Spanish “a la English”
Dual Language Teachers, Administrators, and District Leaders:
This article serves as a reminder to us all, that the English language is powerful. It is cradled and protected by a U.S. schooling system that unlike others around the world, views multilingualism and multiliteracy instruction with disdain. This is especially true if the multilingual learner belongs to a Black and/or Indigenous Community of Color.
English-only movements in education continue to promote the idea that somehow being an English monolingual speaker makes you more patriotic. And, even in culturally sustaining programs like dual language education, this focus on English monolingualism impacts biliteracy instruction via a phenomenon I refer to as teaching Spanish “a la English.”
There are many similarities between Spanish and English that should be leveraged by students and educators engaged in biliteracy work. However, there are also important orthographic differences that impact initial literacy in each of the two languages (Medina & Penton, 2019).
English is an opaque language, and thus, teachers focus on initial consonant sounds as the foundation for initial literacy. Spanish is a transparent language that allows for initial literacy instruction to focus on syllable and vowel work. In English, there are five vowels that produce fifteen sounds, whereas in Spanish, the five vowels produce only five sounds (Mora, 2016). This major difference is often ignored as dual language educators are charged to imitate what is imperative in the development of English literacy and superimpose it on to literacy instruction in Spanish.
Because of the privilege of English, many dual language educators continue to be asked by district and campus leaders to facilitate literacy instruction in Spanish, as part of dual language programming, via the use of strategies that have little to no impact in the development of reading ability in Spanish. These include, but are not limited to, the use of guided reading, word walls, onset rime, and sight words. Strategies that are important in developing English literacy can be leveraged and used as part of biliteracy instruction, but adjustments must be made so that they make sense in terms of Spanish language development.
In my upcoming articles for duallanguageschools.org, I will address some of these strategies and how they can be leveraged to truly be of benefit to our emergent bilingual students enrolled in dual language programs in a U.S. context. In the interim, beware of facilitating Spanish instruction “a la English!”
Your amigo and colega,
Medina, J. L. and Penton-Herrera, L. J. “The Synergy of Theory, Practice, and Language.” Language Magazine, Aug. 2019, pp. 24-28.
Mora, J. K. (2016). Spanish Language Pedagogy for Biliteracy Programs. San Diego, CA: Montezuma Publishing.