Teaching in Spanish 100% of the Time

Teaching in Spanish can be very challenging for many bilingual educators. We have all been in situations where the kids are crying or giving you blank stares or your brain is drawing a blank and you can’t think of what to say… Wouldn’t be so easy if you just spoke in English?? NO!! Don’t do it. 

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see bilingual and immersion educators committing, not speaking in the target language at the correct time. It can be difficult to do but it yields great rewards if you are able to teach in Spanish without code-switching and follow your programs bilingual, dual or immersion model. Your persistence to stay in the target language will pay off sooner than you think.

If you feel comfortable with speaking in Spanish (or your target language) all day then soon your students will too. If you do not show them that it is important to speak Spanish they will continue to be distressed and unwilling to learn. Don’t translate everything or they will start to expect it and not listen to the Spanish if they know you will soon say it in English.

Here are a few tips and ideas to help you stay in the target language one hundred percent of the time.
1. Have a well-established schedule:
It is important for students to know what is coming up next or going on throughout the day. They will learn the routine, what goes ons on during that time, and common phrases or words and be able to predict what is happening or what will happen next. Do it in the exact same order EVERY DAY.

2.Have well-established routines:
Have a routine for sitting down, lining up, getting books, putting things away, morning meeting, math center, etc. If everything is done the same way everytime you and students will feel less stressed. I even say the same things— it is boring me, but kids are able to predict what is happening and what they are supposed to do.

3. Keep it simple: As adults, we tend to speak more than necessary. In order for your students to use the target language and feel successful, you need to keep it simple. Your oral directions need to be short, your lessons need to be short and simple. For example: “Primero: leer. Segundo: escribir.” Don’t launch into 2-3 mins. of instructions or your students will feel very overwhelmed and begin to shut down. Keep your lessons simple. Don’t babble on about math word problems, using adjectives or whatever. Think about it like stating things in a list— get your point across with as few words as possible.

4. Use visuals, model, repetition and gestures:
It is very important to use visuals, show students what you want, make gestures, use cognates, model what they are going to do, point, and do anything else that instantly increases their understanding of what you are teaching. You could have visual routines, anchor charts, sentence stems, picture cards, chants, songs, etc. to help you stay in the target language and help your students feel comfortable and that they do understand and are hearing. Say things more than once.  Have a student repeat back the directions.

5. Bilingual Pairs: If you are in a dual language setting and have a similar amount of both native Spanish and native English speakers try to pair them together. They can help each other out when they do not understand or need clarification about instructions, a lesson or what is going on.

6. Give yourself and student’s strategies on how to speak in the target language
I don’t know everything— in my native language or my second language. I make mistakes and learn new things each day. In the classroom, it is important to model to your students what you do when you do not know or forget a word….

– Use a dictionary: If a student ask me a word I don’t know– I say ‘I don’t know— let’s look it up… and I walk with them to my computer and use wordreference.com to look up the word.

– Ask a friend: Ask a friend before asking the teacher. Often times other students know the word and can help their classmate out.

– Think of a different way to say it and lastly: Circumlocution is a language learners best friend—I can’t think of the word half the time but I can describe it. I explain this concept to my students when we are writing.

Example: If I don’t remember the word for ‘pizza’. I could explain that it is a food, that is round, and has cheese, sauce, and pepperoni and you can buy it at Dominoes. I don’t need to say the word ‘pizza’ to make someone understand what I am talking about.

Teach them when and how to ask for something translated. I limit it to one word of phrase. If I need more clarification than I ask. Explicitly teach your students to say: ¿Cómo se dice __________ en español?  or ¿Cómo se dice __________ en inglés?

Don’t just say speak in Spanish to your students. Give them the prompts, words, and phrases they need to participate in each part of the day.

One way to give your students the opportunity to speak during the morning meeting, I don’t say— Share something you did this weekend. I use a sentence stem and model—Yo fui a ______. then I give examples: Yo fui a McDonalds. Yo fui a Target. Yo fui a Houston. Yo fui a la casa de mi abuela. etc. The students need that strict language structure to be successful. If that is too easy add-on days– El domingo, yo fui… etc. Do the same every day in the morning meeting with common sentence stems.

7. Comprehensible Input: If the level of language you are using in class, is at your student’s level, then they will start to understand. Use a combination of simple Spanish, visuals, gesture and a strict daily routine to increase their comprehension. If they are confused, crying or giving you a blank stare— SLOW DOWN, use gestures or visuals or model exactly what you want. It is important to make them feel successful in the target language. Encourage them to try and tell them mistakes or welcome and expected when learning another language.

8. Give your parents tips on what to ask students about their day: Encourage parents to ask students about their language learning— but not having them translate. Have kids tell their parents one new word they learned today in Spanish or the TL.

If you use some of these strategies, you will feel less stressed and be able to stick to teaching and speaking in your school’s target language one hundred percent of the time. Did I miss anything? What other strategies do you use to stay in the target language while teaching?

Did you like this article? Sign up for our email list to receive tips and free Spanish resources.