Spanish vs. English: Which is Easier to Learn?

Spanish vs. English: Which is Easier to Learn?

Inside: Spanish vs. English– which one is easier to learn?

 

My husband and I have a long-standing spat. He’s a native Spanish speaker who likes to complain about how weird and hard English is. I’m always quick to point out how hard and complicated Spanish grammar is.

I’m not sure if we are really arguing over facts; it may be we really just want the other person to understand what’s hard about speaking their language. Perhaps we mean to say: Do you see how hard I’m working to speak YOUR language?

Either way, we’re all fairly blind to the complications of our native languages. This is one of the reasons it’s valuable to study a second language: we develop more self-awareness, and hopefully a whole lot more empathy for immigrants and friends learning our language.

 

 

 

 

That self-awareness is a side-goal of my classes, and I like to show this clip early in the year. It’s a fun reminder that English only seems easy because they unconsciously learned it and use it. (As an aside, I aim for a similar “unconscious” experience and ease in acquisition in my Spanish classes— to the degree it’s possible with older students.)

 

 

But back to English vs. Spanish.

Social media informalIy tells me there’s an overwhelming consensus: English is WAY harder for Spanish-speakers to learn. I’ll concede that the erratic nature of English is obvious. You don’t have to look far for examples:

 

 

think people are right that English is harder, but it is really WAY HARDER than Spanish? Let’s do our best to find out. 

(I doubt this will be a conclusive post. When I decided to research, obviously I starting by googling around. The first two or three pages were almost entirely posts by companies selling language-learning materials. If you have a more scientific, research based article lying around, PLEASE let me know.)

So: IF you’re interested in an amateur examination of Spanish vs. English, read on. 

 

Word Count: Spanish vs. English

 

Which language has more words?

“There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of animal’, and a verb meaning ‘to follow persistently’)?” – Oxford Dictionary

Ok, but can we roughly estimate word counts?

“The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.” – Oxford Dictionary

“Current editions of the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy), the closest thing there is to an official list of Spanish vocabulary, has around 88,000 words. In additional, the Academy’s list of americanismos includes about 70,000 words used in one or more Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. So to round things off, figure there are around 150,000 “official” Spanish words.” – ThoughtCo. 

Approximately (and according to the scant information I could find), English has about 180,000 words in the dictionary and Spanish has about 150,000. You generally use more words to express something in Spanish (English is more grammatically dense):

“…a 300-word document in English will typically be 350 or 400 words in Spanish.’ – Transfluent

How useful are these numbers? I’m not sure. I think the more relevant numbers are how many high-frequency words a native speaker depends on in a day, and I couldn’t track that info down. 

 

Phonetics: Spanish vs. English

 

Historically, Spanish takes foreign words and applies Spanish rules: people here say Goo-glay and Che-vro-let. (Though I wonder if this will change with the advent of social media– “selfie,” anyone?) English, on the other is a mish-mash of Anglo-French and Germanic influences, and evolved significantly from Old English into Modern English. We maintain French rules, for example, when we say She-vro-lay.

Basically, Spanish is a lovely and perfectly phonetic language. English, on the other hand, is VERY hard to read, pronounce, and write. Spanish has 25 phonemes; it’s generally agreed that English has 44 phonemes. (Phonemes are speech sounds.)

So it’s generally harder for a Spanish speaker to pronounce English well. It means learning entirely new sounds. While the English speaker will need to learn “rr” and nuances like “b” and “v,” Spanish speakers have a longer list. “Th” and new vowels sounds are particularly difficult. 

Writing and reading is difficult in English, even for native speakers. Consider that the sound /sh/ can be represented by all of the following: sh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, and ti. 

I remember learning Spanish in Peru and being very frustrated when I would ask for the spelling of a word. Instead of spelling it, my friends would just enunciate the word again: sim-pá-ti-co. I guess there’s a reason Spelling Bees aren’t a big thing in Spanish. 

One more point that sort of fits here: 

“Do you ever feel like speakers of foreign languages are talking really, really fast? If you feel this way about Spanish or Japanese, you’re correct! These two languages were spoken faster than the others, at a rapid 7.82 and 7.84 syllables per second, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, English and Mandarin Chinese were relatively slow, at 6.19 and 5.18 syllables per second, respectively.” – Transfluent

So while it’s easier to write and read in Spanish, it’s fair to say that listening to spoken Spanish is hard. 

