Heritage Language bilingual books with audio CDs are a wonderful resource for teaching Spanish to children. This innovative company publishes books especially designed to pull children into the Spanish language and Latino culture. I recently read two Heritage Language books with my students, Un regalo misterioso and Un globo café chocolate. The children were captivated!
Good children’s literature has an intangible quality that is a combination of language, illustration and story. The Heritage Language stories in Spanish have that quality and it carries children into the fictional world of the book. The English language versions are effective support for the Spanish, but the Spanish stories convey the warmth of a Latino family and community in an amazingly effective way.
Heritage Language has detailed descriptions of the many features of these books on their website. Visit Heritage Language website to learn more. These are a few things I liked most:
The layout. The layout of the text and illustrations in these books works. The Spanish text is in a block on the right-hand page and the English is on the left. In some bilingual books, the Spanish and the English alternate and the English text is distracting to children. These stories are meant to be read in Spanish or in English – an approach that is supported by language-learning research and by the layout of the book.
The culture. These books create and communicate a culturally authentic ambiente. This is much more complex than including las mañanitas, typical foods and other culturally significant references. The dialog and characters’ thoughts communicate the playful, loving relationships of Latino families. The illustrations contribute to these relationships with facial expressions and a lovely portrayal of how the characters interact. The pictures also add a wealth of detail – from the lucha libre posters on Pedro’s wall to the clothes the characters wear. These elements, and many others, create culturally rich narratives.
The support materials include excellent cultural notes, but for every point the notes explain, (el zócalo, globos) there are several that are not mentioned (pasear con los niños los domingos, fruta con limón y chile). This is as it should be. The stories may be designed to teach specific cultural content, but the cultural content of the stories goes far beyond those specific points.
The audio. If you read much on Spanish Playground, you know that I am enthusiastic about audio books and recommend them on a regular basis. The audio CDs that accompany the Heritage Language books are excellent. The sound is exceptionally clear, the Spanish is beautiful, and the story is told with the cariño and warmth of a parent talking to a child. The tone will engage children and it is another element that contributes to the cultural richness of the Spanish language story.
Each story also comes with a read-along audio track. It is slower, so that children can read as they listen. It is not easy to make a read-along with natural expression and an even pace, but these are excellent. They are a great tool for children learning to read in Spanish.
The teacher resources. I love good support materials, but honestly, when a hard-cover book costs less than $10 and comes with an audio CD, I do not expect the company to provide me with lots of extra help. That said, Heritage Language has great support materials!
LanguageMatch is an online version of the stories where kids can read along and listen by clicking on snippets of text.
Teacher References is a PDF with notes on the grammar focus of the book, other grammar points and pronunciation.
Cultural Notes is a PDF with recipes, games, music and information to extend learning beyond the text.
I am so happy to have Heritage Language bilingual books to read with my students. I look forward to sharing them with many children and hope that other teachers and parents do the same.
(The fifth Heritage Language bilingual book is now available on their website. They are having a special promotion; buy the five-book set and get 20% off!)
Disclosure: The company sent me a copy of this product to be able to write the article. All of the ideas and opinions are my own.