How to Teach Yourself to Read Aloud in Spanish
When I first started on this journey I must admit I struggled to read out loud to my children. It seemed so intimidating! And yet at the same time, I felt the weight of its importance. My ability to read in Spanish to my children was arguably the single most important factor determining my success or failure on this bilingual journey. As I continued my research, I only became more convinced.
For me, though, there was a big difference between reading Spanish text silently to myself and sitting down with my children on my lap to read aloud. A big part of the problem was a lack of confidence that I was pronouncing anything properly. My reading was slow and my voice wasn't doing any of the fun things it usually does when I read to my kids in English. Not only that, I had to stop and repeat words several times when they didn't sound right. I was horrified at what must be going through their heads listening to me! It didn't seem like this could possibly be benefiting my kids in any way either.
It all felt a bit hopeless, but here's the thing. Learning to read in Spanish is actually much simpler than it first seems. By taking the time to learn letter sounds, you can begin reading aloud even when you don't fully comprehend what you are reading.
Learn the Spanish Letter Sounds
Surprisingly, throughout my previous education in Spanish, letter sounds were not explicitly taught to me and we only briefly covered an ABC song once or twice.
Understanding letter sounds gave me the ability to recognize my own pronunciation mistakes for the first time. The best example that comes to mind is having to re-learn how to say the word "imagina." Before I understood the Spanish alphabet, I would read this word as (short i) ih-mah-hee-nah. I was only pronouncing the second "I" correctly in this case! In Spanish, the letter "I" only makes one sound /ee/, so the correct pronunciation is ee-mah-hee-nah. In English the vowels make so many different and overlapping sounds, I was actually making it harder on myself. The truth is, learning to read in Spanish is actually much easier than learning in English! All of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) only make one sound and it's the same as their letter name.
Now when I come across a word that is new to me, I can simply sound it out and feel fairly confident that I am pronouncing the word correctly. It was a game-changer.
Learning Spanish letter sounds gave me so much more confidence and improved my reading ability immensely. That's why I created this simple pronunciation guide to share with you. Keep it handy while you are reading with your kids and I am confident you will soon find you no longer need to reference it!
Listen to Online Read-alouds Ahead of Time
It feels somewhat silly, but after I put my kids to bed I can sometimes be found sitting with a children's book listening to a read-aloud on Youtube. I practice along with the words, listening for any differences in how I would have pronounced it. It was surprising to me how much I learned from this simple activity! Most books won't take up more than 10-15 minutes of your time and it makes the experience of reading to your kids the next day so much easier. I especially love when I can find videos of the original author reading their own books. (Of course it's preferable to listen to a native speaker whenever possible!)
I find this strategy helpful with poetry selections too. Practicing and rehearsing the poems a few times on our own can make the readings go more smoothly later on when our children are listening.
Perfection is Not Required
I am a perfectionist at heart and it took a bit or work for me to come to accept this. Becoming a homeschooling mom taught me that perfection isn't required in order to be a good teacher and example to my children. Often times I feel like I am learning just as much as they are from the curriculums we use. I think the same idea applies to teaching children a second language, especially as a non-native speaker. Just because we might be learning as we go, doesn't mean we can't be good teachers too! Of course we want our children to hear and learn proper pronunciations as we read to them, but we don't have to get it 100% correct for our reading to be of value to them.
By shifting my perspective, I realized that my children were gaining important skills by watching me teach myself to read in Spanish. They were hearing me slow down and sound words out when I came across something unfamiliar. They saw me have patience with myself as I restarted the sentence and tried again. They listened as my reading gradually improved and I was able to start adding more character into my Spanish reading voice. Ironically, these are the exact skills I was hoping to watch them develop as they learned to read in Spanish too.
Words of Encouragement
I would like to leave you with a few uplifting words. It is totally possible to teach yourself to read in Spanish, even if you are starting from the very beginning! Rather than this be something holding you back, I would argue that this is an experience that can be embraced and actually enhance your child's education.
I like to think of learning a new language like being a little kid again. I try to remind myself to bring the same joy I see in my daughter as she sounds out English words for the first time to our Spanish learning too.