Using Sight Words in Spanish
Teaching your little ones to read and write can be hard. My son is not quite that age yet, but I did teach an English as a Second Language class to kids aged 5-8. Some of them could read and write in Spanish, some of them couldn’t. Teaching them the letters and how to sound out words in their second language, English, was quite a struggle! When you’re teaching your own children to learn to read and write, you do have the advantage of spending more time with them and knowing how your child learns best. Now, there are many theories and methods to teach kids how to read and write in English, but where would you start teaching them the same concepts in Spanish? Well, hopefully by the end of this blog you will have an idea of how to teach your child to read and write in Spanish!
Differences in English and Spanish
There is a lot of discussion on how to teach kids to read and write in English; many people favor phonetics-based learning, while others prefer sight words. When choosing your teaching method, it is important to take into consideration the type of language you want your child to read and write.
For example, English is generally not a phonetic language. There are words that can be sounded out, but the vast number of exceptions can be very frustrating for little learners when they are trying to sound out words. Take a look at the following words and how they are pronounced:
In the first group of words, the ‘ough’ has a different pronunciation in each word. Likewise, the vowel ‘a’ has a unique pronunciation in each of the three words above. Can you see how it could be hard to teach a lot of words phonetically in English? There are some rules that explain the different sounds, but they are too complex to teach to a budding reader.
On the other hand, Spanish is a very phonetic language. There are very few times when letters have more than one possible sound (the C and G, the Y, and diphthongs/triphthongs). For the most part, we can say that each letter has one sound, all the time. Once a new reader knows the sound each letter makes, it is extremely easy to sound out new words.
Know Your Learner
Like I previously mentioned, when you are choosing a method to teach your child how to read, it is important to take into consideration your child’s age and how they learn. If you are starting with a preschooler, keep in mind that they cannot handle rote memorization as well as an older student. You can look at the activities below and choose which one is best for your child’s age level. Additionally, the way your child learns is extremely important to keep in mind. Consider this quote from Cindy Gaddis:
“A right-brained reader learns to read by translating words into pictures. This is because of their highly visual nature. This high level of visualization ability is what helps a right-brained child learn to read and comprehend what they read. These readers will more likely learn to read “giraffe” before any of the Dolch words because it can be visualized…For young left-brained readers, who are part-to-whole leaners, it makes a lot of sense to discover that a c-a-t makes cat. They get excited. But quickly they convert that knowledge into sight word reading.”
There are a couple of key points here. The first is the difference between right and left-brained learners. As an adult, you probably have heard of this a lot and are able to identify what type of learner you are. For younger kids, though, it may take a bit of investigation to figure out which type of learner your child is. If you aren’t sure how your child learns best, try the two methods of teaching the words mentioned above. Give them a word that is easy to visualize and teach it using engaging pictures. Then, give them a word they can sound of and show them how the letters form the word. Whichever method your child responds to best is the way to go!
The next important thing to note is the idea of part-to-whole and whole-to-part learners. This is another way of talking about right/left-brained learners that might be easier to make sense of rather than trying to remember which side of the brain is more creative. Right-brained children are whole-to-part learners – in other words, they look at the big picture first to help decipher the small parts, or in this case the letters that make up a word. Left-brained children are part-to-whole learners who need to understand the parts to reach the whole picture. Oftentimes your child learns differently than you do, so it is helpful to understand them as much as possible to make the teaching process as smooth as possible.
Lastly, the author mentions Dolch words. You may have already heard of these, but they are the most frequent words that appear in written English. If you choose to use sight words as the way to teach your kids how to read, it would be a good idea to start with the Dolch words in English. For Spanish, we’ll look at some of the most common words a bit later on.
The Case for Sight Words
So far, we have looked at a couple of different ways of teaching kids how to read and write, each of which has its pros and cons. Always remember that each kid is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.
For kids learning to read and write in their second language, Spanish, I would highly recommend the use of phonetical sight words. Now, we already looked at how Spanish is a highly phonetical language, and it would make logical sense to teach kids to read it by sounding out the letters. However, when kids are learning to read in two separate languages, it is, in my opinion, a lot to ask of a young child to memorize the phonetics for two alphabets. While English and Spanish have comparable alphabets, some letters are pronounced very differently, which may cause students to get confused between the two languages as they’re learning to read and write.
