YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

READING | Head of the Class

Reading Tips And Notes / Expert Advice

May 02, 1999|KRIS D. GUTIERREZ | Kris D. Gutierrez is an associate professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

A mother recently wrote to The Times asking for advice about how to improve her young son's vocabulary. It seems that her son's teacher had expressed concern that he needed to build his English-language vocabulary, although he had other strong reading skills.

The mother was concerned that the use of Spanish in the home might be a contributing factor. Here she raises an important question, as we know that vocabulary knowledge is related to reading comprehension. Many teachers of English-language learners also ask this question.

Children from non-English-speaking homes will not necessarily have poorer reading skills or vocabulary development than other children. Cultural factors such as the language of the home do not necessarily explain reading performance.

Yet, it would be important to know that English-language learners use some different English-reading strategies and draw from their knowledge of two languages. We know that many reading skills and strategies transfer across languages.

In fact, some languages, such as Spanish and English, share a number of related words. I can remember drawing on my knowledge of Spanish and French to make sense out of unfamiliar words in English. Related words, known as cognates, are often similar in spelling and meaning and thus can serve as bridges to new words in English.

For example, the word "chocolate" is the same in both Spanish and English. By making children aware of these cognates, parents and teachers can help children understand how to use their existing vocabulary or acquire new vocabulary.

This strategy also can help older children who are developing science and math vocabulary. There are numerous word pairs, such as liquid and liquido, or species and especies, that can improve understanding. In this way, knowledge of the first language supports English language development.

Parents can help their children make lists of new words from books or homework materials and together they can look up these unfamiliar words in the dictionary. However, these strategies often do not increase reading comprehension unless the words and their meanings are discussed in the context of how to use them.

Homes can provide rich environments that promote vocabulary development. You might find magnetic letters on refrigerators, and chalkboards for children and parents to write letters, words, and notes, and a variety of printed materials to read.

Children also acquire new vocabulary from conversations. However, children who read a lot have more opportunities to encounter new words than they will ever hear on television or in most adult conversations. Better yet, conversations about books and new words can build vocabulary and improve reading comprehension.

A favorite source of new vocabulary is found in the logos and signs of popular stores, name brands and well-known products. Most young children recognize the names of popular food places, toy stores, games and cartoon characters. Parents can use their children's recognition of these many words to develop a richer vocabulary.

So parents can help their children become successful readers by recognizing cognates and words from their environment, and by reading with them and discussing new ideas and word meanings. This can happen regardless of the home language.


* Tuesday and Friday in Encino: Story time for children, Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Barnes and Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd. (818) 380-1636.

* Tuesday in El Monte: "Chicken Stories" and crafts, 3:30 p.m. at the El Monte Library, 324 Tyler Ave. (626) 444-9506.

* Wednesday and Friday in Rowland Heights: Story time for children in honor of Mother's Day. Wednesday at 7 p.m. and Friday at 10 a.m., Rowland Heights Library, 1850 S. Nogales St. (626) 912-5348.

* Saturday in Torrance: Children's story time, 2 p.m. at Bookstar, 19720 Hawthorne Blvd. (310) 793-0616.

Los Angeles Times Articles