 

General Grammar: Spanish vs. English

 

In terms of general grammar rules, English rules seem harder explain or “make sense of.” Spanish rules are more formulaic but still may take a long time to master. 

Things that make Spanish hard:

Gendered Nouns. On the surface, this is fairly easy to explain: masculine vs. feminine, and here are the exceptions. But it really means knowing the gender of EVERY noun, and applying this knowledge in almost EVERY sentence. It’s a huge extra “layer” that you don’t have to worry about in English.

 

Things that make English hard:

Order of adjectives. Most English speakers probably aren’t aware of this, but there’s a strict order of adjectives. You can say “She was a beautiful young French woman,” but it would sounds strange to say “She was a French young beautiful woman.”

Negation. In Spanish, a “no” in front of the word usually does the trick. In English, there are a variety of pre-fixes to choose from: “un-,” “dis-,” “in-,” and “non-.” Negatives go together in Spanish as well (“No quiero nada”), while we mix them in English. 

 

Verbs: Spanish vs. English

 

This is where Spanish gets significantly more complicated than English. Spanish has 14 complete paradigms for verbs– seven simple tenses, and seven compound tenses. 

Regular Verbs

I think the numbers speak for themselves here. To conjugate the regular verb bailar in Spanish, I counted 56 different verb forms. (Correct me if I’m wrong, hehe. It took several counts. ) In English, I counted 4 (dance, dances, danced, dancing). 

Irregular Verbs

Ser: 48. (soy, fui, era, seré, sido, fuera, fuese, fuese, sé, seas, etc.)
To be: 8. (am, is, are, was, were, being, been, be). 

The Subjunctive

The subjunctive mood isn’t a big deal in English, and generally follows the indicative verb forms. “I hope you get well soon,” “I hoped you would get well soon.” (“I wish _____” is a notorious exception.) In Spanish, however, it introduces an entirely new set of endings– including present, past, and future in the subjunctive. “Espero que te mejores pronto,” and “Esperaba que te mejoraras.” 

The Imperative

The imperative in Spanish means two new sets of verb endings, for positive and negative commands. In English, a positive command is the same as in the indicative, and a negative is formed by putting “don’t” at the front. 

 

Conclusion

 

My sense is that Spanish is more formulaic: it lends itself better to charts and logical explanations. However, the grammar is quite extensive. There are many who will reach intermediate proficiency quickly, and sound extremely natural. Those people might still struggle to express very complex ideas, even after massive input. I suspect Spanish is more quickly comprehensible. Even though learners may not produce highly accurate verb forms, they can grab onto the “stem” and make sense of it. 

English, due to its origins, is more erratic. The rules are quite complex in a sense (especially when it comes to phonetics), but with no gendered nouns and few verb endings. It will be harder to sound like a natural in writing or speaking, but not such a stretch to communicate theoretical ideas. 

IN CONCLUSION: I really don’t know, but I feel better prepared to explain the unique challenges and perks to learning either language, as a native speaker of the other language. 

I WILL SAY THIS: After writing this blog post, I am ever-more committed to language acquisition through comprehensible input. Newbies shouldn’t be getting bogged down in the rules. Period. 

 

Do you have the definitive answer to this? Tell me all about it in the comments below?

Welcome

Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

Cinco de Mayo Activities for Spanish Class

Cinco de Mayo Activities for Spanish Class

Inside: A round-up of Cinco de Mayo activities for the Spanish classroom. 

 

Cinco de Mayo is a weird day if you’re a Spanish teacher. On the one hand, you might recoil at the mass production of stereotypes: sombreros, margaritas, and moustaches will undoubtedly abound May 5th. This is what you get when you type “Cinco de Mayo” into Amazon:

 

On the other, hand, there’s huge interest in the day in general. It’s a great chance to bust common myths and stereotypes, and guide your students to authentic Mexican culture. You can make sure your students understand it’s not  Mexico’s independence day (that’s September 16), and teach some of real history behind the day. 

The explanation as to why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated so widely in the U.S. is a bit muddied. Some speculate the reasons go back to California during the war with France, the Chicano Power movement in the 60’s, or beer companies that hijacked the holiday in the 80’s. In some places, Latinos are proactively planning events and naming it “Semana de la Raza.”

While the holiday may not be a big deal in Mexico–outside of Puebla, maybe– I think it makes sense to acknowledge the day within U.S. classrooms. Many Mexicans here have taken up the custom of celebrating Cinco de Mayo as a chance to celebrate their heritage and home country, with large festivals in states like Texas. 

