Teaching strategies from language assistance programs and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs to dual or bilingual education programs seek to build English language proficiency. But even if you’re not an ESL or bilingual teacher, you can accelerate English-language learning too. Growing your language skills in Spanish or another language can help you bridge learning gaps for your non-native English-speaking students.
10.4% or 5.1 million public school students were English learners in 2019, according to NCES statistics. The same 2019 NCES education statistics reveal that Spanish is the most prevalent language spoken by ESL students (about 3.6 million), followed by Chinese (about 77,000), making them the top languages to learn depending on where you teach.
Understanding the challenges of learning a language can help you better support ESL students and build their English proficiency. Since Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S., we’ll provide 8 tips for learning Spanish (or any other language you’d like to learn).
8 Tips for Language Learning
- Be open to not understanding everything
Immersing yourself in the language is key to developing fluency. You don’t necessarily have to travel to a country to engross yourself in a language, but it’s a great reward and incentive for starting a new language.
You can start immersing yourself in your new language even before you embark on any travels by rewatching some of your favorite shows that you already know with audio from the language you’re learning. Sometimes putting on English language subtitles can help you pick up new vocabulary. You can even put on subtitles in your new language to improve your reading comprehension and make sure you heard phrases correctly as you build fluency.
Don’t just consume video – consume all types of media.
The more opportunities you give yourself to hear your new language, the easier it will come to you. Search out foreign language radio station online, audio books, podcasts, or language learning apps. You’re unlikely to understand much at all at the beginning and that can be frustrating, but initially you’ll develop an ear for the language and your pronunciation will be much better from the start. When you first being listening, carve out at least 5-10 minutes a day for listening. At first you’ll just be listening to the rhythm of the language, and slowly over time as you build your vocabulary, you’re listening will become more active as you pick out individual words and then phrases you’ve been studying until you start understanding entire conversations!
2. Find a language learning buddy
Find every opportunity you have to speak your new language. Ideally, find a native speaker or someone with near-native proficiency to converse with, and you’ll accelerate your learning. Why not connect with a bilingual teacher at your school? Maybe some of your colleagues might want to start language learning lunches. Finding a study buddy who is also learning the language is beneficial to developing fluency.
Also, be bold and speak your new language whenever you have the opportunity. If you’re learning Spanish, you’ll have many opportunities to practice. Start by frequenting a local Mexican restaurant, grocery, or even bakery to start having short conversations about your purchases. You’ll find many of the people you speak to appreciate your language learning efforts, especially if English is their second language, as they will understand the challenges of language learning.
Can you imagine how excited your Spanish-speaking English Language Learners will be if you can connect with them daily using a little bit of Spanish? Start by welcoming them (buenos días/buenos tardes), telling them good job (buen trabajo), and good bye (adios). You could even teach your class new Spanish words or phrases each day or week to create a more open, enriched learning environment for everyone. Plus, this will incentivize you to keep learning each week.
3. Read kids’ books
Bilingual books with English and Spanish translations can save you time researching definitions in a dictionary, but there is an easier way to start. Start building your language fluency by reading children’s books.
You didn’t start learning how to read in your native language by reading high literature, so you can’t expect to learn a new language by jumping into adult literature either. Children’s books will reinforce basic grammar, providing you with building blocks to read chapter books and longer novels. The options are bountiful — consider books you know well from your childhood, new books translated into Spanish, or even books from native Spanish-speaking authors that may offer more cultural lessons and insights.
4. Set language learning goals
Consistent practice is essential to build fluency. Language learning takes time. Set goals for how often you’ll devote time to learning each week. Doing so will give you direction even when you don’t feel like you’re making much progress. Plus, dreaming about future travel can be a good motivator.
5. Grammar really is your best friend
Grammar can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. Find a comprehensive grammar primer book for a Spanish 101 class. Ask a Spanish teacher at your school for a recommendation on a good grammar book. Since your colleagues have already vetted textbooks, you may as well reap the benefits. Going through structured learning will give you a strong language foundation to speak accurately and confidently.
Studying grammar doesn’t mean that you’ll be stuck memorizing vocabulary and studying from flashcards all the time. Enrich your study by learning vocabulary in context. Find online articles or local newspapers to read, study, mark up, and reread to absorb new phrases and vocabulary. Each time you read look up the meaning of new words and phrases and write them on the article, then give it a rest and read it again another day. By rereading and studying the content, you’ll pick up on more and more of the content while reinforcing words, sentences, and phrases you already understand. As you advance in your studies, try to figure out words in context before looking up the word, once you have a possible meaning for an unknown word, then find the exact definition. You’ll find learning vocabulary in context feels more natural and you’ll also be able to remember words better.
6. Study Common Words
Spanish has a lot of common ground with English. You can boost your vocabulary by studying common words or close cognates. You’ll find many word lists online if you search “common words” or “close cognates.”
Examples of common words
communication – comunicación
interesting – interesante
music – música
number – número
perfect – perfecto
7. Keep a language journal
Sometimes when you’re reading a book, you don’t want to be bogged down with finding definitions when you’re in the middle of reading. Keep a journal and mark down words you want to look up later. Do the same for phrases also.
8. Have fun!
Don’t forget that if you’re having fun, you’re more likely to stick with learning a language. Studying will be more rewarding and fun if you’re planning a vacation to a Spanish-speaking country. Why not learn the lyrics to Spanish-language songs from artists like Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, or the iconic Selena. Or, to impress your students, why not the lyrics to songs featured in Coco or Encanto?
Do you have a favorite language learning resource? Share with us in the comments below.