There’s one episode of “Friends” that always has language teachers simultaneously laughing and shaking their heads… because they know.
They’ve seen it. Over and over again.
In this particular episode, Joey needs to learn French for an audition and Phoebe agrees to help him. Their initial conversation goes like this:
Phoebe: Okay, this seems pretty easy. Your first line is: Je m’appelle Claude (My name is Claude).
Joey: (Joey tries to repeat.) Je da-cloop plow.
Phoebe: (Hesitant and a little shocked.) Well, let’s try it again. Je m’appelle Claude.
Joey: (Not speaking French.) Je da-plee blue.
Phoebe: Huh. That’s not quite what I’m saying.
Joey: Really? Sounds exactly the same to me.
This is obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, but have you ever had a student like Joey? That couldn’t quite hear the differences in the sounds of Spanish?
Learning the individual sounds and graphemes that make up a language will help students make sense of what they’re hearing.
And that’s exactly what I tell them when I state the objective for the Spanish alphabet lesson: “Learning the alphabet helps us to distinguish the individual sounds of a language. It helps us distinguish between the words calor (hot) and color (color) or misa (Catholic mass) and mesa (table).”
I also let them know that because Spanish has a transparent orthography, once they know the sounds that letters or groups of letters make, they can read any word in Spanish! ¡Caramba!
Things to remember when teaching the Spanish alphabet
Although our alphabets have many similarities, the differences can be very tricky for native English speakers. We know that in 2010 the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) removed the ch, ll and rr from the alphabet and now only consider ñ to be a separate letter. But there are more differences than the number of letters we have in our alphabets. The tips below will facilitate instruction and get students thinking on a phoneme level.
1. Engage in phonological awareness activities. This might sound silly, but think about what we’re asking students to do when we teach them the alphabet. We’re asking them to process the sounds they’re hearing and turn them into something that makes sense.
These activities will help students distinguish those sounds and ultimately make meaning out of what they hear. It’s not necessary to spend a great deal of class time with these games. I usually do them as a warm-up when I teach the alphabet, telling students that we’re going to “tune our ears” to Spanish.
- Identifying the accent. Have a list of words ready that has the accent in different places. Remember to tell your students that every word has an accent, some of them are written, some spoken. This isn’t the time for an accent rule lesson, just tell them you want them to get used to hearing it.
Say a word, have students count the syllables and then hold up a finger to indicate which syllable had the accent. For example, if you say hablo, the students will clap the two syllables /ha/ /blo/, then hold up one finger to indicate that the emphasis was on the first syllable.
- Same or different game. Read pairs of words. Students give a thumbs up if the words are the same and a thumbs down if the words are different. For example, tela-tele (web-TV) will be thumbs down, while misa-misa (mass) will be thumbs up.
- Which word doesn’t belong? Students will indicate the word that doesn’t belong in the group. Recite a list of three words, two of which begin with the same sound (so you can use sola (alone) and cebra (zebra) because the c also makes the /s/ sound in this case) and one that does not. The students will identify the word that doesn’t belong. So if you give the example: sola, tigre, cebra, (alone, tiger, zebra) they would identify tigre as not belonging. Start with easy examples like this and then move to more challenging words where the sounds are more difficult to distinguish.
2. Connect by pointing out similarities first. An important maxim of teaching is first highlighting “known” factors (prior knowledge) before teaching “unknown” factors. So in teaching the alphabet, we would make sure to emphasize what students already know from English by (quickly) reviewing the letters that make the same sounds, like t and s, before moving on to those that differ and are harder to learn.
3. Don’t be afraid to “go linguistic” on them. When students have difficulty learning to read at a young age, one of the strategies we implement is using mirrors to help them see how the shape of their mouth changes when they produce certain sounds. We know that explicitly teaching these phonetic principles (pronunciation) helps them decode and understand what they read.
We can apply these principles to learning a second language. There’s no need to be extraordinarily technical, just don’t be afraid to talk about how the z in English is voiced while the z in Spanish is not, or how the vowels in Spanish are clipped and sound the same no matter where they’re placed in a word.
4. Make it memorable. We couldn’t forget the ABC song in English, even if we tried. Make this lesson memorable by engaging the brain in various ways. The resources and ideas that follow will help you make this a lesson the students won’t easily forget!
5. Use FluentU. Many of the resources below come from FluentU and will help supplement your Spanish alphabet lesson plans.
The authentic, real-world context makes the new words much easier to remember, and you’ll find students will truly learn better. While you can definitely build a lesson around FluentU, it provides students with valuable at-home practice, with fresh new videos being added every week.
While you’re exploring all of FluentU’s Spanish videos, be sure to check out the Spanish Educator blog and get access to more resources that will help you all school year long!
15 Spanish Alphabet Songs, Videos and Games for Your Students
Maybe you want an alphabet song that solely focuses on the letter names and their pronunciations.
How about one that gives the letter sound and then gives your students some examples?
Perhaps you’re looking for one with a catchy tune that will just help them keep the vowels straight.
You’ll find it here. Whether you want to give an overview before your lesson, or you just need an additional resource to make your lesson pop, we’ve got you covered with 10 songs and videos that are perfect for your Spanish alphabet lesson—followed by five games for in-class practice.
Be sure to print out song lyrics to take advantage of the rich vocabulary that these songs offer and that allow students to follow along.
