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Spanish is part of the Indo-European family of Romance languages and is closely related to Italian and Portuguese. It is a major language with approximately 400 million native speakers worldwide. Spanish is spoken in Spain; South America (except Brazil and Guianas); Central America; Mexico; Cuba; Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic; Western Sahara; north Morocco; Equatorial Guinea; and some parts of America. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001) In 2004, 71.3% of English Language Learners in Florida spoke Spanish. (MacDonald, V., 2004)
II. Phonology (pronunciation)
Native speakers of Spanish sometimes have a hard time producing initial consonant clusters without using an extra vowel at the beginning because there are no initial clusters in the Spanish language. For example, because there is no initial cluster of /sp/ in the Spanish language, native speakers would probably say, "I espeak eSpanish." (Nasr, R.T., 1997)
For the most part, all vowels have a shorter pronunciation in Spanish than in English. Spanish only has five pure vowels and their length, unlike English vowels, is not a distinctive feature. Typically, at least two English vowels share the 'phonetic space' occupied by one Spanish vowel. This is seen in the difference between /i:/ and /I/ in English which correspond to the Spanish /i/, so meet and mitt, sheep and ship, etc. are easily confused. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
The letter /z/ does not exist in Spanish. English language learners use /s/ for /z/ therefore, lacy is said for both lacy and lazy, sip for both sip and zip, etc.. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
The Spanish language has a /b/ and /v/ allophone (two different versions of the same sound) and to an English speaking ear it sounds the same. The Spanish language adds friction to the /b/ sound which makes it sound similar to the /v/ sound. Therefore, the pronunciation of "Por favor" may sound like "Por fabor". (B/V Confusion in Spanish, 2011)
Spanish speakers also often pronounce a final "d" similar to an unvoiced "th". Additional pronunciation problems at the end of words are "d" and "t" as well as "thing"/"think" and sometimes "thing"/"thin" or even "ring" and "rim". This is because Spanish consonant sounds usually differ more by their position in a word than English consonants do. (Case, A., 2012)
The sample recording I used was from a 34 year-old male from Veracruz, Mexico. He began learning English at the age of 29. In the sample recording, the use of an intrusive vowel at the beginning of initial consonant clusters was repeated. Words that were changed include: Stella - eStella; spoons - espoon; snow - esnow; snack - esnack; small - esmall; snake - esnake; station - estation.
For Spanish speaking students having the "e" before "s-consonant cluster" difficulty described above, create a passage for students to read aloud, in which each sentence starts with a word beginning in an "s-consonant cluster". Prior to the students taking turns reading the passage aloud, help them practice for a minute by saying short words that start with an "s-consonant cluster" like "spit", "stick", and "spell". Pronounce the words along with the student, exaggerating the beginning "s" sound. This will help to create a new "muscle memory" that doesn't leave room for students to include the beginning "e" sound. (How do you teach adult EL students English pronunciation?, n.d.)
III. Morphology (word structure)
Spanish EL students tend to make morphological errors in their speech when they over generalize a morpheme such as plural "s". The Spanish speaker would say: "The deers are brown," instead of, "The deer are brown."
Spanish EL students also often have confusion with pluralizing adjectives. This is because in Spanish adjectives and the nouns they modify must agree in number, while in English, plural nouns are not modified by adjectives in plural. For example, a statement in Spanish would be "Carlos tiene los ojos azules.", which translates to "Carlos has got blues eyes." (Mingorance, Y, 2010)
The Spanish language does not have contracted verb forms and this can be a problem for EL students. They have problems in understanding will or would in: "I'll go to the store; they'd come with us" and construe them to mean "I go; they come", etc.. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
Spanish has high sound-to-spelling correspondence, so spelling in English is difficult for EL students. Spanish speakers often reduce double letters to single ones: " aple, diferent, necesary, etc.. and since they do not distinguish English phoneme contrasts, words can be confused, like: hoping / hopping, this / these, etc.. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
In writing, Spanish EL students are likely to not use capital first letters for days of the week, months, or national adjectives since they are not used in the Spanish language. Examples of this would be and EL student writing: tuesday, february, or english. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
Instructional activities for Spanish EL students to teach them the proper use of contractions in the English language are very important and can be a challenge. Teachers should review the use of contractions and make sure that students understand the difference between general contractions, such as "she's" for "she is" as well as informal contractions like "gonna" for "going to". Then explain the main exceptions to the rule like, you are unable to contract "will not" as "willn't". It would be "won't". Have students listen to audio recordings or a movie in English and have them write down all of the contractions they hear. Help students identify the words that are contracted and state the type of contractions used. (Latham, n.d.)
IV. Syntax / Grammar (word order and sentence structure)
In the Spanish language, subject-verb agreements do not always correspond to the statement. Due to this freer word order, EL students often put the emphasized word last in a sentence. For example: "Yesterday played very well the children." 1. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
In Spanish, adjectives and nouns usually come after the head noun. An EL student may write "I drive the car blue", instead of "I drive the blue car." (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
EL students often mix up the word order of questions such as "Marta has cooked the food" could be written as "Cooked the food has Marta?" This is because there is no set word order for questions in the Spanish language. (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
EL students also commonly put a rising "no" at the end of questions or statements. This is done in the Spanish language to urge agreement to any positive statement. It is common for them to say or write sentences like: "She has a job, no?" or You are going home tomorrow, no?" (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
Double and even sometimes triple negatives are standard in the Spanish language as they are viewed as reinforcing, rather than contradicting each other. This leads to EL students making the common errors of sentences like: "I don't have none" or "My son doesn't eat nothing." (Swan, M. and Smith, B., 2001)
As they say, practice makes perfect. For Spanish EL students, I would recommend repeated practice of word order. This can be done through worksheets, interactive programs on SmartBoards where they can manually manipulate the word order by touch, or even with the words in a sentence written on separate cards where the student can line them up in the correct order. The more they practice the precise placement of words in the English language, the easier it will come to them.
As previously mentioned, Spanish EL students face many challenges in learning the English language. The biggest challenge facing them is not only learning basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS), but also cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) so that they can proceed with content area learning. The longer it takes an EL student to master CALP, the further behind they will get in learning the required subjects in school, or if they are moved along in the school system, the less they will be able to retain and learn.
The pedagogical value of understanding Spanish EL students' predictable errors is that it provides educators with essential tools to help students learn. The more knowledgeable an educator is about the most common types of mistakes that EL students make, the more aware they are of the students' actual comprehension levels, and the better able they are to provide differentiated instruction to ensure success of the EL students. (Rico, 2012)