This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.
By Ana Rodriguez
My mother taught me how to read in Spanish before I went into kindergarten. I felt so accomplished that I was one of a few students that already knew how to read. But my bubble was quickly busted when I was bombarded with learning the English language with nursery rhymes and the traditional folktales in the classroom. When I would hear the nursery rhymes, all I would hear were words; they had no meaning to me. I remember thinking, “Quién es la ‘little red hen?” “Quién es ‘Goldilocks?” The fact that I could already read in Spanish helped me understand and transfer my knowledge quickly to the learning of English. My mother would tell me all those folktales in Spanish, so the transferring process was easy for me.
I learned to read in Spanish with the book, ‘El libro mágico’ that is still in circulation today. I was privileged to be read to as a child. My mother was always pushing me to learn to read because she wanted me to be prepared before I went in to school. I felt great until I started school. There I was read to in a language I did not understand with books I could not relate to. I remember being lost until I started making the connections between my language (Spanish) and the language of school (English). Even then, they were still just words to me. When I would listen to my teacher reading nursery rhymes or the folktales in English, it was as if I would go into a fantasy world; not the real world I lived in. I remember going through kindergarten and not practicing my Spanish at all.
In first grade I was given a Spanish book to take home to read and do homework from. I was really excited because I was doing something I was good at and it was relevant to me. That excitement was short-lived because a few weeks into school my teacher took me out of the bilingual group and put me with the all-English group. I was devastated because they had taken something that was dear to my heart; they had taken away my language! I was now in silent mode. I understood what the teacher was saying when she read to us or when she gave instructions, but I could not read or speak in English at all. I remember being in a small group where a teacher aide focused on teaching us sight words and decoding with short phonic stories. I caught on pretty quickly because I remember learning to read in English before I went into second grade. But again, I could only read the words in English, but I made no connection to the stories in my reading book. By second grade I was a fluent reader, but I still did not speak to my friends or teacher in English, I spoke to everyone only in Spanish. When I was asked to read by my teacher I would, but if I was asked to speak in front of class or answer a question I would stay silent. I was not confident enough to speak in English in front of others. I was afraid of saying things wrong. Needless to say I eventually got over my fear and spoke and read in English fluently before leaving the second grade.
As an educator I was introduced to culturally relevant literature that would have made a great difference in my experience learning the English language. Authors like Xavier Garza and Gloria Anzaldúa have written great bilingual books that would have made reading real for me as a child. I am trying to make reading real to my students by integrating authentic literature like this in during our reading time.
I urge and recommend to parents that want their children learning only in English when their child’s first language is Spanish, to think about it twice. Please do not take away a part of your child’s identity. You want to give your child another resource (the English language) to succeed, not take one away. Needless to say, I thank my mother for teaching me to read in my native language and setting a very good foundation that eventually helped me learn a second language. ¡Gracias Mamá, Te Amo!