Getting Your Elementary or Middle School Aged Children Started Learning Spanish
Guest post by Debbie Annett
Author of Spanish for You! – A Simple, Effective, Affordable Curriculum for Grades 3-8
You CAN give the GIFT of language. Parent or teacher, Spanish speaker or not, YOU ARE
ABLE to accomplish more than just vocabulary learning with your elementary and middle
school students. It just takes knowing a little about the language learning process and how to
The Language Learning Process
Language learning takes time and practice, much like learning to play an instrument or a sport.
Becoming fluent takes many years, unless your student(s) is in an immersion situation where
he/she is using Spanish with Spanish speakers for several hours every day.
However, most parents would like their children to become fluent by the time they are adults.
This means that you have many years to accomplish the goal. So, get your students started in
elementary or middle school. You can work on things steadily, over time, in a non-stressful
If you are not a language teacher, knowing something basic about the language learning
process will help you should you decide to get started on your own. You can do this!
We can break language down into 2 elements, receptive and expressive. Receptive refers to
the language we receive and need to understand. That would be listening and reading.
Expressive refers to the language we express and use to make ourselves understood. That
would be speaking and writing.
When we first learn a language we learn the receptive piece. Think of babies learning their
first language. They come to understand all that they receive from those speaking around
them and slowly begin to express themselves. First they say words, then phrases, then more
over time. They learn the receptive piece first and then develop the expressive piece.
When teaching a language you want to provide students opportunities to read and listen, and
then slowly get them to write and speak. Their EXPRESSIVE language should be encouraged
first as words, then phrases, and then sentences.
And know this – speaking is the most difficult piece. Spoken fluency is the icing on the cake.
And that will come after many years of steady practice and study. YOU, as the parent or
teacher, are getting them started and preparing them for higher level learning in high
school and maybe college.
How to Do It
You know some basics about the language learning process. Now, how do you get started?
First, choose a curriculum/product that is:
1. easy to use – meaning it has a lesson guide or something you follow
2. can be used by a Spanish teacher or not, or for self-study
3. provides lots of audio, so you can hear what is in the book – important!
4. provides lots of self-checking practice
5. provides a variety of practice activities to develop listening, speaking, reading, and
6. provides opportunities to practice with others – this means the product can be used by
individuals AND has the flexibility to be used with others.
7. does more than just teach vocabulary and phrases. You do not want your student(s) to
just memorize some things. You want your student(s) to learn how the language works.
8. economical - this is not a must, BUT there are some good ones out there that provide all
the above and accomplish A LOT without the big price tag! (Ahem, Spanish for You! is one!)
Second, decide on your approach and schedule.
1. If your approach is to create a class or be teaching in a school, then decide how much
time you have each week to devote to Spanish and how much outside of class you want
students to practice. For example, you might schedule a class 1 hour each week with 4 days
of homework, 10-20 min. each day. OR one class for 1/2 hour a week with 2 to 4 days of
homework, 10-15 min. each day, etc.
2. If your approach is at home for self-study, then decide how much time you have each
week to devote to Spanish. You may schedule your efforts 20 minutes 3 times a week, OR 30
minutes twice a week, etc.
NO MATTER YOUR APPROACH WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THAT YOU KEEP IT STEADY.
If you “fall off the wagon” occasionally do not fret. Just pick back up and keep going. You want
to look at the big picture. If you have kept things going steadily 80% of the time, for example,
things will be fine. It is when you “fall off the wagon” most of the time that you may not get
(A side note – It is ok to take summers off, or holiday time off. You will not ruin your efforts. During
summers it helps to do a little review here and there, just to stimulate the brain and keep those
As you can see, it is VERY possible for you to begin your student(s) learning Spanish even if
you do not have experience with the language or teaching. You just need to know some
basics about the language learning process and how to do it. You just need to work steadily
over time. Do that, and you will have something of value.
If you would like to learn more about the Spanish for You! curriculum, please visit us at
I wish you all the best in your language learning efforts!