Reading SOS: Bilingual Families' Questions About Language and Literacy

Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan

In this special video series, experts answer real questions from families about reading and how to support their children at home. This collection focuses on language and literacy topics for bilingual families and features Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan.

Questions from About Reading from Bilingual Families

Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan shares answers to the following questions in English and Spanish:

To see questions on more topics, visit the Reading SOS resource section on Reading Rockets!


The Reading SOS video series from Reading Rockets was produced in partnership with the National Education Association.

Question: I am still learning English myself. How can I help my child learn to read in English?

One of the most important things parents can do is provide lots of language and literacy experiences at home. Language and literacy expert Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan suggests that you share family stories with your child, use descriptive vocabulary in everyday conversations, and try to read aloud for at least 20 minutes each day to model fluent reading and comprehension skills.

Spanish version

See this clip in Spanish: Aún estoy aprendiendo inglés. Entonces, ¿cómo puedo ayudar a mi hijo a aprender a leer? (Colorín Colorado)

Related resources

Question: How can I help my first grader remember the alphabet in our home language of Spanish?

Language and literacy expert Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan says that it's important to find out early if your child is having difficulty with letters and sounds. Ask your child's teacher if she has been screened or tested in your home language, and learn the early warning signs for dyslexia. Elsa also shares easy ways to help your child practice letters and sounds at home — one way is to build on the connections between English and Spanish. Observe your child's progress and don't hesitate to talk with your child's teacher about any concerns. 

Spanish version

See this clip in Spanish: Mi hija está en primer grado y tiene dificultades para aprender las letras en nuestro idioma, español (Colorín Colorado).

Related resources

Question: My child is learning English. How can we tell if she needs help with speech issues?

Language and literacy expert Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan suggests that you have your child screened in English and Spanish to determine if the issue is related to language or to mastering speech sounds. Next, Elsa describes the milestones for learning speech sounds, beginning at age one. By the end of first grade, your child should know all of the speech sounds, no matter what the language. 

Spanish version

See this clip in Spanish: ¿Mi hijo, que está aprendiendo inglés, tiene un problema del habla? (Colorín Colorado).

Related resources

Question: Does my child, who is learning English, need special education?

A parent asks about her child, who reads fluently in her home language, Spanish, but is being referred for special education. Language and literacy expert Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan recommends that she ask the school if the testing is being done in English or in the home language. That's important to know, because the areas of concern may be related to learning English rather than any underlying issue. Don't be afraid to ask questions and advocate for your child!

See this question and answer in Spanish: ¿Mi hijo, que está aprendiendo inglés, necesita educación especial? (Colorín Colorado).

Related resources

Meet our expert

Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, Ed.D., CCC/SLP, CDT, CALT, QI

Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan is a bilingual speech and language pathologist, certified dyslexia therapist, certified academic language therapist and qualified instructor. She is the President of the Valley Speech Language and Learning Center in Brownsville, Texas and works with the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics at the University of Houston. Elsa has spent 20 years working with teams of researchers designing assessments and interventions for English learners who struggle with reading. Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan has written many scholarly articles, curricular programs, and book chapters related to the oracy and literacy development among English learners. She recently released a book entitled: Literacy Foundations for English Learners: A Comprehensive Guide to Evidence-Based Instruction. It is her hope that teachers will have the opportunity to learn evidence-based practices for teaching literacy to a diverse population of students.

Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan is also featured in our webast about English language learners with learning disabilities.