Monday, August 12, 2019

5 Tips to Nurture a Biliterate Child

The following is the first in a series of guest posts on biliteracy by Dr. Carlos Ulloa. Originally published on the L4LL website, both have given me permission to reshare these valuable articles to help parents raising bilingual and biliterate children. 

Dr. Ulloa will expand upon some of the tips he outlines in this article as this series continues during MommyMaestra's Back-to-School Fiesta. Thank you, Dr. Ulloa!

Below are some tips to consider as you help instill the ongoing love of reading, writing, listening and speaking in two languages with your child.


Model fluency by speaking, listening, reading and writing to your child daily.  If you want to develop a bilingual and biliterate child, you must be a strong and consistent example. When you embrace the gift of speaking, listening, reading and writing in two languages, you are passing on a family value that can be passed on for generations. Accept it, you are your child’s first teacher! Do not relinquish this important responsibility to anyone.


Make time to read with your child every day. There is nothing like escaping into a great book with your child. Reading should not be a chore. Discover familiar and new books you would like to read with or to your child. Find your child’s inner passion and find all books and websites related to his or her favorite topic.

While reading, consciously ask questions aloud of the author, story setting, characters or plot. This is what great readers do in their heads and you can model it for your child. Put yourself into the book and honor your child’s responses.

There are a growing number of books written in English and Spanish. Your local library and your child’s school library are the best places to start. Start by checking out Pura Belpré Award-winning books. The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate. For a list of current award and honor books, check out the Pura Belpré home page.


A simple and fun prewriting activity is to consciously talk about new and familiar words when you are walking, driving or cooking. When encountering new words, be curious about them, help your child define the new word by breaking the word apart to find smaller words within the word.

Writing is a process. Consider writing a letter to a family member in Spanish or writing down a favorite family recipe. Card making is also a wonderful and purposeful form of reading and writing.

Expand from letter writing to recording family anecdotes, saying and writing captions to include who, what and where on the back of your family photos.


When you are at home or in the car, listen to songs in both languages. Talk about the lyrics. What is the singer trying to say? Audiobooks in English and Spanish are also a wonderful way to bridge into your child’s listening comprehension.


It is never too late to give your child the gift of biliteracy. Language and culture cannot be separated and if you can’t make trips to visit abuelita and abuelito, call them on the phone.

Nothing is sadder to a Spanish-speaking grandparent or relative than when a child cannot communicate with a family member because they do not speak or understand the same language. When you value biliteracy, you are giving your child a life-long gift and a sincere purpose to read, write, speak and listen in two languages.


Dr. Ulloa y su Tía Chepa
Dr. Ulloa grew up speaking Spanish with his mother and English with his father.  He is currently a Dual Language reading teacher in the Escondido Union School District and a lecturer in the Dual Language and English Learner Education Department at San Diego State University. Dr. Ulloa has over 28 years of experience as a director of curriculum and instruction, elementary teacher, Descubriendo la Lectura/Reading Recovery teacher and parent involvement specialist.  He served as a commissioner on the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), an advisory board to the California State Board of Education from 2012 to 2016. Ulloa earned his bachelors at San Diego State University in Liberal Studies with a Spanish Bilingual Emphasis, masters degree in Education from Harvard University and doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Ulloa can be contacted at


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