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Purposes of Letter Writing
In Spanish, there are two main reasons for writing a letter. The first would be a business letter as in when you are looking for a job or seeking the assistance of someone. The second would be a personal letter. Although the basic structure of the body remains similar to a letter written in English, there are some unique phrases that one must learn to write an appropriate letter in Spanish.
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Before you begin the writing of your letter, you must first make sure to include the date. Dates in Spanish are written with the day first, then the month, then the year. Do not include the month first, especially if writing the month numerically, as you could create confusion. For example, 2-10-2010 in Spanish is actually the second day of October, 2010 and not February 10th, 2010.
Next, in either the left or right hand corner you must include the name and address of the recipient. You should include your name and address with the title "Remite" or "remitente" as the sender.
Regardless of the audience, you must include a greeting in your letter. If your letter is a formal one you can begin by using the following phrase: Estimado(a) ______. This literally translates as 'Esteemed _______.' You could also use Respetado ______, however this is much less common. Make to use the person's title when writing a formal letter. It should be Senor, Senora ____, or even a professional title like Licenciado (someone with a degree), or Inginiero (Engineer), depending on what their title is.
If you were writing a letter to a friend, you would not use such formalities as these but a simple Querido(a) _______ to open your letter.
As the teacher you can practice by giving out names, relationships, or situations in which a letter would be written. Students must choose whether or not to use Estimado ____ or Querido ______.
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Introduction and Body
Once the greeting has been established, you must further greet the recipient in one of two manners. If it is a formal letter, you might send well wishes with a phrase such as "espero que todo le va bien" (I hope things are going well for you). If you are writing to a friend you can just use the simple question "Como estas?" or "Como te va?" or even the slang "Que onda?" (How are you?, How are things going?, What's up?).
After this, you can continue on to express the purpose of your letter in the Introduction. Be clear about your purpose.
In the body, continue to express in detail your purpose and what you need from the person with this correspondence.
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To conclude your letter you will need to include a respectful phrase before signing your name. If this is a business letter, you normally use "Atentamente" or "Su servidor" (Attentively, At your service). Finally you will sign your name. Using a P.S. message is not as commonly used in Spanish as it is in English.
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Class Activities for Letter Writing
After introducing proper Spanish letter writing technique to the class, write a sample letter in Spanish with several errors and have the students help you correct it. They can then help correct each other's work as well.
Create a list of letter recipients, purposes and situations (both serious and comical to make sure students are motivated). Cut them up separately and put them into a paper bag. Have students select one or more of these strips and write their letter around the recipient and situation they have chosen and then read them to the class or create an anthology of them for a student reference.
Once they have practiced enough, have students write an actual letter in Spanish that they will send to someone, requiring a letter in return to show that they have completed their task and how well they did it. The recipient could be someone they know or a person who speaks Spanish of the teacher's choice.