Let’s Read Together: Overcoming Language Barriers

Written by United Way

November 5, 2018

Emilio’s preschool teacher asks us a question and I look at my husband. “Yes,” Eduardo says. “We understand.”

We understand? What do we understand?

I understand we are meeting because Emilio needs to take an assessment to see if he is ready for kindergarten. I understand that he is struggling with his reading, too.

His teacher continues talking, making attentive eye contact, which always makes me a little nervous. I hear the words she says and I nod my head, though, I comprehend very few of them. What I can understand and what I do hear is our son’s name.

She looks at me, concludes her sentence and I smile. This is what you do when you don’t speak the language well. You nod your head and you smile, fearing the next question—any question—as you practice the familiar responses in your head: Can you repeat that, please? I’m sorry, my English is not very good.

It is important that we work on Emilio’s reading,” she says. “Do you read with him at home?” she asks, looking at me.

“Yes,” Eduardo says. “Every night at bedtime.”

“Good,” she says. “Surrounding our children with books is important, but it’s only half the battle, so keep reading with him.”

Children…books…important…reading…him. These conversations are like puzzles with too many missing pieces. The conversation I’m having with myself in my own head breaks as Eduardo’s phone rings.

“I’m sorry, it’s work,” he says. “Excuse me a moment.” He stands up and squeezes my shoulder as he leaves the room. Emilio’s teacher looks at me. I smile.

“Emilio told me you are learning English.”

“Yes,” I say. “But my English is not very good. Eduardo….” I pause thinking of how to construct the sentence. She smiles and waits patiently. “He reads to Emilio a lot.”

“Mrs. Flores, you doubt your abilities. You are speaking very well.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Emilio also told me that you help him with his counting and colors—in both languages.


I nod. “He is a very, very smart boy.”

She smiles back, “But for his reading, may I make a suggestion?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Adelante, a local nonprofit in town has a program called Leamos Juntos.”

I lean forward, “Leamos Juntos?”

Eduardo returns from his call and sits beside me. “Sorry,” he says. “Where were we?”

The teacher looks at me and nods.

“We were talking,” I begin, speaking slowly, but feeling the rising confidence that comes from understanding.

“She says…there is a program for Emilio to help with reading, called Leamos Juntos.” I look at the teacher. She smiles and nods, a look that I know too well, and though I know she understands or has heard what those words mean in Spanish, I can’t help but translate for her: “Let’s Read Together.”


*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Adelante – Leamos Juntos program. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.


This post is brought to you by the generous support of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) – Toledo Assembly Complex. Employing nearly 6,000 workers locally, FCA’s mission to “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” is reflective of their drive to build our community through giving and volunteerism.


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