Van Vorst Language ComparisonPresentation Transcript
Language Comparison: Spanish and English Robert Van Vorst Wilkes University
Key Features of Spanish
Spanish is a member of the Indo-European family of languages, which originated approximately 5,000 years ago in the Black Sea region (McWhorter, 2003). While speakers of Indo-European migrated throughout two continents, they lost contact with one another, and new innovations in language broke Indo-European into several different language branches. Latin, the language of the Roman Empire, was one of the most famous. As the Roman Empire gained power during the fourth century B.C., Latin slowly began to spread throughout the Italian peninsula and then throughout the Mediterranean area (McWhorter, 2003).
In 1492, Christopher Columbus began his well-known westward voyage from the coast of Spain to hunt for a new course to Asia. When he landed in the Americas instead, his accidental discovery would lead to the increase of the Spanish language throughout the New World. In the following century, as Spanish conquistadors arrived on American coasts to hold back the native populations and bring riches back home, they brought their language with them (Ostler, 2005).
Spanish has a large influence on the population of the United States. Spanish is the second most used language in the United States . There’s a greater amount of Spanish speakers in the United States than the combined number of Chinese, French , Italian , Hawaiian , and Native American speakers (Spanish Language in the United States, 2011). The 2009 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau , indicates Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 35.5 million people ages five or older (Selected Social Characteristics in the United States, 2007).
Comparisons with English
The phonological system of Spanish is significantly different from that of English, particularly in the aspects of vowel sounds. These differences are very serious obstacles to Spanish learners being able to acquire a native English accent (Swan & Smith, 1987). English has a range of vowel quality twice as broad as Spanish. The extent of vowel use is more relevant in English than in Spanish. English can be seen as having three vowel systems in different parts of words, whereas Spanish only has one system that does not vary significantly from one position in a word to another (Odisho, 1992).
Spanish has five pure vowels and five diphthongs. The length of the vowel is not significant in distinguishing between words. This contrasts with English, which has twelve pure vowel sounds and eight diphthongs. The length of the vowel sound plays an important role. It is not surprising Spanish learners may have difficulty producing or perceiving the various English vowel sounds. Specific problems include the failure to distinguish the sounds in words such as ship/sheep, taught/tot, fool/full or cart/cat/cut. (Swan & Smith, 1987)
Comparisons with English (cont.)
While Spanish is a much more heavily inflected language than English, there are many similar characteristics of verb grammar. The major difficulty for the Spanish learner is that there is no one-to-one correspondence in the use of the tenses. A Spanish learner might incorrectly use a simple tense instead of a progressive or a future one: ‘She take a nap’ instead of ‘She's taking a nap’ or ‘I take you after class’ instead of ‘I'll take you after class’ (Swan & Smith, 1987).
Spanish word order is generally like English - subject, verb, and object. Spanish allows more flexibility than English, and usually places words to be emphasized at the end of a sentence. This may result in an irregular syntax when Spanish learners speak or write English (Swan & Smith, 1987).
Marie is a second grade student receiving her content instruction in a regular education classroom with other ELL students with varying levels of English proficiency. The home language survey completed when she registered in the district indicated Spanish as the dominant language spoken in her home. Her family moved to the United States from Puerto Rico when Marie was a baby. She currently resides with her mother, older sister, younger brother and her aunt.
Marie was observed at different points during the school day. During the observations, she did not switch back to Spanish during conversations and instruction. Most of the errors listed occurred while reading and speaking. Marie displayed some examples of the errors discussed in the previous section. She especially made mistakes regarding vowel usage. Examples of her errors are displayed on the following slides:
Subject-Verb Agreement Errors
Incorrect Past Tense Formation
Difficulty reading Long and Short Vowel Sounds
By exploring the differences between English and Spanish, observing Marie and her teacher, I have created a short list of instructional strategies I feel will help beginning teachers of English Language Learners. These strategies will vary on the level of English proficiency but can serve as helpful reminders:
Emphasize letter-sound relationships instead of letter-name relationships.
Encourage peer collaboration.
Use whole phrases and sentences, not just individual words.
Overexpose students to many opportunities to listen to English through storytelling, etc.; this will help the student imitate what they hear.
Sentence structures may be difficult for students to understand so level sentences accordingly.
Students may still be using Spanish with their family. Let them transfer this knowledge into their acquisition of English.
Make yourself knowledgeable of cultural differences and how it may affect the understanding of a passage.
Introduce students to words they are going to use with frequency.
Pronunciation errors may not mean a student doesn’t comprehend the meaning of a word.
Recognize the individual differences of students (i.e. how many years they’ve been in the country, cultural differences) to create a welcoming environment supporting self-esteem and a sense of belonging.
McWhorter, J. (2003). The power of Babel: A natural history of language. New York: Perennial.
Odisho, E. (1992). A Comparative Study of English and Spanish Vowel Systems: Theoretical and Practical Implications for Teaching Pronunciation. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED352836.pdf
Ostler, N. (2005). Empires of the world: A language history of the world. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Peregoy, S. & Boyle, O. (1993). Reading, writing and learning in ESL . New York: Longman Publishers.
Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2007. United States Census Bureau . Retrieved from http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&geo_id=01000US&qr_name=ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S1601&-ds_name=ACS_2009_1YR_G00_&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false .
Spanish Language in the United States (2011). Wikipedia – the Free Encyclopedia . Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_language_in_the_United_States
Swan, M., & Smith, B. (1987 ). Learner English: A teacher's guide to interference and other problems. Cambridge: University Press.