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teaching english to spanish speakers

How to Teach English to Spanish Speakers [15 Tips]

Are you looking to go to a Spanish-speaking country to teach English? Perhaps you have your mind set on teaching English in Spain? Teaching English abroad is a great way to travel at the same time as you are sharing your knowledge and giving back to the community. 

English and Spanish are some of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and a lot of Spanish speakers are looking to learn English. If you are looking to teach English to Spanish speakers, here are 15 useful tips you need to know: 

Tips for Teaching English to Spanish Speakers

Know who you are teaching with the first get-to-know-you class. 

teaching ice breakers

Is your student a child? An adult? A teen? Do they speak English already? What is their English level? Why are they learning English? What do they want to accomplish? 

Getting to know your students is essential to delivering the best knowledge and resources to them. It is also crucial to understanding them and catering to exactly what they need. Make the first class a get-to-know-you class, asking your student a lot of questions about themselves, their desires, needs, and their experience with English before you devise a plan to help them learn your language. 

Start with what they already know.

There is a lot of English influence in the Spanish language, and vice versa. Your students will surely know a lot of English words, regardless of their level. 

If you have someone who doesn’t know any English, start a lesson comparing Spanish and English words and phrases. Words like bar, actor, central or chocolate are all the same in both languages. This way, you’ll boost your students’ confidence by showing them that they are not starting from zero. 

Make sure you work on both their understanding and usage of the language. 

There are several language skills involved in language learning: Reading and listening (understanding and competence), speaking and writing (usage and performance). In order to become proficient in a language, you need to work on all those parts. 

Some students will understand you perfectly, but they may struggle with speaking. This is particularly common. Others won’t care much about their grammar mistakes but will speak anyway. They still should work on their understanding of the language. Whatever it is, make sure you are actively paying attention to what their strengths and weaknesses are, so that you can help them accordingly. 

Related: How to Start Teaching English in Colombia

Go over common grammar mistakes 

Grammar is one thing that distinguishes the two languages in many ways. For example, in English your age is something you “are”. You “are” 50 years old; however, in Spanish it is something you “have”, “tengo 50 años” Another difference is the placement of nouns. In English we would say “the blue ball”: the adjective comes after the noun. In Spanish, however, the order is opposite, “la bola azul”. 

This might be confusing, so it’s a good idea to do several exercises to get it down. Lastly, make sure not only do they know the correct grammar, but that they also know how to use it in conversation. All the knowledge needs to be applied to practice. 

In this video, you’ll see some other mistakes Spanish speakers tend to make when learning English. It’s always great to know some of these common mistakes ahead of time so that you can be ready for spending extra time working on these grammar points.

If you have been doing exercises about the past, have conversations with them about their own past, and evaluate how they are making use of the grammar, and correct them accordingly. There are plenty of resources online for fun grammar activities, such as on ESL Cafe.

TEFL Hero’s 120 hour TEFL course has two entire modules devoted to teaching reading, writing, and grammar. Learn more about this course and how you can use this to teach abroad in Spain.

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Teach them how to pronounce English vowels. 

teaching vowels

Spanish speakers typically struggle with the English vowels. Spanish has 5 vowel sounds; English, on the other hand, has 12. It is very common for Spanish speakers to misunderstand what they’re being told, and to be misunderstood by English speakers because of the pronunciation. 

Teach them the difference between short and long vowels. Words like feet-fit, bit-beat and not-note are some common examples. Try to use them in different sentences so that they can learn to distinguish both the meaning and the pronunciation.  

Use English to teach English as soon as it is possible. 

When your learners have a low level, it is natural and good to use Spanish to explain different concepts. However, once they have the basics down, one of the best ways to learn the language is to be immersed in English. 

When they don’t understand something, you can encourage them to try to phrase the question in English in a different way. Language learning is done by doing; in this case, learning by speaking. However, it is just as important to make sure you set a safe teaching environment, and help your students not to be afraid to make mistakes.  

If you are teaching English in a classroom, teach classroom language early on.

This tip goes hand in hand with tip number 6. If you want your students to express when they need help or need you to repeat something, give them the tools to ask you in English. Phrases like “Could you repeat please?”, “I need help with..”, “How do I say … in English?” are great to teach early on. 

