Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Explorar las expectativas: Blending phonemes & syllables

Forget political parties or topics of religion.  If you really want to start a heated discussion at a gathering of bilingual teachers, bring up the topic of blending syllables versus phonemes in Spanish!

I won't even pretend to be able to address this topic comprehensively on my humble little blog but, based on what I have learned over the years from experts on biliteracy, here are some thoughts on teaching the expectations listed below:  

Beginning Reading Skills/Phonological Awareness
Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS:  2(F) blend spoken phonemes to form syllables and words (e.g., /m/ … /a/ says ma, ma-pa says “mapa”)
English Language Arts and Reading TEKS:  2(G) blend spoken phonemes to form one-syllable 
words (e.g. /m/…/a/.../n/ says man)

Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS:  2(C) blend spoken phonemes to form syllables and 
words (e.g., sol, pato); 
English Language Arts and Reading TEKS:  2(D) blend spoken phonemes to form one- and two syllable words, including consonant blends (e.g., spr)

  • Spanish is a syllabic language with the majority of its words composed on open syllables (syllables ending with a vowel such as ca + mi + sa).  There are 117 open syllables in Spanish.  You can download a great assessment freebie from Claudia with all of these syllables here.  When a child has mastery of those 117 syllables, he has unlocked the basic code of Spanish reading.  
  • There is no true Spanish equivalent for the English word family (-ad, -et, -op, -ug, etc.) but the Spanish syllable is typically introduced in a developmentally equivalent order.  Just as students are introduced to English word families once they have begun to master letter sounds, Spanish speakers are introduced to syllables as soon as they have a grasp on initial sounds.
  • As is stated in the Kindergarten TEKS 2F above, blending the Spanish syllable is usually taught something like /m/.../a/ dice ma.../p/.../a/ dice pa...mapa.  Blending English phonemes in early CVC words would go like /c/../a/.../t/...says cat.
  • Since the Spanish syllables are so consistent and few (117 is a relatively small number when compared to the variety of craziness with the English language), early Spanish readers are more fluent and successful when they read ma as a syllabic unit rather than as two distinct phonemes.  
  • In bilingual and dual language education, early Spanish readers will eventually become English readers.  As teachers plan instruction for transfer, it is important that we prepare our students to be flexible with sounds.  While we would first teach students to blend and segment words at the syllable level (ca-mi-sa), we do want them to be aware of the individual sounds and letters that comprise those syllables if we were to stretch the words even further (c-a-m-i-s-a).  
  • Lucy Caulkins talks about stretching the words like a rubber band to hear all of the sounds.  When we move from syllables to phonemes, it is as if we are just stretching the rubber band even further.  Again, my recommendation is that this second level of stretching only occurs once students have mastered blending and segmenting at the syllable level.
When it comes to activities for teaching these expectations, here are some resources to get you started:
  • These are some examples of simple flip charts to help students practice blending syllables:

So...what are your thoughts about blending syllables versus phonemes?  How you do help accelerate your students' mastery of blending syllables in Spanish?  


  1. I didn't have any experience teaching children to read in Spanish when I started teaching my son, but it was a simple process for him. We learned beginning sounds, and then used the activity book from the De canciones a cuentos curriculum which concentrates on syllables...and before we finished that, he was reading independently! We read together often and consistently from the time he was very small also, which I think helped make that process easier. My almost-4-year-old daughter is expressing interest in learning to read now, so we'll see if the process is similar for her.

    1. I have seen the De canciones a cuentos materials from Hampton Brown but have never used it. It is great to hear that it was such a helpful and effective resource! I totally agree about the impact of lap reading as laying the crucial foundation for reading. Have you read Mem Fox's Reading Magic? So good!

  2. We are loving your blog. So much great information and what a great forum to share it all. Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. Aw, thanks ladies! I am so glad that you are visiting and that you have started your own blog!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful blog. I am venturing for the 1st time in Dual Language professionally. My children went through the program somewhat when we were in a different state. I'm anxious to delve into it myself!

  4. Thanks for providing us with good resources. There are not many good resources like yours to learn from. Bilingual teachers are like islands in the schools, we do not receive training on how to teach Spanish, at least not in my system.

  5. Helpful post to keep improving our ways to teach languagues to our students, congratulations for all the work you made eachday

  6. I just received training on the JELLS (jornada en español de lenguaje y lectura) pot Elsa Cardenas-Hagan.


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