“Which Spanish do you teach?”
“Do you teach vosotros?”
“Do you teach ‘real’ Spanish?”
I’m sure you’ve heard these questions before, profe.
As the language becomes more and more popular in schools worldwide, Spanish teachers are increasingly more important. Teachers are not only responsible for teaching the basics of the language, but also exposing them to different cultures and dialects. However, this task comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is determining “which Spanish” to teach.
I cringed a little while writing that, profe. The reality is, Spanish is spoken in over twenty countries, each with its own dialect and accent. Many teachers worry about which Spanish to use in class, whether it should be Spanish from Spain, Spanish from Latin America, formal or informal language, and what the consequences of their choice might be.
There’s No Right Answer
Use Your Authentic Spanish
Ultimately, language use in the classroom depends on the teachers’ personal background and expertise. Spanish teachers should use the Spanish that comes naturally to them, and that they feel most confident using. (Want to feel more confident? Check out this post.)
This can be Spanish from Spain, Mexico, Colombia, or any other Spanish-speaking country. The key is for the teacher to feel comfortable and confident using the language they know best, because this will create a better learning environment for students.
Informal vs. Formal Spanish
Sometimes people ask if I teach “informal or formal Spanish,” and I’m not even really sure what they mean. I teach my students to express themselves, and encourage them to use Usted where appropriate, but also tell them that this term is used differently around the Spanish-speaking world.
The reality is, formal language is often used in academic and professional settings, while informal language is used in everyday conversation. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question, and it ultimately depends on your personal background and expertise.
While formal language may be necessary in certain situations, informal language is equally as important. In my opinion, students should be exposed to both formal and informal use, because they’ll encounter both in real-life situations. It is also important for students to learn how to switch between formal and informal language in different situations.
But… Which Accent is Best?
None of them. All of them. They’re all different, profe, and they’re all valid. Just like there are different words for the same idea across the Spanish-speaking world, they are all valid in their communities. If you subscribe to the RAE, they’re also accepted by the RAE.
I’m preparing for the DELE (Spanish certificate exam) and they will intentionally assess my ability to understand different slang terms and accents across Spanish-speaking communities. I say we should do the same in our classes. Expose your students to additional accents and terms through videos, audios, readings – any authentic resources.
Consider Your Goals
Keep It Comprehensible
Using comprehensible Spanish in class is crucial for effective instruction and acquisition. At the end of the day, we want to use language that’s appropriate for our students. This might mean avoiding technical or complex language, and relying more on cognates than we might normally do. It also means simplifying ideas and sentence structure, gradually presenting more complex ideas as students progress.
If you want to take this a step further, consider how you can differentiate your instruction.
Modeling vulnerability when it comes to language instruction means acknowledging that there are other ways to say things and shows that you’re still learning alongside students. Teachers who are willing to be vulnerable and share their own learning experiences and struggles can create a more supportive empathetic classroom environment. This allows you to connect with students on a personal level, and show them that it’s ok not to know the answer. It also allows you to show them where to find new information (my favorite is word reference).
Ultimately, the key to successfully teaching Spanish is for you to be confident in your language abilities and use the Spanish that comes naturally to you. By doing this, you’ll create a comfortable and engaging learning environment where students feel comfortable trying new language skills and making mistakes.