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When is it Appropriate to Use English?

As part of the best practices for implementing the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum, we recommend that the instructor speaks Spanish a minimum of 90% of the time in class. In recommending this, we are following guidelines set forth by ACTFL. The structure and design of the Sonrisas lessons makes this goal possible. All of the activities, songs, stories, and art projects employ visuals, props, gestures, body movement, modeling, routine, and repetitive language to make the Spanish you use in your elementary Spanish class comprehensible to your students. One of the most frequent questions we are asked is, “When is it appropriate to use English?” For the long answer, you can read our three part blog series on using Spanish consistently in your class. The short answer is this:

When you are doing something new (a new lesson activity, a new class routine, etc.) it is appropriate to give a brief explanation of what is going to happen in English. Then, you can go ahead and do the actual activity in Spanish. For example, every lesson plan in the Sonrisas curriculum starts with a greeting and roll call. For a new class you can explain what is going to happen in roll call. You can say, “Everyday in Spanish class I want to see who is here, so I am going to take roll. I am going to ask you, ‘¿Dónde estás?’ You can answer by saying, ‘Aquí’ or ‘Estoy aquí’ or ‘Presente’ or by raising your hand.” After this explanation you can then take roll in Spanish. If you get a blank stare from a student after asking “¿Dónde estás?”, you can simply say the answer for her in Spanish. This type of brief explanation in English can be used for any new activity—the important thing is to then stay in Spanish when you are doing the actual activity.

What you want to avoid is direct translation—saying something in Spanish and then immediately translating it to English. When this is done students learn to tune out the Spanish because they know that the English is coming. We frequently mention in trainings and in the introduction to our teachers manuals that establishing a consistent routine in your class goes a long way toward achieving the goal of staying in Spanish at least 90% of the time. If you implement the Sonrisas Spanish lessons effectively, you’ll find there’s little need for English. Students will be more motivated to learn Spanish when they see, through your example, that speaking Spanish is fun and useful.

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