Two-Way Immersion. Transitional Bilingual Education. Dual Language. English Language Development. Developmental Bilingual. All of these labels reflect the diverse approaches schools have to the need to support an increasing number of non-English speaking students. For more and more schools, however, the goal has shifted from focusing solely on learning English to developing bilingual, bi-literate, and multicultural students.
To meet that goal, students must have equitable access to equitable resources that reflect and value their culture. For the majority of bilingual and dual language programs, that means students need high quality, authentic books in Spanish. “Authentic” in this context refers specifically to a text written by a native speaker and member of a cultural group for other members of that same language and cultural group. Oftentimes teachers have to use translated texts, or even have to translate materials themselves. As Ernst-Slavit and Mulhern note, “translations may not do justice to the quality of the writing, the authenticity of the storyline, and style of the language used” (2003). Without access to authentic Spanish literature, Spanish bilingual students do not truly have books that are equitable to their English counterparts.
Here are more reasons why all bilingual programs should incorporate authentic Spanish books:
- Authentic texts develop the primary language, which serves to also improve English learning. Research shows that a solid foundation in the student’s first language is crucial to students’ acquisition of English (Ernst-Slavit and Mulhern, 2003). Academic and linguistic skills such as reading strategies, decoding, and print concepts often transfer to the development of English, especially when they have similar writing systems. Research shows that students in dual language programs that provide equitable time and resources to both languages outperform students in programs that focus primarily on developing English (Kamenetz, 2016). Since authentic Spanish texts are rich language and natural in voice and style, they are particularly useful in developing students’ primary language.
- Authentic literature celebrates and values students’ culture and language. Multiculturalism is one of the goals of most bilingual programs, so the resources used need to reflect and value the students’ cultures (Howard et. al, 2007). For many Spanish-speaking students, there is a lack of books act as mirrors of their own experiences and background. When students see themselves in a book and hear themselves and their families in the language, it validates their self-identity. Spanish-speaking immigrants come from many different countries, and the books they read should celebrate those cultures. Authentic texts that share the same language and culture as the student create a sense of rootedness and celebration, and books that act as windows play an invaluable role in fostering multiculturalism.
- Authentic literature engages students and promotes self-confidence. For bilingual students, access to books in their first language boosts confidence by affirming that they can read even if they struggle with English. This in turn increases their engagement and comprehension (Ernst-Slavit and Mulhern, 2003). Another benefit is an improved sense of belonging and increased parent involvement since they feel like their home language is heard and valued (Kamenetz, 2016). Kids also love authentic Spanish literature because the humor and characters are appealing to their cultural experience.
Authentic Spanish literature can be incorporated into instruction through read alouds, literature circles, mentor texts, and in classroom libraries for independent reading. With all of the benefits, bilingual and dual language programs can’t afford NOT to have authentic Spanish literature in their classrooms.
Ernst-Slavit, G. & Mulhern, M. (2003). Bilingual books: Promoting literacy and biliteracy in the second-language and mainstream classroom.
Howard, E. R., Sugarman, J., Christian, D., Lindholm-Leary, K. J., & Rogers, D. (2007). Guiding principles for dual language education (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Kamenetz, Anya. (2016). 6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/11/29/497943749/6-potential-brain-benefits-of-bilingual-education.