Published 16th August 2019

5 Things You Should Know about Spanish English Language Learners

Every EFL classroom is different. Even though no matter where you are teaching you will be applying the same learning theories and teaching methodologies to your teaching, a lot of what happens in the classroom will depend on your students. As English as a Foreign Language teachers we need to identify the needs of our learners as well as their interests in order to plan effective and fun lessons for them. 

At the same time, even though each class is different, there are a few things you can predict based on your students’ first language and nationality. We are not saying you can generalize across the board, but cultural, educational and linguistic backgrounds will result in similar behaviours.

If you are teaching in Spain, here are a few things you can expect from your Spanish English Language Learners.

Note: we’re not talking about all Spanish-speaking English language learners, but particularly those from Spain. Spanish-speaking English language learners from Central or South America are another kettle of fish.

They have a natural fluency

When teaching in Spain, you might be surprised by how fluent your learners are, regardless of their level of English. Even learners with very low levels of English will have good fluency. This is probably because they are very confident learners. They are not shy to speak English in the classroom or make mistakes, both of which are characteristics of successful language learners.

They won’t stop talking!

This is every TEFL teacher’s dream! As a result of their confidence and their fluency – and possibly their Spanish-ness – Spanish learners love to talk. They will happily sit around and chat all lesson if they could. While this is all well and good, it means you may need to make sure they are on-task during the lesson.  What this also means is that you are guaranteed to get a good response from your learners if they are interested in the topic. They will respond especially well to conversational activities and speaking tasks.

They may struggle with English grammar

If you speak Spanish, then you know what we’re talking about. Spanish grammar is quite different to English grammar. Spanish uses masculine and feminine nouns and differs according to level of formality. In Spanish descriptive adjectives come after the noun, not before as in English. In Spanish the subject of the sentence is indicated in the verb, while it needs to be explicitly stated in English. These are just a few issues your learners may have problems with when dealing with grammar.

They’ll have pronunciation problems

There are a number of phonetic differences between English and Spanish with the result that Spanish learners of English usually make a few pronunciation errors when speaking (just as English-speakers make pronunciation errors when speaking Spanish). 

Spanish-speakers may confuse the short and long vowel sounds in English, thus confusing ship and sheep, or not and note. They will also pronounce the schwa sound because it does not exist in Spanish, so where in English we would use a Schwa in the er of teacher, the Spanish would pronounce the whole word. Again, these are just a few of the challenges your learners will face when it comes to English pronunciation.

5 Things You Should Know about Spanish English Language Learners
5 Things You Should Know about Spanish English Language Learners

They’ll struggle with false friends

They are some words which are similar in two different languages. They’ll look and sound the same and, as luck would have it, have similar meaning. Those are the good guys – they’re called cognates – and we’re happy to have them in our classrooms. For example, a banana is a banana (is a banana) no matter if you are Spanish or English, as is an animal and a colour, though they all have different pronunciations.

However, there are a few other fellows who love to cause a bit of confusion.

These are called false friends. They look and sound the same in two languages, but have totally different meanings. English and Spanish have many false friends just waiting to trip your students up. For example, in English you can take out a book from a library, but in Spanish you have to buy a book from a libreria (bookstore), and you might find yourself in a confusing situation if you say in Spanish that you are embarazada (pregnant) when you actually mean that you are embarrassed.

While we don’t want to paint all our Spanish English language learners with the same brush, you’ll probably find that your learners exhibit most if not all of these characteristics. This is good news for us because it means we can prepare for this in our lesson planning!

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