Juanes. Alejandro Sanz. Enrique Iglesias. Ricky Martin. Hector Lavoe. Shakira.
Do you recognize these names?
Unless you’ve been living a sheltered life under a rock, you probably know at least one of the aforementioned Spanish-speaking pop artists.
And, most likely, your students have, too.
So let’s take advantage of that fact and bring some of their Spanish songs into the classroom!
Why Use Songs to Teach Varieties of Spanish?
All languages have their ups and downs, and each poses different challenges to those wishing to learn them. For example, learners of languages like Russian and Chinese often struggle because they must memorize completely new alphabets. English learners find the mass amount of irregular verbs to be a challenging part of the language.
And while Spanish has its common errors for native English speakers, there’s another tricky element that doesn’t always get addressed. Because Spanish is such a widespread language, it varies significantly based on where it is spoken. As someone who learned Spanish as a second language, I can attest first hand to the struggle this can pose.
Personally, I had a difficult time because many of my teachers insisted that I only needed to learn one dialect of Spanish, and refused to teach me about how it is spoken in Spain. This made my time studying in Spain challenging.
This could have been avoided with a few simple lessons on the part of my teachers and professors. Thus, I urge Spanish teachers everywhere to dedicate at the very least one lesson enlightening students about different dialects of the language.
Another reason that teaching linguistic differences is important is that many words have different meanings depending on where they are spoken. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to say the word coger in Spain, as in “voy a coger el autobús” (I’m going to catch the bus). But if you say the same word in almost any other Spanish-speaking country, you would be saying a vulgar swear word.
Also, the name Concha is common in Spain, but it is a crude word for a part of the female anatomy in parts of South America. That’s an important thing for students to know, right?
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Creating Classroom Activities Based on Spanish Songs
How should this be taught, you ask? Good question. There is one “language” that is universal, and that is music (and movies, generally). Pop music from Spanish-speaking artists can be an incredibly useful tool for demonstrating the different sounds and vocabulary from distinct regions and countries.
A great way to devise a lesson plan is to choose several songs sung by bands or artists from different Spanish-speaking countries. After selecting a nice variety, write out the lyrics but omit certain key words that demonstrate the particular dialect of Spanish.
Then, distribute the lyrics to the students and have them try to fill in the blanks as they listen to the song. Doing so can vastly enhance the listening skills of your students. Since there are so many dialects of Spanish, this topic can easily be divided into multiple lessons.
After teaching the basics of different dialects, you can play other songs for the students and ask them to guess where the artist or band is from. Below is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of songs you can use in lessons about linguistic differences of Spanish dialects.
Another Option for Teaching Spanish with Music
One of the challenges of using music to teach students is that it’s authentic content, and that it can be too difficult.
Luckily, there’s an answer for that: FluentU.
FluentU does this in 2 ways. First, you can watch the videos with interactive captions. The captions let you see definitions, example sentences, and even examples of the word in other videos.
Second, there is a “learn mode” which is a quiz with a twist – it uses the video examples as the material for questions.
The best part?
FluentU keeps track of students’ progress the entire time, to deliver personalized questions.
Now, without further ado:
5 Worthy Songs for Teaching Varieties of Spanish Through Music
1. Spanish in South America – “A Dios le pido” by Juanes
This song is not just a wonderful way to demonstrate the subjunctive tense, but also a way to teach students about the form “vos,” which is sometimes used in South America. The term referring to the use of “vos” is called “voseo.” The use of “vos” is present throughout South America, but extremely common in Argentina, Uruguay and part of Bolivia.
Though it may not be necessary to teach your students how to conjugate verbs in the “vos” form for all of your lessons, students should at least know that it exists.
Some students might very well be interested in learning more (perhaps someone is planning to study in one of these regions), so be prepared to provide extra notes/information.
For this particular song, I recommend printing out the lyrics omitting the word “vos,” and asking the students to fill in the blanks as they listen to the song.
2. Spanish in Spain – “Corazón partio” by Alejandro Sanz
Alejandro Sanz is from Spain, and therefore uses the form “vosotros.” Also, the famous lisp used by Spaniards is extremely obvious in his voice.
As I said, I would have been extremely grateful had my teachers and professors prepared me better for my time in Spain by briefly explaining how to conjugate in the vosotros form.
For this song, I recommend omitting words that Sanz sings in a prominent Spanish accent, along with the word “vosotros.” Also, ask students to listen carefully as he sings to focus on his Castillian accent.
Here’s another song by Sanz to try out in your class, “No me compares.”
3. Spanish in Spain – “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias
Because he isn’t as well known, students may be less interested in listening to Alejandro Sanz. However, most people have heard of Enrique Iglesias, another artist from Spain.
In his song “Bailando,” his accent is prominent, especially with the word “cerveza,” which he pronounces with the typical Spanish lisp. He also sings very clearly, which is helpful for comprehension of meaning.
4. Spanish in Puerto Rico – “La bomba” by Ricky Martin
In Puerto Rico, there are a substantial number of differences in the way Spanish is spoken, including the use of various slang words. This is not manifested through verb forms as much as in other dialects, but more in the pronunciation of certain letters and words. For example, occasionally Puerto Ricans say the letter “r” like the letter “l,” like “Puelto Lico.”
Hector Lavoe, though less known in the world of Hispanic pop music, has a much thicker Puerto Rican accent, and thus his songs serve as a better template for students to learn about how words are often pronounced there.
5. Spanish in Colombia – “Waka waka (Esto es Africa)” by Shakira
The famous Colombian artist performs songs in both Spanish and English, which can be simultaneously beneficial and harmful to the learning process, as sometimes the translations are not exact.
However, her songs are catchy and demonstrate well the way Spanish is spoken in Colombia, in particular the way they pronounce the letters “p” and “b”.
Need to Brush Up on Your Spanish Dialects?
If you are unfamiliar with where and how certain dialects are used, there are a myriad of resources on the internet that can help acquaint you with the topic.
Generally, a quick overview of Spanish geographical variations is enough for students, especially at a lower level. However, particularly for students who plan to study, live or visit a country where a unique dialect is used, it can be of paramount importance.
If as a teacher, you don’t wish to dedicate large portions of your class to the subject, but a student expresses genuine interest, you can refer that student to online resources or suggest that he or she see a tutor outside of class.
Using popular music from multiple Spanish-speaking countries will liven up a classroom like the drunken sorority girl at a library study session. Though in our classroom case, the music will be a beneficial livening up.
As a teacher myself, I fully realize the difference it makes when students are interested in the material and not nodding off at their desks; I prefer my students to be on the verge of a Spanish-music dance party. Playing pop music is a foolproof way to snag students’ interests while teaching them about different Spanish dialects.
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