8 Tips for Teaching English to Spanish Speakers

Get some expert tips for teaching English to native Spanish speakers from Courtney Yarsley, CEO of BE (Beyond English), a Chilean-U.S. educational company pioneering new approaches to language learning. 

Teaching English to Spanish speakers es una experiencia fantastica! But have you ever thought about why? Native Spanish speakers come from countries across the globe and bring diverse cultures, perspectives, and experiences. From Santiago, Chile, to Salamanca, Spain, tens of millions of native Spanish speakers seek to enhance their educational, professional, and personal opportunities by learning English, creating enormous demand for qualified English instructors.   

While they come from different countries with different cultures and backgrounds, Spanish speakers learning English share many similaridades as learners. Most notably, many possess an extensive list of existing English vocabulary that you can use as an English teacher to build confidence, create connections and set your students up for success. At BE, we have over 15 years of experience teaching English to Spanish speakers in Chile. Read on to learn more about our top tips for speaking English to Spanish speakersSantaigo-Chile-Teachers

1. Learn a little español!

It’s hard to learn a new language, especially when you’re afraid of sounding silly or making an awkward mistake. While you often want to expose your students to English as much as possible, speaking a little Spanish to them – even just in small talk - will show them you can relate to their journey and help build rapport. They’ll also appreciate your vulnerability and take notice that making mistakes is okay and part of the process!

In addition, if you are teaching English in a Spanish-speaking nation in Latin America or in Spain itself, learning Spanish will definitely help you in your daily life with getting around, shopping, making new friends, and gaining insights into local history and culture.

Also, if you seek to recruit private students to tutor, learning some Spanish can prove invaluable for marketing yourself and setting up lessons with potential students.

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2. Do Your Research & Share Your Story

Spanish speakers come from many different countries worldwide, each with their unique culture, dialect, history, and culinary traditions. Do your best to learn more about your students’ heritage and be open to sharing facts about yourself. This will help you build relationships, understand your student’s goals, and foster intercultural exchange.

Many foreign English teachers bring personal photos or perhaps even souvenirs when they move abroad to teach to share with students. Many of your students will likely be curious about your background, your family, and where you come from. If you’re comfortable speaking about such matters, they can be great points to spark discussion and will also make you more relatable to your students and vice versa.

3. Validate That They Know More Than They Realize

Spanish-speaking students often know way more English than they realize! In fact, about 30-40% of English words have a similar word in Spanish. Use these cognates in class to build students’ confidence and to show them they’re already ahead of the game. Remember it is importante to celebrar their knowledge and encourage them to use it and build on it. 

Teaching English in Latin America

4. But wait! Warn Them of False Friends.

Many words that look very similar in English and Spanish are actually false cognates, or “false friends.”  It may seem like they would mean the same thing in both languages, but they don't. Becoming familiar some primary examples will not only help your teaching skills, but will make learning Spanish easier for you. For example: 

  1. Éxito ≠ exit (success)
  2. Ropa ≠ rope (clothes)
  3. Embarazado ≠ embarrassed (pregnant)
  4. Deportes ≠ deport (sports)
  5. Sopa ≠ soap (soup)
  6. Gracioso ≠ gracious (funny)
  7. Enviar ≠ envy (send)
  8. Delito ≠ delight (crime)
  9. Caro ≠ car (expensive)
  10. Terrorifico ≠ terrifying (terrific)
  11. Mayor ≠ mayor (older)
  12. Pan ≠ pan (bread)

5. So why is the “s” in “island” silent?!

Spanish has fixed pronunciation, meaning the vowels always make the same sounds. As an English teacher, you are probably well aware that in English, pronunciation can feel like the Wild Wild West! Teach your students English pronunciation rules (the silent “e” creates long vowel sounds, as in “care” and “spare”) and common patterns. This will give students a strong foundation. Finally, remind students that because of the many exceptions to the rules, everyone has a hard time at the beginning and the best way to learn is by speaking and making mistakes!

How to teach English to Spanish Speakers

6. Take a Look in the Mirror!

One of the trickiest parts about learning English is that some English sounds do not exist in Spanish at all (“th” for example). When teaching words with new sounds, have students practice speaking in front of a mirror to watch the way their mouth and tongue move.


7. "I have tired.  She drives a car blue."

Because of the similarities between the two languages, students may have a tendency to directly translate…but directly translating can lead to common errors!  You may hear things like “I am agree” instead of “I agree”. This comes from the Spanish phrase “Estoy de acuerdo” → Literally translated is, “I am of agreement”.  Try to notice common errors and work to find the root cause of those mistakes - it’s likely a misconception stemming from a Spanish grammar structure. For example, the order of adjectives & nouns is switched, and subjects are often omitted in Spanish. 


8. Bye-bye, vergüenza

We repeat this daily to our students! Chao, embarrassment (vergüenza)! Students often have negative associations with learning English from school. There can be fear or shame about sounding silly, getting something wrong, or mispronouncing words in front of others. They may not have had a lot of opportunities to actually speak the language, so encourage them to just go for it and remind them that mistakes are essential for improvement.

Okay! You’re ready for your next class with a Spanish speaker! As an EdTech that teaches English to Chilean students, these are just a few of the tips we have learned along the way. Find out more about our methodology and what we love about teaching Spanish-speaking students by visiting the BE website and Instagram.


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