Whatever you end up doing, I have collected a ton of resources so you can celebrate or include Cinco de Mayo activities authentically in your Spanish classroom. 

If you’re unsure of the history behind the day or why we should tread with caution, I recommend reading these articles:

Cinco de Mayo Myths and Facts 

Re-thinking Cinco de Mayo

Why I Celebrate Cinco de Mayo from Fun for Spanish Teachers

Cinco de Mayo Activities & Resources

Ideas for the Classroom

 

  • Learn about La Batalla de Puebla. I’ve gathered lots of videos, infographs, and links. Remember that the history of the Battle is complicated (as history always is). 

 

  • Choose to highlight authentic Mexican culture in general. If you do this, you can study how Cinco de Mayo was latched onto by Chicano activists in the 60’s, and has become a time to celebrate Mexican heritage (or even Latino in general). Below you’ll find links for culture-rich crafts, art, music, and activities. 

 

  • If you have a Spanish club, you could make goodie baskets and deliver them to local Mexican restaurants for the employees (who are about to be inundated). This could be a cute wrap-up to a study of misconceptions about Cinco de Mayo, and how it has evolved in the U.S. (I saw this idea in a FB group!)

 

  • Compare/contrast St. Patrick’s Day with Cinco de Mayo and how the two holidays interact with immigration, pride in one’s roots and history, and commercialization.

 

  • Study and discuss the evolution of Mexican food in the U.S., and find examples of authentic dishes. If you live in an area with food trucks that offer authentic food, bring one to school for an in-school Spanish class field trip.

 

ideas for field trip in spanish class

 

#authres

 

1901 poster for Cinco de Mayo by Jose Guadalupe Posada. Credit: WikiCommons

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla by Mike Manning. Credit: Wiki Commons 

Credit: NOTiMEX, Monografía Estatal: Secretaria de Educación Pública Gobierno del Estado de Puebla, Diseño: Juan Hernández López

Credit: Noticias Mundo Fox

For more: 

 

Cinco de Mayo Activities

 

For Kids

 

Free mini-book about Mexico from Fun for Spanish Teachers

8 Kid-Friendly Cinco de Mayo Activities from Kid World Citizen

If you need a craft but want to get beyond sombreros and tacos, consider one of these activities:

Folk Art: Amate Painting from Kid World Citizen

Learn about Frida Kahlo and do self-portraits from Kid World Citizen

Learn about the Mexican Flag from Kid World Citizen

 

Older Students

 

Here are some free lesson aids and printables:

10 Misconceptions about Spanish Language and its Speakers PPT from Spanish Plans

Cinco de Mayo Jigsaw Puzzle from The Comprehensible Classroom (reviews history and facts)

Cinco de Mayo Jigsaw Puzzle freebie from TpT

If you are looking to purchase lesson plans, I recommend this pack from The Comprehensible Classroom:

Cinco de Mayo Jigsaw Puzzle

Songs

 

May is the perfect month to highlight some authentic Mexican songs. While the rest of the U.S is eating chips and salsa (and thinking they’re celebrating Mexico’s independence), your students can highlight rich Mexican music with deep cultural roots. There are a TON of good songs; here are a few classics I love.

Cielito Lindo

 

Los Caminos de la Vida

 

Mexico Lindo y Querido

 

 

Spanish Videos

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Videos

 

 

Cinco de Mayo Activities 

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Cinco de Mayo Activities

  • 1901 poster for Cinco de Mayo by Jose Guadalupe Posada | WikiCommons
  • Battle of Puebla by Mike Manning | WikiCommons
  • By AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Common

 

Welcome

Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

Peru Books for Kids: A Collection of Favorite Titles

Peru Books for Kids: A Collection of Favorite Titles

Inside: Peru books for kids: a collection of favorite titles. 

 

Peru is a magical place: full of history and culture and that stretches across the centuries. Here I’ve collected our favorite titles for introducing the country to children.

Right now, most books are very sierra-heavy: focused on the Andes and traditional culture. We live in the jungle, and there aren’t many books about the jungle, the coast, or more modern-day life. If you know of more to add, please let me know!

(For more book lists and suggestions, be sure to see my Spanish children’s books page.)

