategies and themes between the languages, rather than reading the same exact text in both languages. Not to mention that some students might think it is boring to read the same books in both languages and translate their writing. It’s entirely possible that some students might tune out when reading in one language because they know that they will be able to read the book in the other language!

I hope this helps!

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