TEFL Spanish vs. English

One of the biggest issues facing the United States is the number of immigrants coming to the US from Mexico and Central America. With the large number of immigrants flowing across the border, the problem of language has arisen. Throughout the US? history, the issue of what language should be spoken has been real. My father grew up in a Polish community. While he was in elementary school, he would be punished if he spoke any Polish. Today, across America, we are seeing this same sort of problem with Spanish speakers. Many people believe that schools should be ?English-only,? and that immigrants and their children should only speak English if they decide to come to this country. Arizona and California have both passed laws banning bilingual education, ?[p]rohibit[ing] any ?teaching of reading, writing, or subject matter? and the use of ?books and instructional materials? in a language other than English? ( az). I believe that this is a very selfish attitude and deprives the immigrants and those of us who come in contact with others from a different country and culture of an experience that could be extremely positive.

I live in Southeast Colorado where the Latino population is expanding and teaching English to immigrants is important. I think it would also be a good idea, since the majority of Americans I know only speak one language, for US citizens to learn a second language. Teaching English to Spanish speakers is very rewarding, but, as with teaching a new language to students of any country, comes with challenges that are specific to that group.

One of the biggest problems that Spanish speakers seem to encounter is the spelling of English words. Spanish speakers and English speakers share the same alphabet, but there is one major difference. In Spanish, each letter has (for the most part) one sound that corresponds with that letter; whereas in English, one letter can have many different sounds and also different words with different sounds can have the same spellings. Some example that I came across while teaching English in Mexico are: bye, by, buy; bass (fish), bass (sound). Another example is when a word can be similar in looks, but sounds entirely different, such as car and care. When teaching these subtle differences to Spanish speakers it is important to let the students learn to distinguish these sounds. My favorite style, with beginners (and especially children) is to teach everything orally for the first couple of class periods, in order for the ear to learn to hear the differences before jumping into spelling, which in English, is not easy task. Another area that I have found to be challenging to Spanish students learning English is the ?th sound. This sound does not occur with the Mexican Spanish accent. With this area of the English language, repetition seems to be helpful. Some fun tongue twisters I found on the internet using the ?th sound are: I thought, I thought of thinking of thanking you; These thousand tricky tongue twisters trip thrillingly off the tongue; I thought a thought. But the thought I thought wasn´t the thought I thought I thought. If the thought I thought I thought had been the thought I thought, I wouldn´t have thought so much ( Another very common problem for native Spanish speakers is learning to make the ?v, as in ?very? sound. In Spanish, -b and ?v both make the ?b sound. Adults and children both have problems learning how to make this -v sound. Again, repetition and really sounding words out, seems to be the best way to teach the problems that arise with sounds that don?t really exist in the students? native language.

These are a couple of the problems that I have come across while trying to teach English to Spanish students. The Spanish speaking population is growing in the United States and this is something all teachers, even non-ESL teachers need to start becoming aware of. It is my hope, that we can all start to learn from one another and open up to new experiences of learning another language, whether it be Spanish or English or whatever. I believe it is important to teach immigrants English, so that they can better function in an English speaking country but I also feel that Americans have become lazy when it comes to communicating to people of other nationalities. We also need to take the opportunities we have to learn other languages.

Author: Sonya Duresky

Date of post: 2007-04-18