Strategies to improve reading development for bilingual children

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I host a consulting call podcast episode.  I chat with Conchi Manresa, a member of the Bilingual Avenue Members’ Club! We talk about how to transition to a One Parent, One Language policy, strategies to improve reading development and how to maximize a visit from an au pair that speaks the target language.

Copy of Which language should I speak to my bilingual baby-

Conchi is a non-native English speaker raising bilingual children who are 6 and 9 in English and Spanish.

The QuestionI am working hard to create a need for my children to use English.  But perhaps, I also need to increase the amount exposure to English.  I am trying to speak mostly English at home but lately I am even speaking to them in English when we are outside of the house like when we are at the supermarket for example.  Should I transition to a One Parent, One Language strategy or maybe something in the middle.  If I just do a partial transition, how will they know when to speak English and when to speak Spanish?

The answer

Creating a need and increase exposure is going to be a foundation to raising bilingual children.

Whenever a family is considering transition from one language policy to the other there are a few steps that I encourage them to take before taking the plunge:

  • Have a conversation with the children involved.  In Conchi’s case, her children are 6 and 9.  She can certainly open up the dialogue with them to make sure that they are comfortable with the decision.  We want our children to feel comfortable at home so it’s important to keep an open line of communication.
  • Have a conversation with your partner or your spouse.  Just like we want our children to feel comfortable with our decision, we want immediately family members to be on board or at least be supportive of the decision.  It can make the journey much smoother.  Spouses and partners can also help to keep us accountable when things get tough so it is important that they feel that their thoughts and feelings about the transition are heard.

During my conversation with Conchi, I also encouraged her to try to stick to English as much as she possibly can so that she can model the behavior for her children.  However, this is easier said than done.

There are going to be times that she may ultimately have to switch to Spanish in order to get a point across.  I encourage Conchi to not feel down or upset when this is the case but instead journal and document the instances when she finds herself in this situation.  The idea is that by documenting these triggers overtime she can identify them and overcome each one.

This will come particularly helpful for Conchi as she understands her own vocabulary limitations and what she can do in order to continue her own language journey in English as a learner.

The Question

My daughter Lidia is ready to start long texts with more complicated vocabulary.
How should I make  that transition?

The answer

When our children are learning or acquiring a language, we want them to feel confident in their own skills.

This will lead them to more experimentation and manipulation of the language.

Readers Theater can be a wonderful tool to help increase fluency.  In this strategy, readers read from a script a specific part from a play.  The idea is not to memorize or focus on acting but rather focus on the text presented in front of the child.

Through Readers Theater, children can read and read a given text multiple times while still maintaining interest.

Conchi’s daughter will also benefit from working on her reading comprehension skills since she already enjoys the practice so much.  For more ideas on reading comprehension strategies, you can check out an entire series I did on strategies you can use to help your children add some depth to their current reading comprehension skills.

Each of the items in the series, comes with a free guide to help drive teach the concept!


The QuestionAny advice on how to work on sight words with my son Antonio?

The answer

Sight words are typically high frequency words that children will be memorize by sight so that they can quickly recognize the words when they come across them in print.

The Dolch list is a list of 220 words that come up with frequency in children’s texts.  Memorizing words from this list will allow a child to be able to recognize 50-75% of the words when reading age appropriate text.

Learning through sight words is an approach called “Whole Word.”

Research has shown that children taught with the whole word method generally have higher levels of fluency than children who are taught to decode words because through sight words they can automatically recognize a smalls selection of words.

However, what research is also finding is that as children get older and the material that they read becomes more complicated, literacy development can become stunted if phonics is not incorporated into the learning process.

I always encourage parents to keep the learning process fun, here are some ideas for teaching words:

    • Repetion as it helps with memorization
    • Pictures can provide a visual description of the words
    • Context helps children understanding the meanign of the word
    • Games like a word search, Bingo with sight words and Go Fish!

The QuestionWe are going to have an au pair stay with us for one month.  How can we maximize that experience?

The answer

Whenever we can enlist the help of a native speaker of our target language, it is important to convey our family language goals.

It can be helpful to have a conversation on how this individual can help you to achieve these goals.  It is just as important to understand the needs and desires of the individual.

Finding a balance between providing enough exposure to Spanish to the au pair while maintaining expectations of which languages should be spoken to and when will be highly beneficial in this situation.


Conchi hopped on the Autobahn and answered a few questions to help other families on their language journey:

  • What is your favorite resource for supplementing English in your home?

          Books! They are the main tool that Conchi uses to engage her children increase their vocabulary. 

  • What is the best advice you have received as a bilingual parent?

          Focus on progress and not perfection.

To learn more about the Bilingual Avenue Members’ Club and meet other connect with other members like Alice, head over to

Get access to a library of training with practical advice for raising bilingual children, participate in our live members only calls, and join the supportive community of bilingual parents who will not let you quit on your language dreams for your family!


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