 

Peru Books for Kids

 

 

 

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

 

Fictional Peru Books 

 

Maria Had a Little Llama 

An adorable bilingual re-telling of Mary Had a Little Lamb, set in the Peruvian Andes– with a few extra details. 
(PreK- 3rd grade)

 

Up and Down the Andes

Meet children who are traveling to the Inti Raymi festival (festival of the Sun God or the Incan New Year) in Cusco, through lyrical rhymes. This is a beautiful, folk-art introduction to the country and customs of Peru, with the Andes as the backdrop.
(Grades K-3)

 


The Llama’s Secret – A Peruvian Legend 

Available in Spanish and English, this folktale re-tells the story of the Great Flood. In this Andean version, a llama saves the people and animals by warning them to gather on a mountain. I love that authentic culture and words in Quechua are incorporate in this rich tale.
(Grades 2-4)

 


En Alas del Condor (Puertas al Sol)

Alma Flor Ada is one of my favorite authors, and this book is an overview of the native people of Latin America. Although it’s not only focused on Peru, the condor is the national Peruvian bird and a significant cultural reference. 

 

Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains

A Cuy (guinea pig) must outwit a hungry Fox in this light-hearted story set in the Andes. Beautiful wood-block illustrations and Quechua phrases add to the authenticity of the story.
(Grades K-3)

 


The Littlest Llama

Another llama tale, this is a sweet story about a young llama looking for friends who will play with him. Along the way, we meet typical Andean animals and beautiful scenes of Peru.
(PreK – 2nd grade)

 


Molly and the Magic Suitcase: Molly Goes to Peru

Part of a global “Molly goes to…” series, here we get an introduction to Peru through the eyes of two children, Molly and Michael. They visit Machu Picchu and other famous sites, and learn about traditional dances, clothing, and food.

 


Patterns in Peru: An Adventure in Patterning

Weaving together Peruvian culture and history, Patterns in Peru two children solve a mystery and learn about patterns along the way. 

 


Kusikiy a Child from Taquile, Peru

Written in the tradition of magical realism, Kusikiy tells the story of a Peruvian boy who travels to the Guardian Spirit of the Mountain to find the lost stars of the sky.
(K-4th grade)

 


The Adventures of Paloma in Peru

Learn about travel through Peru and caring for the environment with The Adventures of Paloma in Peru. (Each purchase in the U.S. buys a backpack for a child in Peru!)

Peru Books for Older Readers

 


Secret of the Andes

A Newberry Award winner, the main character here is an Incan boy in charge of caring for the llamas in the Sacred Valley. Mythology and indigenous traditions are woven throughout the story, as he learns the secrets of his ancestors.
(Grades 3-7)

 

Los Baker van a Peru

An adventure story set in Peru, this one is written in Spanish specifically for novice Spanish learners. 
(Middle – High School)

Non-Fiction Peru Books

 


Conoce Peru / Spotlight on Peru

Available in Spanish or English, this is the perfect introduction to Peru for kids, with an overview of its history, customs, geography, food, animals, and more. 
(Grades 2-3)

 

De la A a la Z Peru

A rhyming introduction to facts about Peru, letter by letter (M is for Machu Picchu!). Written in Spanish.
(Grades 1-3) 

 

If You Were Me and Lived in…Peru

An introduction to Peruvian culture and history for kids.
(PreK – 3rd)

 


Enrique’s Day: From Dawn to Dusk in a Peruvian City

A realistic look into the everyday life of a boy who lives in Ayacucho. Kids will be fascinated by the photos that show day-to-day customs and routines, at home, school, and around town in Peru. 
(Grades 1-4)

 

 
Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

An inspiring true story about a 10-year-old girl who lives on the Amazon river in Peru and rescues baby monkeys. Real-life photos give a fascinating look into nature and life in the jungle.
(Grades 2-4)

 


The Rainforest Grew All Around

Though not about Peru specifically, most of the books about Peru center on the Andes mountains and culture. Don’t forget that a huge portion of Peru is part of the Amazon rainforest! The Rainforest Grew All Around is a delightful introduction to the Amazon and its animal and plant inhabitants. Beautiful!
(Grades K-3)

Books about the Incas

 


The Everyday Life of the Ancient Incas

This gorgeous book (features over “500 color paintings, drawings, and photographs) is a wonderful introduction to Inca life on the everyday level.
(Grade 5 and up- I think) 

 

Lost City: The Discovery of Machu Picchu

A wonderful book that tells the story of the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations and storytelling.
(Grades 2-7)

 


The Inca Empire (True Books: Ancient Civilizations)

A basic introduction to the Inca Empire, with photos.
(Grades 2-4)

 


