How to Pass the Spanish Certification Test and Become a Spanish Teacher
You’re the type of person that corrects your friends’ pronunciation at Mexican restaurants.
The gifts you give your in-laws include “Spanish for Dummies” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Cien años de soledad.”
The desire to teach is so strong, you find yourself teaching the Spanish alphabet to your dog.
You’ve already got bookmarks of the best Spanish teaching resources saved on your computer.
You know you want to teach, and you have the know-how, but what do you need to know to get your certification?
Where do you start if you’re fresh out of high school?
If you’ve already got a bachelor’s in something unrelated, have you missed the boat?
We’ve got the answers to these common questions and more covered in this post.
What Do You Need to Earn Your Certification?
Know Your Audience
As you begin the long road to certification, you’ll have to ask yourselves some questions to determine the correct certification. Are you interested in teaching Spanish as an elective course or teaching general subject courses in Spanish? What’s your target grade level?
Knowing what you’re aiming for will greatly improve your chances of hitting the target. Keep the following in mind as you begin your journey.
Pay Attention to Bilingual Teaching Requirements
If you’re planning to teach classes in both Spanish and English, you’ll need to take an additional step while doing your planning.
Although different for every state, bilingual certification usually means you meet the requirements to teach children from pre-kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. It also means you’ll be teaching language arts, reading, math, science and/or social studies in both English and Spanish. It entails passing a generalist exam that tests your knowledge of these subject areas as well as a bilingual language proficiency test.
As an aside, many districts have difficulty filling bilingual teaching positions, so this is a very highly-regarded and in-demand certification.
Focus on Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language
If you’re more interested in teaching Spanish as a separate course, you’ll be required to pass a language proficiency test different from that of the bilingual teacher certification.
This is typically the test you’ll take if you want to teach middle or high school Spanish. Most states base their test on standards set by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and will certify you to teach elementary through 12th grade. For purposes of this blog post, the steps to pass your certification test refer to this test only.
The Process of Getting Your Spanish Teacher Certification
Starting Right After High School or Early On in College
Typically, candidates seeking their certification get a degree in education, with a minor or focus in Spanish. This allows for valuable teaching experience in a nearby district. However, this degree isn’t a substitute for the certification tests. Participants will still need to take their respective tests in order to be qualified to teach.
Starting with an Unrelated Bachelor’s Degree
If you already have a degree but it’s not in education, you still have a way to become a teacher. Most states offer what’s called alternative certification either through a university or a private entity.
This often means you’ll complete courses online or at a local college/university and you’ll be able to teach under a probationary contract until you’re fully certified. It might also mean putting together a portfolio, demonstrating your Spanish and teaching abilities and/or being reviewed by a panel of professionals.
Know Your State’s Requirements
Certification requirements vary state by state, so it’s important to know these before beginning your journey. Check to see what programs are available if you’re seeking alternative certification and what tests you’ll be required to take to become a qualified Spanish teacher.
5 Steps to Pass the Spanish Teacher Certification Test
Perhaps you’ve taken all the courses and classwork and you’re ready to sign up for the proficiency test. Maybe you haven’t started. Either way, it’s to your advantage to start preparing for the test now.
These steps will give you an idea of what to expect on the test and give you tips to help ensure your success.
1. Perform at an advanced level
We’ve all faked our way through a test before. Guessed on most of the multiple-choice questions and somehow still passed.
But you won’t be able to fake this one.
The first step is to know where your weaknesses are and focus on those points during your study sessions. You’ll need to perform like a professional, highly-educated Spanish speaker to pass this test. Stay away from Spanish survival techniques we’ve all used like code-switching (switching between Spanish and English).
Brush up on your vocabulary (see below) and have a strong command of advanced grammar like the subjunctive, conditional and future tense.
Full immersion is the best way to get from proficient to advanced. If you’re not able to fully immerse yourself in the culture, then immerse yourself in the plethora of online resources available to you. Whatever you might be struggling with, others have also, and you’ll likely find articles, blogs or books that will help you.
