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by Wendy V. Ash

It’s that moment when I hold a blue object in front of the class and ask “Does anybody know how to say this color en Español?”. I wait, listen carefully and often I will hear it.

“Azzzzzzzzul”

There it is. The rookie mistake and proof that Spanish has not been taught as it should have been.

Everybody who is a Spanish speaker knows that the “z” in Spanish is pronounced as an “s”. In my case, having been raised to speak castellano, you will catch me pronouncing the “z” as a “th”. However, it is never pronounced as “zzzzz”.

When a child has been taught Spanish, this phenomenon occurs for two reasons. One is that children are being taught to read and write Spanish before speaking it. In this case, they will take their rules of pronunciation for English, and apply it to Spanish. The second reason is when well-meaning, English-speaking teachers will fold Spanish into their curriculum without knowing how to properly pronounce it. In both cases, once children become accustomed to these types of pronunciation, it is a difficult habit to break.

I remember when I first spoke Spanish and then I tried to write it. I remember it well, because now I see my six year old daughter doing it with her notes she writes to me. I will see “Te qyedo” (I love you) when its proper spelling is “Te quiero“. I do not immediately point out that it is spelled incorrectly, in fact, I take joy in that she is spelling it phonetically and enjoys Spanish enough to write me love notes in the language. She will learn as she continues to read Spanish books how these words are spelled since a large portion of grammar is acquired from reading.

I had initially thought that this path of learning was exclusive to my daughter from having me as her mother. However, a boy in one of my classes, who comes from an English-speaking home and who is younger than my daughter, hit a home run with this:

LiamPic

What is astounding is that although these words were vocalized in class and the class is encouraged to repeat it, he took the initiative to try to sound out the words of the body parts and write them. This is how we learned our first language, and this is how we must learn our second language if we want to succeed.

I try to teach our children that if they learn to speak first and acquire native pronunciation, they will be batting a thousand later in their Spanish education. There will be so much time later for them to learn to spell and conjugate. For now, let’s teach them to speak for the love of the game.

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