Using the students' native languages


The Student's Native Language, such as Spanish, is a valuable tool to learn English.

I teach English to Spanish speaking adults and use texts which I have written and which are bilingual. All the students receive photocopies of my texts.

My first text - Basic Vocabulary - was bilingual and was originally  written like this:

apple - manzana

cheese - queso

cucumber - pepino



Well,  during one class we were studying the vocabulary for the house, and 

I needed to step outside the classroom for a few minutes.

When I came back, I noticed two students sitting together reviewing the vocabulary. One student had written notes in his text like this:

table - tablei - teibal - mesa

And he was teaching the other student.

He said in Spanish: mesa is spelled like this: tablei; and it is  pronounced like this: teibal.

I said to myself: That's it!!!!! That's the way to do it!!!

You see, I was very concerned about helping the students learn how to pronounce English because everybody had trouble with it. To me it was like learning how to roll my RRs times 25!! Note: it took me a month to learn how to roll my RRs.

So the next day I started to add a phonetic spelling to the text, which I took to class and showed to some students to see if it was helpful. The final draft became the text I now use.


What is the lesson here? First, teachers should observe the students and see what helps them the most when learning English. 

And find ways to use Spanish to help students learn English, like showing them a list of Cognates.


Hello Paul and all, You make an excellent point, Paul, and I couldn't agree more. You wrote,, "What is the lesson here? First, teachers should observe the students and see what helps them the most when learning English."

I recall reading a fascinating book by Tomás Mario Kalmar, Illegal Alphabets, in which the author describes a similar experience when he was working with Spanish-speaking English learners. These learners created their own system using Spanish sounds to help them with English pronunciation just as yours were doing. I've observed learners who come from various language backgrounds doing exactly the same thing. What's more, when I'm learning a new language, I also employ this technique.

Kalmar, T. M. (2001). Illegal alphabets and adult biliteracy:  Latino migrants crossing the linguistic border. Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Members, you are invited to weigh in on this valuable point!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP