child's written spanish words on paper

by Wendy V. Ash

It almost never fails. I will walk into one of my older grades to begin Spanish class. As I’m reciting words and phrases for them to repeat, I will hear “How do you spell that?”. I look out in the class to see the more studious students, pen in hand ready to anxiously write down a list of these words.

I reply “How do you THINK you spell it? THAT’S the way I want you to spell it”. Now, please do not misunderstand, I would never promote misspelling a word unless there were a valuable point to it. The valuable point being: Write It Right. Read It Wrong.

I often tell my students how they need to fight their “English Brain”. What I mean by that is as a non-native speaker, when anybody comes upon a Spanish word they go to their library of English phonetics to try and pronounce a Spanish word. This is a result of not physically speaking the words until they become second nature. Unfortunately, when learning a second language, the older we are, the more hard-wired we become to do this. I tell my older students they have quite the uphill battle and must try that much more.

This is why I incorporate my bilingual books in the very last lesson of a unit. Students have repeatedly heard how the words sound, so when they read them in context, they read them with their “Spanish Brain”. I will line them up in the front of the class and have them each read a page. While I don’t traditionally “test”, this is one of my many oral assessments I do to gauge a child’s progress. I carefully listen and watch as they approach a word that we covered in our unit. It’s always a wonderful thing to see them pronounce it flawlessly. It’s also a wondrous thing to see their look of discovery as they lay their eyes for the first time on a word they have been saying for weeks. Lastly, it is wonderful to see that each student is reading Spanish to their class, which is difficult enough to do in their native language. They learn to embrace their mistakes and I make sure they don’t apologize for having made a mistake.

My new rule is to have the students, if they must write, write the phonetic pronunciation followed by the correct spelling. As controversial as this might seem to some, this is what we did as small children with our native language (though you may not remember). Yet, somehow we managed to turn out okay and go on to write it, read it, and speak it right.

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