Ancient Inca Daily Life

Another look into daily life among the Incas, for slightly younger readers.
(Grades 3-8)

 


The Ancient Inca 

An in-depth look at the history of the Ancient Inca civilization. Packed with information, art, graphs, and photos.
(Grades 5-9)

 


Machu Picchu: The story of the amazing Inkas and their city in the clouds

A high-quality introduction to the Incas, both in text and illustrations. Be aware that some graphic scenes are included (human sacrifices). (Grades 5-8)

 


Beyond the Stones of Machu Picchu: Folk Tales and Stories of Inca Life

Discover folk tales from the Andes, in this lovely collection. Rich paintings and stories uncover the deep culture and traditions of the Andean natives. 

 

Do you have favorites Peru books for kids that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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Peru Books for Kids

 

 

Welcome

Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

The Problem With Worksheets in Spanish Class

The Problem With Worksheets in Spanish Class

Inside: Re-thinking our dependence on Spanish worksheets/practice/skill-based activities in the classroom.

 

Is anyone else a teensy bit obsessed with Cult of Pedagogy?

Minimalist, just-right graphics. Oh-so-cool profile picture. And her content? — excellent. Last week she published another amazing post: Frickin’ Packets. It was spot-on. Stop right now, and good read it.

Honestly– read it, before you read the rest of this post. I’m not attempting a comprehensive essay on worksheets myself, because she just wrote one. Mine is a rambling response to her post.

Let’s talk about… frickin’ packets. Friggin’ worksheets. Our dependence on them runs deep. It says a lot about our thinking as educators. It shows how we believe students acquire Spanish.  

Essentially, in this post, I’m discussing:

  • Problems Behind Teaching Spanish with Worksheets
  • What Makes a Good Worksheet in Spanish Class?
  • Does This Mean Interactive Notebooks are Bad?

 

 

What’s Wrong With Busysheets in Spanish Class

 

“In my experience, when people criticize worksheets, they are referring to a specific type of worksheet, what I will call a busysheet, the kind where students are either doing work that’s fairly low-level recall stuff–filling in blanks with words, choosing from multiple-choice questions, labeling things–or work that has no educational value at all…”Cult of Pedagogy

The thinking behind “busysheets” in Spanish class is the real issue.

Essentially, we use them because we don’t trust the input. We don’t trust the magic of books, the stories, the songs. We don’t trust the curiosity of our students, the natural inclination of the mind to absorb interesting material, or the process of acquisition itself. (Read What is Comprehensible Input? if that paragraph sounded confusing.)

So we boil language down into a set of skills: vocabulary lists to memorize, formulas to practice. We think explaining language will get us to fluency faster than quality exposure to language. So make a packet of worksheets and feel we’ve “covered” the material because we’re holding the papers in our hands. 

Worksheets are pretty darn handy for explaining and practicing things, but they’re problematic in getting us to fluency.

 

Problem #1:

 

Apart from the well-established fact that teaching grammar outside the context of meaningful writing does nothing to help students become better writers, and in many cases makes them worse, the skills being practiced in this kind of worksheet don’t actually teach or reinforce the goals set by our academic standards.  – Cult of Pedagogy

We often use worksheets because we are teaching a “skill.” In other words, we select a rule that can be isolated, explained, practiced, and tested. Verb drills fall into this category:

Yo _________ (correr) a mi casa. 

If we drill and practice enough, our students can become quite skillful at conjugating verbs and passing fill-in-the-blank tests. But if we’re reaching for growth in proficiency (spontaneous communication of messages), busysheets won’t get us there. 

As language teachers, we have to accept that language acquisition is more nuanced and less controllable than a set of skills. Providing our students with rich comprehensible input is sometimes scary because it doesn’t fit neatly into a busysheet, but it will lead to authentic communication. 

 

Problem #2:

 

Worksheets come between the student and living materials. The students knows there are questions to answer, and what happens? The worksheet becomes the center of attention; the text becomes a source to find the answers. 

Worksheets (and textbooks) tend to lift language out of context. The language serves a purpose other than telling an enjoyable or compelling story. Students know this. Years of worksheets train them to look for answers instead of getting absorbed into the language itself. We teach students to dissect language before they have learned to love it. 

Gonzalez notes,

Having students answer low-level recall questions about a passage of writing that offers no meaningful context doesn’t do a lot to make them better readers… So much of what we call “reading instruction” is far inferior to having students read real books.

