Teaching Spanish in the USA

Kyle Shrader

History of the Spanish Language
Spanish, a language that was born from Latin, is one of the Romantic languages that is thought to have developed in Northern Spain. The Spanish language then expanded south and throughout Europe through the Reconquista and the Diaspora, starting in 1492, which spread Spanish throughout the world. Spanish began to flourish in the Americas due to the Spanish criollos, people of Spanish heritage, and the mixed race Spanish-American mestizos. After the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico, a Spanish speaking country, became an official territory of the United States, and America saw over a million Puerto Ricans immigrate into the mainland. Along with the immigration of Puerto Ricans into America, other countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic had immigrants on the move to America. With this rush of Spanish speaking individuals coming to the United States, we saw the beginning of Spanish expanding through America. Nowadays, Spanish is the most commonly taught foreign language to our American children. (3)
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Facts About Spanish in American Schools
  • Spanish is the language with the strongest current enrollment at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. (2)
  • Spanish accounts for 64.5% of all enrollments with courses, for heritage speakers accounting for a small 9% but a growing segment of these enrollments. (2)



Methodology of Teaching Spanish

There are many different ways to approach teaching a new language to English speaking students whether they are in high school or college. Over the last decade, the Modern Language Association (MLA) has worked on studying professors teaching methods. The MLA found that there are four main tactics: natural method, reading method, emphasis on oral language, and language study. (1) The natural method is when a student is placed in a Spanish culture, such as studying abroad in Spain, to naturally pick up on the language. The reading method consists on reading spanish sentences and understanding the translation between the two languages. The emphasis on oral language is when the teacher focuses on the students participating in communication exercises with them and their peers. Finally, language study is the study of the language's culture and history. We have found that sending our students away to a Spanish speaking country is the most efficient and fastest way to turn our native English speaking students into bilingual Americans. While study abroad programs are the best ways to learn Spanish through American schools, the other teaching tactics mentioned above are necessary. (1)
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Spanish Taught as a Heritage Language

A "heritage learner" is a person who comes to America from a different country, and is enrolled in a class that is specific for non-English speakers to learn about their first language. Usually in secondary education, children of Spanish-decent come to America and are enrolled in the same Spanish class the native English speaking students are, which is not an effective learning situation. Not only is the placement of these students amongst English speakers ineffective, the teachers do not know how to teach a heritage learner properly, because the student usually speaks Spanglish, a contact language the teacher is not used to dealing with. We recognize that this is not the most effective way to teach these students, but have not yet enacted on changing our curriculum, "Unfortunately, although there has been a growing interest in the teaching of commonly and uncommonly taught languages to students known as 'heritage' learners, we have little information about practices currently in use in the teaching of such non-traditional students that have been found to be effective in developing and maintaining such languages". (2) The continuous flow of immigrants into America is keeping the Spanish language alive, because America is showing an increasing dominance in the English language. Many families lose the Spanish language in the family by the third generation because being a Spanish speaker in America can come with negative connotations, and Spanish speaking immigrants do not want their children to be discriminated against. One of the main topics taught in heritage language classes and even regular language classes, is the preservation of the language and its culture. The curriculum for both regular and heritage Spanish classes consists of four main objectives: 1) The acquisition of a standard dialect. 2) The transfer of reading and writing ability across languages. 3) the expansion of bilingual range. 4) The maintenance of immigrant and other heritage language. The curriculum in America's Spanish classrooms are designed to keep both the language and culture of Spanish flourishing in today's society. (2)
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References

An article on Spanglish in the United States
An article on English as Second Language Education
An article on the impact of Spanish culture: Dia de los Muertos in the US

1. http://www.jstor.org/stable/346278?seq=2
2. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20063620?seq=2
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Spanish