Songs and Videos
Want a Spanish alphabet song that students won’t be able to get out of their heads? Of course! This song has lots of tongue twisters and an upbeat tempo that you can’t help but sing along with!
I love this song because it not only helps with the letter names, but gives great vocabulary words. Let students know that they don’t have to know the vocabulary, but do encourage them to follow along as best as they can. A little tip: Play the song three times. The first time is an overview and the second and third time are to get a sense of how the sounds compare in English and Spanish.
Sung to the tune of the English alphabet song, this eye-catching, colorful video is yet another resource you can find on FluentU. It’s perfect for focusing on the names of the letters, not necessarily the sound each one makes. For this song, have a sheet available with the pronunciation (m = em-meh) of each letter that they reference when listening to the song.
The song has a simple tune, but it exposes students to vocabulary and it’s a song they can refer back to when they need to think of a letter sound.
This song combines the letter names and sounds with example words. The students will also become familiar with hearing how every Spanish letter is referred to with a feminine article (for example, la A). The very first line is “La Aa suena /a/” (The Aa sounds like /a/).
Be aware that this song does include the ll, so you’ll be ready to discuss it when it comes up. If you haven’t already told your students about how certain letters have been removed, it might be fun to see if students notice the presence of the ll on their own.
Now we get to sing the alphabet alongside Cosmo, the animated puppy in the video. This is a rap-style song that goes through the alphabet two times. Afterwards, it focuses on vowels individually and then puts consonants in front: “Con la ‘m’ va ma, me, mi, mo, mu.” (With the m goes ma, me, mi, mo, mu.) This is a very fun song that your students won’t be able to help singing along with!
Simple graphics and silly humor will keep your students engaged throughout this two-minute video. We go through the alphabet with Tío (uncle) Spanish who says the letter name and an object with the corresponding letter sound. Periodically he’ll stop and go back over the letters that were already covered.
This video goes through each letter’s name and pronunciation, giving an example word with each letter. This video even demonstrates the changing sound of the c from /k/ to /s/ depending on the vowel that follows. It also doesn’t contain the typical vocabulary that we hear with alphabet songs and examples (i.e., they give you w for whisky). It does contain the ch and ll, so be ready!
Only want to focus on a letter or two? FluentU has videos for every letter of the Spanish alphabet! Only about 50 seconds long and to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” each video lists several objects that begin with a particular letter.
I always love videos that accomplish many tasks, and this video exposes students not only to new vocabulary but also to sentence structures: Hoy nos aprendemos la letra a (today we will learn the letter a) and A como astronauta (A like astronaut).
This is a good introductory video that goes through each letter and shows an object with the corresponding letter sound. It also translates the word in English so viewers know the definition.
Before the alphabet begins, the first minute of the video is dedicated to five interesting facts about Spanish and, if you keep watching until the last minute, you’ll also see a fun fact. I’m not going to tell you what it is, you’ll have to watch it to the end!
The vowels are tricky. We know that. This song gives the students something to fall back on when they want to call an i an e. You’ll simply state, “Sing the song in your head if you need to. It works.”
A – E – I – O – U. Me gustan las vocales. (I like vowels.)
A – E – I – O – U. Ya me las aprendí. (I’ve already learned them.)
It goes through the vowels, stopping at each one to give a description and two objects that begin with that letter sound. The kiddos, no matter the age, will enjoy the silly animation and catchy tune.
Here’s another video that focuses solely on the vowels, or las hermanitas (the little sisters). It runs through each one various times, saying the sound and expecting the listeners to repeat.
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These are great follow-up activities to do after watching the videos and reinforcing letter names/sounds.
11. Missing letter
On flashcards, write a string of letters with one missing. The missing spot can be at the front, the middle or the end of the string of letters. For example, one flashcard might look like this: “J, K, L, __.” While another looks like this: “___ P Q R S.” Put the class in teams and have one player from each team compete. The first player to correctly say the missing letter in Spanish gets a point for their team.
12. Lotería (Bingo)
Use a free online bingo card generator and make letter bingo sheets for the class. So students get accustomed to the fact that the letters are feminine along with the names of the letters, when you call out a letter say a full phrase like “la c de cebra.“
13. Practicing vowels with dictation
Help students master the vowels by practicing word dictation with words that contain a couple of different vowel sounds: interesante (interesting), mesa (table), meseta (plateau), tableta (tablet), etc.
Spell each word out loud to the class and have them write it on individual whiteboards. When all (or almost all) of the students indicate that they’re finished, have the whole class raise their whiteboards so you can see them. This is an easy check-for-understanding exercise. Keep “tuning their ears” to Spanish by saying the word instead of spelling it, and then move on to sentences.
14. Timed letters
In partners, students have a set of alphabet flashcards. Partner A is responsible for watching the time and checking their partner’s responses. While Partner A times, Partner B goes through the flashcards and tries to name as many Spanish letters as they can in a minute. They can go through the deck twice if they need to. Their responses are recorded and partners switch roles.
15. Take away
Students work with partners. Each partner pair has alphabet flashcards. Partner A puts five to seven cards (or more, based on group preference) in the desk and names the letters. Partner B then looks away while Partner A removes a letter and mixes up the cards. Partner B then has to name all of the remaining cards and has to figure out which card has been removed. Partners switch roles.
Mastering the alphabet becomes easier when you use fun and engaging resources.
Include some of these videos and games in your lessons and your students will be singing alphabet songs in Spanish in no time!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.