One of the reasons I hated teaching with a textbook was that the reading passages and listening activities were inferior, as far as literature goes. I mean, would never read or listen them for pleasure. Would you?

When I dropped the textbook and moved away from worksheets, we started reading good books and having more natural conversations. We had time for it. Direct contact with living materials– songs, videos, stories, games– is infinitely more absorbing than an out-of-context passage, rule, or vocabulary list.

I’m not saying I reached a level so compelling they’d choose my class over their phones everytime. But in reducing the worksheet-ish moments, meaningful messages took center stage.

Not sure what teaching looks like outside of worksheets and “practice”?– see my post on strategies for delivering comprehensible input.)

 

 

Do Worksheets Have Any Place in Spanish Class?

 

Ok, so does this mean that you have to feel guilty every time your students touch a piece of paper fresh from the copier? Here’s what Gonzalez says:

Technically, a worksheet is anything printed on copier paper and given to students to write on. And since you can print just about anything on a piece of paper, we really can’t say that worksheets per se are good or bad. 

And:

Some worksheets are clearly nothing but busysheets, while others, like note-taking sheets or data collection tools, directly support student learning; I’ll call these powersheets. I think a lot of worksheets fall somewhere between the two. 

Even after ditching the textbook, paper never disappeared from my class. In fact, I used interactive notebooks– which I’ll get to in a minute.

But I think she’s right: we need to think hard about what send to the copier and what we hand to students. 

We can ask:

  1. Is this better than just reading a book or telling a story?
  2. Am I doing this because it is cute, or because it’s meaningful?
  3. Could this worksheet be reduced by half and still be just as effective?
  4. Is there any way to incorporate choice?

Only you, of course, know your needs and classes well enough to answer this each time. 

 

What can powersheets look like in the Spanish classroom?

 

I’m not advocating 100% input with zero student response. Students will often respond to input in one way or another, and “powersheets” can streamline and support that. I don’t how comprehensively I can answer this, but here are some examples I think of as I move towards powersheets, and away from busysheets. 

 

Good graphic organizers. Why?:

  • They’re usually a form of digesting input– and so the focus stays on input. 
  • They often ask students to think higher on Bloom’s taxonomy: compare, contrast, etc.
  • Even novice students can list isolated words in meaningful context with a Venn diagram, for example. 

 

Freewrites. Ok, so this one might literally be a sheet of paper. (I personally love Martina Bex’s versions.) But SO GOOD. Why?:

  • You find out *exactly* what language is in your students’ heads. What words have stuck, and what level of complexity they’ve reached.
  • Choice. They say what they want and express themselves. 
  • If the proficiency levels are included at the bottom of the paper, the students write and then get immediate feedback– about how many words they can write in ___ minutes and what proficiency level they are reaching. 

 

Multiple-activity sheets. Pardon the self-promotion here, but I’m going to use one of my TpT products to show how I try to judiciously use paper and create my version of a powersheet. 

These sheets help us work through songs in Spanish. I try to pack in varied activities that I use over several days, as an anchor to help us understand the song and work on the skills I do think are important: listening, reading, and writing. I work really hard to fit everything on one sheet of paper, and keep the focus on the music itself.

When I make a worksheet, I think: Does this help us acquire, more than simply listening/reading/discussing the material? If so, I make it. If not, I don’t.

 

 

 

 

What About Interactive Notebooks?

 

Many of our darling activities are not spared in Gonzalez’s post (crosswords, word searches, Google Drive activities, and others get called out). If you follow me at all and use interactive notebooks, you might thinking… umm, do I need to throw mine out???

I mean, she does say:

Interactive notebooks: These vary widely in quality, with some offering true interactivity and others just offering the same value of a worksheet, just colored, cut, and pasted into a notebook. – Cult of Pedagogy

I use and make materials for interactive notebooks. But I think she’s spot-on. 

Our thinking has to change. We can throw out the textbook, and then go make a zillion worksheets. We can toss the worksheets, and call notebooks interactive because stuff lifts up and looks cute. But re-packaging won’t change our content or methods. Interactive notebooks will ONLY support acquisition if we are thinking correctly. 

My interactive notebooks are not the point. Input is the point; the meat of class. Our interactive notebooks simply house and organize the input.

I also believe we should think of interactive notebooks as subordinate to language. I have a rough idea of sections in mind at the beginning of the year, but the writing, journaling, and responding that takes place depends entirely on the class and what we explore.

