How to teach English to Spanish Students
Teaching English as a foreign language will have some similarities in methods when teaching students from various countries. But there will also be some differences. It is your job as the English teacher to understand your students’ specific needs.
In this blog we are looking at the areas that you will need to focus on to help Spanish students get the most out of their learning experience; whether you are teaching at a language school or a high school, in Spain or other Spanish speaking countries or teaching Spanish speaking students in your home country.
Difficulties for Spanish Students
There are big differences between English and Spanish in vowel sounds and the stress on words in a sentence. These differences make it difficult for Spanish students to master a native English accent compared with other European learners.
It is also important to note that there are differences in students too, depending on where they are from. Spanish speakers come from all over the world, from different countries and different continents. There are various dialects, accents and vocabularies in the Spanish language, depending on where they are from. So it is important to keep this in mind when you are teaching.
To help you make the most out of your lessons and understand the Spanish student’s needs; here is a list of areas that most often need attention when teaching ESL to Spanish students and ways to help.
1. Similarities in vocabulary
You can start by showing your students the similarities between Spanish and English words, with some rules to convert Spanish words into English easily by changing particular word endings.
-ante becomes -ant : Importante in Spanish is Important is English
-ario becomes -ary : necessario in Spanish is necessary in English
-ble stays as -ble : horrible in Spanish is horrible in English
There are thousands more. There are also others that don’t follow these rules, but nonetheless still show similarity between the two languages. It is a great way to build confidence with vocabulary when your students are starting to learn English.
English is a stress-timed language. We say function words — articles, conjunctions, prepositions and pronouns faster than we say content words — nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
The Spanish language is syllable-timed. They stress syllables relatively equally. They don’t say function words faster than content words, so it may be difficult to learn to grasp the rhythm of English with the unstressed function words.
At first, Spanish speakers will tend to stress every word and lack the natural rhythm of native English speakers. Focus on helping your students learn the rhythm of full sentences and native speech and not only the pronunciation of individual words, with lots of listening and speaking practice.
3. Pronunciation and Accent
You might find your Spanish students lack some confidence with speaking because of the difficulties in developing the correct accent like a native English speaker.
In the beginning they are likely to read words in English as they’re written, like they would in Spanish. So some words will come out a little different from how they should. Reassure your students that you know English sounds can be strange, and it is normal to have difficulties when sounding the words out.
Other difficulties arrive with certain consonant sounds like R, which in Spanish they roll, or J which they give a Y or H sound in their language. Also, the “v” sound does not exist in Spanish. They will tend to miss sounding out the end of some words like verbs ending in “ed.” And have difficulty pronouncing words that begin with sp, sl, sm, or sch.
These difficulties can be overcome with lots and lots of listening practice and pronunciation exercises.
Spanish speakers tend to be very talkative people, so you should encourage their willingness to talk. Help them practice their fluency and confidence with topic discussion lessons.
You will also find your Spanish students have a lot of pride for their home country. You can use this pride to get them enthusiastically speaking in English about their traditions and customs from back home. You could also have them write reports or give speeches on topics about their home.
5. Concise Writing
Spanish speakers struggle with concise sentence structure. Literal translations from Spanish into English tend to be too wordy, as they rely on using a lot of prepositions, and this creates a longer sentence.
You can help your students with concise writing exercises as practice.
6. Embrace the Energy
Spanish speaking people are commonly considered to be joyous and lively, from their energetic music to their flavourful food. They are extremely talkative and loud, and a happy, fun-loving group to teach.
You may need to animate yourself some more in your lessons to connect with their energy and have a closer bond with them. The higher the energy, the more fun you and your students will have.
Classroom debates or high energy level games are a great way to channel this intensity.
7. Word Confusion
“Do” and “Make” can create confusion for Spanish students learning English. This is because Spanish has the same word for both “do” and “make.” So they may make some mistakes, like saying “making work” and “doing progress.”
If your students need some extra practice with this, you can prepare some worksheets, play games and repeat lessons on these verbs to help reinforce their comprehension.
8. TV shows, pop culture and songs
In Spanish speaking countries, English language TV shows and movies are usually dubbed into Spanish. You can encourage your students to watch their favourite TV shows in English, instead of Spanish.
Is it a fun way for your students to learn, as well as with music and pop culture like reading tweets in English or watching English videos on YouTube. When your students are interested in the topic, it makes learning more interesting.
Teaching is also a Learning Experience
These are the common areas where Spanish students have difficulties, but not every class or every student will be the same. You will need to gauge your class and students’ specific needs as you get to know them to know where they need more focus and attention. The more you teach, the more you will learn what your students will need.
If you are interested in teaching English as a foreign language and require some teaching experience, we have TEFL certificate course options to help you get there.
Our Multi-National Summer School (Club Summer MAX) in Brighton on the South Coast of England is hugely popular with International students aged 10 to 17.