I have been teaching French to Hispanic students for my entire career. About 85% of my students either speak Spanish at home or have at least some familiarity with Spanish. Some of them are English language learners, so they may or may not have strong skills in English depending upon their level. For some of these students, they are at a disadvantage in their other academic classes – but in French class, they have a leg up on monolingual students!
I learned early on that when teaching French to Hispanic students, there are quite a few benefits that you can take advantage of, but you have to know what they are. French and Spanish are related and have many similarities in both grammar and vocabulary, but students won’t necessarily just pick these up. Once you point them out, you’ll get some “a-ha!” moments. It helps (of course) if you yourself have at least a bit of knowledge of the Spanish language, but even if you don’t you can still use it to your advantage.
Using cognates while teaching French to Hispanic students
First year language teachers love cognates! These are bonus words that kids don’t have to work very hard to learn. English/French cognates will jump out at students, but don’t forget that there are quite a few Spanish/French cognates as well. If you’re teaching French to Hispanic students, this adds so many words to your cognate list. I frequently point out words that are close to Spanish that students may or may not have even recognized – travailler, vieille, étudier, ananas, pays, douche, dormir, venir, guerre, oreille, taille, terre, jambon, pain, grand, triste, and lent are all very similar to their Spanish counterparts.
Spanish grammar is very similar to French grammar in a number of ways. Many phrases in French that use avoir – avoir froid, avoir chaud, avoir faim, avoir soif, avoir ___ ans – they all use the same verb in Spanish – tener. I always have at least one student who asks why we use “to have” for these types of things because it seems so odd to English speakers – but if you point out that it’s exactly the same construction in Spanish, they accept it as normal.
Another huge thing is grammatical gender of nouns and adjectives. When I am teaching French to Hispanic students, there isn’t quite so much confusion about the idea that inanimate objects can be masculine or feminine. English monolinguals tend to think that this is crazy! I tell Spanish speakers that when we get a new list of vocabulary, they should make a mental note of any words that are NOT the same gender in Spanish as in French – those are the words they should focus on the most.
Of course, they should look up words they don’t know the gender of – but in a situation where that is not possible, they have an 80% chance of being correct if they go with the Spanish gender, rather than 50% if they just guess. This is one of the perks of teaching French to Hispanic students – they already have a nice understanding of gender and things “sounding right.”
When we learn verb conjugations, I always introduce them by showing students a verb chart in English, Spanish and French. English verbs don’t change very much but Spanish verbs have a variety of endings, more like French. This simple comparison gives them more of an anchor to hang their new knowledge on. I also ask students if they’ve ever heard someone struggle with verbs in Spanish – they might yo hablas instead of yo hablo. Almost every one of them has had this experience, and it gives them an idea of what the error might sound like to a French person when you put the wrong ending on a verb.
In second year, when I teach the imparfait vs passé composé, my life is so much easier because I have so many Spanish-speaking students! The use of these two tenses is the same in both languages (of course, it’s called the preterit and imperfecto in Spanish) and my Hispanic students seem to pick up this concept much more quickly than monolinguals.
Using culture when teaching French to Hispanic students
There are a couple of times each year where my students – who are mostly of Mexican origin – will hear about a cultural celebration and realize that it is very familiar. Specifically, when we talk about la Toussaint and families in France remembering their dead and cleaning the graves, it is very similar to the Day of the Dead. When we talk about l’Epiphanie and discuss the galette des rois, they immediately think of the rosca de reyes. It’s a different recipe, but the favor that is hidden inside is very familiar. They enjoy comparing the holidays and celebrations and see a connection between the cultures.
Pitfalls when teaching French to Hispanic students
Of course, there are always some downsides to consider. For the most part teaching French to Hispanic students is easier than teaching to monolinguals, because they simply have more of a mental image of what a romance language looks and sounds like. But there are a couple of little things I tell them to watch for. One is pronunciation – my Spanish-speaking students tend to sneak an S into words like “étudier.” They might also trill their Rs. Neither of these are huge issues, I just tell them it gives them a bit of a Spanish accent!
Grammar-wise, the biggest thing I see when teaching French to Hispanic students is that they sometimes put an “a” in future tense sentences – “Je vais A manger.” Of course, French doesn’t need the a in this circumstance.