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Spanish Second Language Acquisition

written by: R. H. • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Successful second language acquisition is the goal of every Spanish teacher in the classroom. But what is the methodology behind successfully acquiring a new language? This article offers tips on how to help students learn Spanish by lowering stress and offering accessible language input.

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    How Does Second Language Acquisition Happen Best?

    There is an important difference between acquiring and learning a new language. Language acquisition describes a situation where the learner is engaged in interactions with native speakers of the target language (the language he or she wishes to learn), and by focusing on communication, begins to be able to use and understand the language. Thus, acquisition differs greatly from formal learning.

    A learner will acquire a new language more quickly and more successfully when he is at ease in the situation; if he feels stressed, he will not be as able to absorb and utilize the language that is being spoken around him. Also, he will be best able to progress in the language if he is given language data that is just at his level of comprehension, plus a little bit beyond.

    So, second language acquisition (of Spanish and of any other language) happens most quickly when a learner is put in a low-stress communicative context where the information being given is just a step beyond what he can comprehend. In this context, he is able to listen, process, absorb and learn the language.

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    Creating a Classroom Environment for the Second Language Acquisition of Spanish

    As a teacher, you can create a positive and effective environment for Spanish second language acquisition. Begin by being intentional about having fun activities that put students at ease, activities that help students put down their guard and enjoy the Spanish language-learning experience rather than feel nervous. In addition to choosing activities that reduce stress and self-consciousness for your students, make sure that the material being presented is not too far beyond their current Spanish language ability. If there are Spanish words they recognize, combined with some new words, they will be able to tackle the new material without feeling completely overwhelmed.

    Here is an example of an activity that will aid students in Spanish second language acquisition. To put students at ease, invite two native Spanish speakers to present the class with a dialogue surrounding a communicative situation. Make sure that the content of the dialogue is just slightly above the students' current level.

    For example, one native speaker in the dialogue could play a waiter, while the other could play a person going to a restaurant. The dialogue may include simple phrases that your students already recognize, such as "Buenos días," but may progress to more difficult structures, phrases or sentences that the students have not encountered, such as verb forms used to order food, as well as filler words that only pop up in natural conversational settings.

    Once the dialogue has finished, have the speakers re-enact it, asking students to note new words they hear. Then, give students the opportunity to guess the meaning of those words from context. Finally, do a vocabulary building activity that involves matching new vocabulary words with items or pictures of those items. Eventually, over the course of several class days, work up to teaching the students key phrases involved in the restaurant scenario and encouraging them to act out the scenario with one another. With hands-on, fun activities such as this, your students will progress in acquiring the Spanish language and will be able to use it in very practical, everyday ways.