What do I mean by phonetical sight words? Well, let’s first define what sight words are. They are words that are recognized by sight without the need to sound them out, letter-by-letter. Once you are an affluent reader, the majority of words you read are sight words, with just newer vocabulary needing to be sound out. Now, since Spanish is a phonetical language, I believe that it is important to recognize that and teach students to look for phonetical patterns in words.
How to Teach Phonetical Sight Words
Instead of teaching the alphabet all at once and expecting young children to memorize another set of sounds all at once, it is best to go letter by letter, starting with the easiest and most common letters in Spanish. I recommend using the following order to start out:
A L O S E N I T U M D P B
These first letters are easy to pronounce, have only one possible pronunciation, and are the most common letters in Spanish. Notice that the vowels are not lumped together or in alphabetical order. This is because the Spanish A, O, and E are called open vowels because your mouth is open when you say them. Vowels I and U are closed since your mouth is tighter when you pronounce them. Since open vowels are easier to pronounce, they should be taught first. Furthermore, there are consonants and vowels alternating so that the child can immediately form sight words with the letters they learn.
For example, with the first four letters, you can teach the following sight words:
A la lo sol los las ala alas ola olas sal sala sola solo oso osos
Look at how many words you can make with just four letters! You can even begin to make phrases like:
A la sala
The majority of the remaining letters to teach have more difficult pronunciations (like the R and J) or have two sounds (like the Y, C, and G). Be sure to teach the correct pronunciation using our blogs here.
Considering all of this, let’s go back to the idea of phonetical sight words. The first step is to teach individual letters and what sound they make, then use them to teach sight words. You can use the learned phonetics to help the student sound out the word, then continue with more common sight word activities.
Sight Word Activities
Alright. We’ve made a case for sight words, making sure to start with the phonetics of the individual letters. However, what’s the best way to teach sight words? Let’s look at some fun ways to help your young learner commit common Spanish words to memory. Again, remember to choose activities (or modify them) that fit your child’s learning style.
- Sand drawing
If you have a small, shallow sandbox, have your child copy the letters in the word by tracing them in the sand. They can sound out each letter as they write them, then say the word as a whole. This is a fun tactile activity for kids that learn better with hands-on activities.
- Craft recreation
There are several ways you can interpret this activity. The main idea is to do some sort of craft to form the letter of the word. You can have them form the letters with glue, tissue paper, raw noodles, popsicle sticks, etc. Whatever you have on-hand can work!
- Letter blocks
For this activity, you can use blocks, magnets, or even just paper cut-outs with letters written on them. Show your child the word and have them form it themselves while pronouncing each letter and then the whole word.
There are a lot of worksheets you can find online for this type of activity. If you are feeling ambitious, you can even make your own! Your little learner can trace the word and color a visual representation of the word. Some worksheets even have the object made out of the letters (a perro made out of the letters p-e-r-r-o). For ‘whole-to-part’ learners, this activity is great.
Check out our blog about using songs to teach preschoolers Spanish and find a song that has the Spanish sight word you are teaching your child. Play the song several times and sing along with your child. Every time the sight word is sung, hold up a card with the word written on it. This method will help them connect the word with the pronunciation.
- Practice Reading
This activity isn’t quite as hands-on, but it is a great tool to get your child reading. Take a card and write the Spanish sight word on it, and have the child sound out the word letter by letter, pointing to each one as they say them. As they get better, they will go faster and faster until the word is pronounced fluidly and stored in long-term memory!
- Scavenger Hunt
Once your learner has practiced with some sight words, write them on pieces of paper and hide them around the room. Say a word and have them search for that specific sight word. To take it a step further, you can have another piece of paper with all the sight words written down. When they find a sight word, they can match it to the same word on the paper and glue it there.
There are so many more activities you can do with sight words! I encourage you to get creative with these activities and explore some of the links. Before you get started, though, be sure to use Spanish words that are common, simple, and relatively short. Click here to find the most frequent Spanish words and here for some sample sheets of sight words for different grade levels. Remember, the idea of sight words doesn’t have to be just for preschoolers or new readers. Learning a new language and letter sounds is hard! Sight words can help kids of any age learn to read in Spanish much faster. If you need recommendations of sight words, feel free to ask your Spanish teacher in your next class! Happy reading!