Challenges for Spanish-Speaking ELLs

With 21 Spanish-speaking countries worldwide, most of these located in the western hemisphere, it is not surprising that the majority of English Language Learners (ELLS) in the United States are Spanish-speaking. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 71% of ELLs indicated Spanish as their home language. Like all other language learners, Spanish speakers encounter linguistic barriers. However, there are notable challenges specific to Spanish speakers, such as adjective and noun placement. Teachers should be aware of misconceptions and mistakes among Spanish speakers in order to adjust English language arts instruction accordingly and adequately teach Spanish-speaking English Language Learners. VocabularySpellingCity recognizes educators’ need to be informed and has detailed five common challenges of Spanish-speaking ELLs. Supplemental learning games and activities are featured to assist with each challenge.


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Unique Challenges of Teaching Spanish-Speaking English Language Learners

Fewer Vowel Phonemes

  • There are five pure vowels sounds in the Spanish language compared to twelve pure vowel sounds in English, which include short and long vowels. Unlike Spanish vowels, the length of English vowel sounds is an important factor in learning the language. For example, “taught” and “tot” may have the same vowel sound but the length of the vowel sound differs. VocabularySpellingCity offers word lists to use to introduce, practice and review words with short and long vowel patterns. The audio and visual features in the learning game Sound It Out! helps students understand the relationship between phonemes (letter sounds) and graphemes (sound spelling). With Sound It Out!, Spanish-speaking ELL students will learn to differentiate English vowels and their sounds.

Fewer Consonant Phonemes

  • Spanish has fewer consonant phonemes than English; Spanish has 18, while English has 26. The Spanish “b” and “v” sound alike, /b/, as do the Spanish “s” and “z”, /s/. Therefore, Spanish-speaking ELLs may have difficulties in pronouncing the English “z” and “v” in words like “zebra” or “very” as these phonemes are not present in the Spanish language. Students can familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar phonemes through the use of VocabularySpellingCity’s b/v and s/z word lists. Pair these lists with Which Initial Sound?, and provide Spanish-speaking ELLs practice with identifying same initial sounds.

Adjective and Noun Placement

  • In English, the adjective comes before the noun, for example “the red shirt”. Spanish flips the order, placing the noun first, followed by the adjective, “la camisa roja”. When teaching Spanish-speaking English Language Learners, you may notice they apply Spanish adjective and noun placement to the English language and say “the shirt red”. In addition, Spanish considers adjective and noun agreement. Adjectives are modified to fit with the gender and number of the noun, such as “las gatas negras”. The adjective reflects that there are several female cats. Using the English language, one would simply state, “the black cats”. With VocabularySpellingCity, teachers can assign adjective word lists. Lists can be paired with Sentence Unscramble, which provides students the opportunity to hear appropriate English adjective and noun placement. The game even allows ELL students to practice word placement. Sentences are scrambled and students are asked to arrange the words in the correct order. When unscrambling, words are read aloud and immediate feedback is provided. Also, all words are placed in contextually rich sentences so ELL students hear proper noun/adjective and noun/verb agreement in every game they play.

Subject Omission

  • Spanish-speakers may be accustomed to omitting the subject of the sentence. In Spanish, the subject is not necessary, as the conjugated verb provides such information. For example, “comes comida” is understood as “you eat food” even though the subject “tu” has been removed. Spanish-speaking ELLs might mistakenly remove the subject and say “eat food”. English requires that the subject be stated in order to form a complete sentence. VocabularySpellingCity offers several interactive games and activities that expose ELLs to accurate sentence structure. Use the pronoun word list with FlashCards so students can hear each word used in a contextually-rich sentence.

False Friends

  • Cognates are a key tool in bridging the gap between Spanish and English, A cognate is a word that has the same derivation in a different language resulting in similar pronunciation and meaning. Up to 30-40% of words in English have a relative word in Spanish. ELL students may depend on the use of cognates to construct meaning, however, students should be cautious. “False friends” exist and may puzzle ELLs. False friends are a pair of words in two different languages that may look or sound the same, but differ in meaning. For example, the Spanish word “sopa” sounds and looks like the English word “soap”, but taking a bath with a bar of “sopa” would prove to be difficult. “Sopa” in Spanish means soup; “jabón” means soap. Increased exposure to cognate vocabulary words is proven to enhance ELLs’ ability in mastering the English language. VocabularySpellingCity provides a Spanish cognate word list to avoid any false friend confusion. The engaging game WhichWord? Definitions is perfect for cognate practice. Students can match the cognate to the correct definition. Both the word and the definition are read aloud.