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Getting your students excited about Spanish

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the importance of instilling a sense of excitement in students about learning Spanish (or any second language for that matter.) In any subject our jobs as teachers are going to be much easier if our students are excited about what they are learning. In fact, if our students are not excited about what they are learning, then we end up like Sisyphus endlessy pursuing our task with no results. So how can we instill an excitement for foreign language learning in our students?

First and foremost is the teacher’s attitude. Hopefully, if you are a foreign language teacher, there is something about the language you are teaching that resonates with you and sparks some excitement in you. If you are a native speaker, then hopefully you have some inherent enthusiasm about passing on your native language to second language learners. When I think about my own experience with Spanish, I realize that I really get a lot of joy out of speaking, listening to, and comprehending the language. I enjoy the different sounds of Spanish, the different things you have to do with your mouth, the different expressions, the different gestures, and the different language constructs. It really is fun. When I share my enthusiasm with my students, it is infectious. I share it through the way I talk to them in Spanish, through the way I read Spanish stories, and through the way I have fun with the language. If I am excited about Spanish, then my students acquire this excitement naturally.

There are many obvious practical advantages to learning a second language. Some of them, such as higher test scores and increased cognitive ability in certain subject areas, are not always relevant to convey to your students. But one advantage I have always felt that children understand is how learning a second language can help you make new friends. I always tell my students, “If you meet someone that doesn’t speak English, and you can speak Spanish with them, then you can make a new friend.” Kids get this. (A great book that conveys this message is Margarita y Margaret by Lynn Reiser.) You can also convey the wonder of having a whole world opened up to you when you know a second language. You can talk about traveling to other countries and being able to speak to the people there. Presented in a context of fun and adventure, this idea can really get children excited about learning a foreign language.

Teaching culture and its connections to your community and the children in your class can also get kids excited about learning a foreign language. We are a multi-cultural society, and most schools have students from various cultures. I have never seen a kid fail to get excited about the prospect of being able to talk to his grandparents or other family members in their native language. You can use those students as catalysts to pump up your class about learning different languages. When you teach culture and students begin to value other cultures, they get excited about learning the languages of those cultures.

Probably the easiest way to get your students excited about learning foreign language is simply to make your class fun. This may seem obvious, but I have heard a lot of stories about Spanish programs that failed because the students weren’t having fun in the class and hated it. Part of our mission at Sonrisas Spanish School is to provide a positive foreign language learning experience for students. We achieve this by making our curriculum and our classes fun. Singing, dancing, games, poetry, stories, and art projects all help to make our classes diverse and fun. If our students are having fun the whole time, they are almost unaware of learning the language. They engage in language learning activities with excitement. The excitement opens their minds, and they are able to acquire the language and achieve the communication objectives with ease. When they go home and tell their parents, “Spanish class is fun!,” then we know that, unlike Sisyphus destined to never achieve his goal, half of our job is done, and we can achieve the rest easily because our students are excited about learning Spanish.

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