I’ve always told people not to bother with interactive notebooks if it doesn’t make sense to them. To me, they are a super-convenient, sensible way to store our Spanish input, organize ourselves, and digest our stories, songs, and conversations.

If you want to read more, see my page on interactive notebooks in Spanish class. I have several videos and examples to show what I do. You can take a look and decide for yourself if they’re in busysheet-land or powersheet-territory!

 

 

 

What do you think? Am I too harsh on Spanish worksheets? Do you love them, hate them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

Spanish Worksheets

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Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

Teaching Immigration in Spanish Class: Resources & Ideas

Teaching Immigration in Spanish Class: Resources & Ideas

Inside: Ideas & resources for teaching immigration in Spanish class.

 

I think this is one of the most packed posts I’ve written. And I keep adding to it! There are ton of resources on immigration, and here I’ve tried to collect the best of the best.

The entire history of immigration is so multifaceted it’s hard to know what to cover in Spanish class. One of the big dangers is presenting any part of immigration as one-dimensional. If you present lopsided materials, your students might walk away thinking:

  • Latin America is: poverty, violence, and corruption.  
  • All Latin Americans want to move to the U.S.
  • All/most immigrants are undocumented. 

A lot of materials out there focus on the hardships people face before choosing to emigrate, and rightfully so. It’s important that our students grasp the dire situations many people find themselves in. But people are not one-dimensional.

So, I try to focus on dignity. 

Not reducing people to rich or poor, “legal” or “illegal”, but focusing on humanity: telling stories and listening to stories. 

We will probably misstep here and there, but it’s such an important conversation. I feel like if my students at least leave my classes having empathized with a character in a book, song, or movie, they will engage in future discussions differently. And if we read multiple perspectives and study current facts, they can think beyond their personal experiences and preconceived notions. 

I can’t tell you how to create a perfectly balanced unit that does everything, but hopefully the resources here give you a head start. 

Immigration in Spanish Class: Resources

Getting Started

 

  • There are a TON of resources out there on immigration. Take some time to explore and find a balance of resources that will resonate with your students: reading, listening, discussion. I have tried to gather just my favorites here. 

 

  • Use this list for coming up with essential questions. Some examples (quoted from the site):

What does it mean to be invisible? (context: minorities)
How do individuals reconcile competing belief systems within a given society (e.g., moral beliefs conflicting with legal codes)?
What is oppression and what are the root causes?
What turning points determine our individual pathways to adulthood?

 

  • Choose several authentic songs as you work through the unit. (I have a few included in this post, or see my entire list of immigration songs in Spanish.) Discuss the lyrics, and use the videos that tell stories as MovieTalks or stories. Below you’ll find several free resources for this. 

 

  • Select a novel to study together, or gather short texts to read. In this post, I suggest some novels and will link to a bunch of news articles and infographs. 

 

  • Use one or two full-length videos. You might want to start and end with movies: one, to give context and help students imagine details, and one to close out everything you’ve studied. Below you can find my suggestions. 

 

  • Consider anchoring your unit as hearing varied perspectives and “voices” of immigration. Each time you read a story, watch a video, etc., add a small reflection or paragraph about that person or group’s experience. This is what I did in my immigration songs pack

 

  • Invite heritage speakers from within the school to share with your class about their family.

 

  • Do an immigration simulation. Señor Noble has resources for a game to help students understand the emigration process. 

 

Novels

 

El escape cubano

I love Mira Canion’s writing. This novel tells about a family’s escape from Cuba during the Castro-era, from a first-person perspective. Comprehensible even to novices, this is a perfect choice for a Spanish 1 class. 

Esperanza

A couple in Guatemala has to escape to the U.S. and cross the border, seeking political asylum for their family. Although written for novice learners, the themes are deep and can be better explored by students in Spanish 2 or 3.

One caution: don’t take too long actually reading the book. There’s a lot of crying, waiting, bad news, etc. Keep it moving, act it out, and intersperse with lighter activities (songs or cultural stuff about the beauty of Guatemala). 

 

Cajas de Carton: Relatos de la Vida Peregrina de un Nino Campesino 

An authentic Spanish title, Cajas de cartón would be a good fit for Intermediate-Mid and up. It follows a Mexican migrant family in California through short stories, one per chapter.

Esperanza Rising 

For more advanced students, Esperanza Renace is an authentic read about a Mexican girl who comes from a life of wealth in the 1920’s, only to have her life turned upside down by tragedy. She escapes with her mother to California.