If the students ask you a question in Spanish, before responding, ask them to repeat it in English. It might be a bit annoying for them at first, but they will get used to it. 

Make the classes immersive and fun!

Learning about sentence structure and verb conjugation is essential to learn any language. However, it is for most people not the most motivating. Classes should be combined with other activities. 

Think oral activities like doing roleplays, singing songs, watching movie clips, and doing presentations. There should be at least one oral component to each lesson. Figure out what your students like. Do they like sports? Music? Create lessons about other activities they like, and they will enjoy learning English with you.  

Encourage learning outside the classroom

To become fluent in any language, it takes a lot more practice than a few classes a week. Your students need to be practicing English outside the classroom. Encourage them to attend language exchanges, watch movies in English (with Spanish or English subtitles, depending on their level) or read books in English. The more the merrier! 

Just like in the previous tip, make sure they associate English with something that they truly enjoy, whether it is sports, art, music, travel, etc. 

Make it cultural!

Language goes hand in hand with the culture it stems from. Just like Spanish, English has different accents and is spoken in several countries with diverse cultures. Teach them that most Americans have dinner at around 6 o’clock, and not 9 or 10 p.m like in Spain. Also teach them about the different cultures and how the English language has become the most widely spoken in the world. 

Help them understand all the possibilities and relationships they’ll build for themselves by just speaking English. It’s a huge motivation to know that their English skills will be useful in so many different parts of the world! 

Make sure you work on specific vocabulary geared towards a goal. 

Teaching your students random words with no purpose can cause them to question why they should be learning this or that word. Instead, try to teach them vocabulary words that they will actually use in real life. Help them to see themselves in a situation that they will mostly encounter (and no, don’t just do the typical hotel check in and out!), and teach them words or phrases that they will for sure have to use. 

For example, going to the bank to deposit money. Teach them the word “deposit”. Make sure they know what it means, even if they have to find the equivalent in Spanish, and teach them to use it in conversation. 

Don’t be afraid to use some Spanish. 

As we shared before, using English to teach English as soon as possible is great if the stars align. That is, if your students can communicate with you about the basics of the lesson you are imparting, and if they genuinely want to practice their English by speaking back to you in English. However, don’t forget that their native language can be a great resource. 

There’s nothing wrong with asking your students to translate a word or phrase into Spanish, or ask them if they have a Spanish equivalent to a word you are teaching them in English. This actually reinforces their understanding of the new English words, and they’ll be able to use it better and more confidently. 

Learn how your students learn best. 

It is important to analyze the way your students learn best. If you are being too strict about a particular way of teaching, without taking into account that some people may not receive and internalize information in that way, you may soon lose your students’ interest, both children and adults.

If you see that writing the grammar structure of the past simple tense on the board is confusing your students, try a different approach, like directly speaking to your students about what they ate yesterday, and have them repeat the correct structure with you as they go.

Help them to find a good reason to keep improving their English. 

If you are teaching children, the best and most important thing is to help them have fun. Children learn best through play, so make sure you play! If they feel like English classes are just not fun, they will quickly quit, or become restless. 

If you are teaching adults, make sure you have them decide and write down why they started improving or learning English in the first place. Help them to go back to that reason often, because you’ll be surprised how many people will forget and eventually stop taking classes. 

Related: A How-To Guide to Teaching English in Mexico

Create an atmosphere of curiosity. 

Did you know that what hinders language learning the most is fear? Many students feel ashamed, pressured or downright afraid of learning English because they feel they are inadequate. 

On the other hand, the best state for someone to learn best is curiosity. If you can create an environment where your students beg you to continue teaching, if you cater to what they love, make your classes purposeful and make them feel safe, you will have for sure won them over and boosted their learning! 

Learning a new language is a process that requires both practice and dedication. Being a first-time teacher in Europe might seem frightening at first. Remember that, as a native speaker, you are bringing lots of knowledge about both language and culture that your students will soak up! Make sure to use your strengths to make the classes as immersive as possible. From teaching classes in person to teaching English online – you got this!

Interested in teaching abroad after completing your TEFL course? We would love to make that dream a reality!

RVF International is an international education and exchange program that offers one of the largest Teach Abroad programs in Spain for English teachers.

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