One helpful resource that lets you dive deep into the language is FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
With FluentU, you’ll be working with the kind of content real native speakers would watch. That means you’ll be exposed to the Spanish language as it’s genuinely used in different contexts. Your education will be enforced with special learner tools such as interactive captions, adaptive quizzes, flashcard capabilities and vocabulary lists.
Check out FluentU’s free trial and see how it can aid your mission to obtain certification!
2. Have general cultural knowledge
Chances are, if you love the Spanish language, you love the culture of Spanish-speaking countries.
You probably know all about the Day of the Dead. You know the Andes are in Peru and all about the Spanish Civil War. You’re also familiar with Pablo Picasso, Gaudí, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. A likely part of the test (and an important component of teaching) is a knowledge of the history, geography and culture of Latin American countries and Spain. You’ll need to know important figures like Miguel de Cervantes, Pancho Villa, Pablo Neruda and major civilizations like the Aztecs, Incas and Mayas.
If you’re drawing a blank, pick a Spanish-speaking country a day and look it up on Wikipedia. Place three to five important facts about major people, events or landmarks on a flashcard and study regularly. Use Quizlet to make your own flashcards online or use the ones other people have already made. Kill two birds with one stone and read and write the information in Spanish!
Be sure to take advantage of any practice exams or study materials and sessions offered by regional centers or the entity from which you’ll be taking the exam. If they give any tips or advice, take them gratefully!
3. Practice reading, writing, speaking and listening on a daily basis
These are the four tenets of language and, as stated in step one, you’ll need to have an advanced knowledge level of each one to get certified. Here are some tips that will help you along the way:
- Watch telenovelas regularly or follow a Spanish YouTube channel. Learning Spanish should be fun! Pick a favorite and keep up with the antics of the characters while improving your Spanish listening skills at the same time.
- Keep a daily journal or translate. Translating forces you to think through complex sentence structures and exposes you to vocabulary you otherwise might not see. Duolingo offers users the opportunity to brush up your writing skills and translate stories from the web.
- If you don’t have someone in your life who speaks Spanish, one option might be a Spanish meetup. These groups meet periodically and welcome all levels. And since everyone is in the process of learning the language, it’s less intimidating.
- Talk to yourself. This is a very effective technique to stop thinking in English and then translating and to start thinking directly in Spanish. Those words and phrases you see on a daily basis become ingrained and your Spanish becomes more natural. Label your house to remind yourself to use the Spanish terminology whenever possible.
- Read the newspaper in Spanish. There are numerous Spanish-language news resources, but some of the big ones are BBC Mundo, El País and CNN en español.
4. Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary
You want to impress the test raters with your vast vocabulary. This is the time to bring in the big guns vocabulary-wise. Use those words like cotidiana and empinado. But as much as you want to impress them, there are two things that have no place on this exam.
1. Slang. Slang is an essential (and fun) part of learning a language, but you want to keep it professional on this test and reserve the slang for your conversations with friends.
2. Spanglish. Those English words made to sound like Spanish. Examples include lonche instead of almuerzo, bonche [bunch] instead of montón. Be aware of those words and phrases you use and make a point to find and utilize the “correct” word.
5. Know the standards
Apart from knowing language and culture, you will be expected to be familiar with what students at different levels are supposed to know. What are the specific differences between an advanced student and a beginner student? What about an advanced-middle and an advanced-high language learner?
The ACTFL has put together national standards that answer those questions, and help teachers get language-learners to the next level. Take a look at the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to get a general idea of the different levels and what students are supposed to know in each one. You can download the guidelines as a PDF on the ACTFL website.
Although this test is difficult, it’s more than possible to pass with the abundance of resources available.
Each section is scored separately, so spend more time on your weakest areas.
Do a little bit each day to make the task more manageable and use a site like FluentU that hits many points at the same time.