The second annual Bilingual Reading Month is underway, beginning with an event organized by Read Conmigo, a program sponsored by Infinity Auto Insurance. The campaign is aimed at creating awareness about the importance and benefits of teaching kids to speak English and Spanish through reading at home.
“Different studies have shown that children who read outside of school have more possibilities of succeeding academically and the key for this to happen is for parents to become involved in the process,” said Santiago Wood, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 85 percent of Hispanic children in fourth grade have low reading skills and students who don’t meet reading requirements in third grade are three times more likely to drop out of school before completing high school.
“Many parents make the mistake of thinking that teaching their children to read is the responsibility of the school and so they wait for them to go to school before teaching their children how to read,” said Liliana Caballero, a Read Conmigo spokeswoman. “Also Hispanic parents feel that they can’t foster reading skills in English because they don’t speak the language well, this is why bilingual books serve as a good alternative to strengthen ties of affection between parents and their children while both learn a new language.”
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Every year, Read Conmigo offers a contest titled “Preserving our culture through Bilingual Reading”, with which they call on authors of children’s books from across the nation, to encourage learning in English and Spanish. The winner takes home $1,000 and his or her book is published and given free to more than 70,000 kids and digitally through the program’s website.
This year’s winner was Mexican-American actress and writer, Yelina Ortega De Leon, for her story Yely’s First Day of Class - El Primer Dia de Clases de Yely.
In the illustrated book, Ortega presents diverse personalities from a range of Latin American countries and through an entertaining children’s fable, showing some of the difficulties that Hispanic children face when they move to the United States.
“When I moved from Mexico I felt insecure because I didn’t speak English well and didn’t make many friends because of it,” said Ortega. “But it was thanks to the fact that my mom would always read to me in English and to my grandparents who told me stories in Spanish that I was able to learn two languages fluently. Also, it’s positive for Hispanic children to maintain their mother tongue because it helps them understand where they come from and to preserve their culture and traditions.”
The writer who graduated with degrees in Chicano Studies and Cinema Studies from UCLA, and earned a Masters in Film and Television production from USC, highlights the professional advantages of being bilingual.
“Definitely, many work doors open for you, salaries are usually higher but socially it also brings forth many benefits,” added Ortega. “For example, I live in Los Angeles, where it’s practically obligatory to speak Spanish well as much as English to communicate effectively.”
The event, which was held at Jungle Island, was attended by dozens of children from Miami-Dade Public Schools such as Primary Learning Center and Lillie C. Evans K-8 Center. Ortega read her story, interpreting each character with a different voice, among them an American lion and a Peruvian llama. A parrot named J.J., who knows how to speak and sing in English and Spanish was introduced.
All Read Conmigo publications can be digitally downloaded for free on its website, readconmigo.com
Follow Estephani Cano on Twitter @EstephaniCano