Some of you have no doubt been in a language classroom where the teacher speaks primarily in the language you’re learning, instead of the language you already speak. This is called language immersion, and it means your teacher would be speaking Spanish while they tried to teach you how to understand Spanish. Does that sound a little off, like how can you speak Spanish to teach somebody that doesn’t understand Spanish? And how can you learn Spanish if you do not understand the basics of Spanish prior to the class?
It may sound counterintuitive, but there’s actually a lot of sense behind this. That’s because words themselves sometimes play only a small part in communication. Or at least, there’s a whole lot of other tools at our disposal. Especially in the Spanish language, these tools include context, emphasis and gestures. For example, if you walk into class and your teacher says, “Hola, mi nombre es Señora Fernandez,” you can probably understand that “mi nombre es” means “my name is.” And if your teacher wants to teach you that the Spanish word for chair is silla, she can point to a chair to make you understand. A surprising amount of learning can happen this way.
One of the benefits of teaching the Spanish language this way is that students have the opportunity to learn much more. When you are speaking in English, the only Spanish you are learning is the subject of the current lesson. But when you are speaking in Spanish, you are constantly learning other things alongside your main study topic. What you’re learning might also be reinforced better from hearing and speaking it more frequently. And the other main benefit is that students learn better pronunciation and, very importantly, listening skills.
But language immersion also has some drawbacks. For example, if the people in the class are not all at the same level of Spanish comprehension, some students will inevitably fall further behind when they can’t understand what the teacher is saying. Shy students, or students who are often confused in class, won’t always raise their hand to ask the teacher to explain herself every couple minutes. This is easier to work around in small classes of only three or four students, where the students are in constant dialogue with each other and can help one another’s comprehension—but in larger classes, or classes where the students can’t talk to each other, there will be those who suffer from having only the foreign language be spoken in the classroom.
So, considering the benefits and drawbacks, is it better to teach Spanish in Spanish, or in English? Which would help you learn Spanish better?
Well, for some classes, like online beginner courses where the students come from different backgrounds, are at different levels, and are not always able to make it to every lesson, teaching in English is usually the best option. For example, Bright Spanish, who teaches their Spanish classes using our Spanish learning books, teaches their beginner courses in English—but for some of their upper level courses, they teach in Spanish.
And if you take a language class at a university or language school, or if you travel abroad to study Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, then definitely look for an immersion class. It may sound harder, but it will probably pay off for you in the long run. What are some additional ways that have helped you learn Spanish?