#authres

Infographs are an accessible authentic resource, even for novices. Here are some examples you could use in class.

Credit: Telesur

Credit: Mujer Migrante

 

 

Credit: Azteca Noticias

 

https://www.pinterest.com/eealvarado/immigration-la-inmigraci%C3%B3n/ https://www.pinterest.com/eealvarado/esperanza/

Songs on Immigration

 

There are so many good songs I had to make a whole separate post: 15 Powerful Songs about Immigration in Spanish. Here are just my top four picks that offer a variety of stories, and resources to go with them:

Un Besito Más

 

Two undocumented parents try to make a life in the U.S., but end up being separated from their daughter. Really beautiful, but definitely sad. 

 

Click on the image to see the story slides I made for novice-high students and up.

 

Kara Jacobs and Adrianne Dowd also created resources that are meant to introduce an immigration unit with Un Besito Más. You can click through their presentation and ask questions about the screenshots, and use their follow-up activities. I stumbled across this after I made mine, but hopefully having a plethora of resources will make your life easier!

Ave Que Emigra

 

I love including this one from Gaby Moreno (or Fronteras), because it deals with a different experience: someone who was able to come legally, to pursue a dream, but still deals with homesickness. The theme is central to any discussion of immigration: sacrifices made in the pursuit of dreams, and home vs. new identities. The language is poetic and better for intermediate-low and up, but the video would make for great discussion and narration for all levels. 

 

ICE El Hielo

 

The video shows vignettes of people living in the U.S.: two undocumented workers, an ICE official, and family members. A tough watch, but perfect for storytelling. The lyrics tell a different story than the video, and with a little help are very comprehensible. 

 

You can use my slides with text to introduce the video (told for novices):

 

Kara Jacobs also has a immigration songs pack that weaves the characters in the story and video together, plus some excellent follow-up activities. I love the idea of telling the story before watching the song. 

Dos Patrias

 

Although Dos Patrias isn’t necessarily my favorite, I think it’s important to give a well-rounded look at things. There are so many powerful songs about the undocumented experience, but we don’t want to paint all stories with the same brush. Here we have a family who came with documents, and the father becomes a citizen. The song describes his struggle between identities, and the difference between his experience and that of his children. 

Readings on Immigration

 

Below you can find links to articles and text that are immigration-related.

Learner Texts

 

  • Newsela has an entire text set on Immigration in the U.S., which you can select in Spanish and then adjust the level of difficulty. You have to create a free account to join, but there is a LOT of comprehensible material here. 

 

 

  • Foto Historias feature true stories told by immigrants, and easily searchable by theme. Though they’re not created for learners, the language is easier and easily adapted as an embedding reading. 

 

Authentic Texts

 

  • Enrique’s Journey is a six-part bilingual series by the Los Angeles Times on a boy’s journey from Honduras to the U.S. 

 

 

 

Films on immigration

 

Again, so many to choose from. Here are my top picks, and of course be sure to preview.

Movies

 

Which Way Home (1h 30min)

This documentary follows the lives of several children as they make the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. This is a very powerful movie that conveys a difficult reality, and will need to be previewed for sure. (Free lesson plans available here.)

Themes: Immigration, poverty, Central America and Mexico.

Bajo la misma luna (PG-13, 1h 46min)

A young boy and his mother are separated when she leaves him behind in Mexico to go work in the U.S. He leaves his family and tries to cross the border to find her. This is one of my favorites– difficult themes, but beautifully done and very touching. This would work as well for most 8th graders. 

Themes: Immigration, family, heartwarming/wrenching.

Living on One Dollar (56min)

Four friends leave the U.S. and plan to live on $1 per day in Guatemala. Although this film can reinforce the common storyline of interpreting poverty and Latin America only through the eyes of foreigners, it can be a powerful way for students to see outside their everyday lives. (Currently on Netflix.)

Themes: Central America, travel, social justice, poverty.

Entre nos (NR, 1h 20min)

A Colombian mother travels New York with her two children, only to be abandoned by her husband once there. She must improvise and find a way to survive on her own, by collecting cans in the city trash.

Themes: Colombia, immigration, family, inspirational. 

La ciudad (NR, 1h 28min)

Four touching stories about living in New York in the Latin American community, and how immigrants make their way there.

Themes: Immigration, employment, social justice. 

Videos

 

 

 

Immigrant Archive Project:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Immigration in Spanish Class

 

 

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Immigration in Spanish Class

Welcome

Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

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