20 Common Spanish Phrases for Teachers
Teaching is challenging enough without throwing language barriers in the mix. If you’re a teacher who speaks little Spanish and you’d like to bridge the language gap with your students whose English is not yet strong, this list of Spanish phrases is for you.
When a student fails to keep up with class (whether in a regular classroom or ELL environment) due to a gap in their language awareness, you may find that the fastest way to make a connection with them is to learn elements of their native language.
Here are some tips on bridging the language gap—including several sets of common Spanish phrases you can use in the classroom!
Be Aware of Culture Shock and Cultural Differences
According to research, students pass through four phases as they move towards cultural adaptation:
- Euphoria and excitement of new surroundings
- Culture shock, which is a blur of many mixed feelings including anger, panic, frustration, sadness, homesickness, disorientation, confusion, and resentment
- Anomie, an “in-between” space of tension and non-belonging that exists between the native culture and the adopted culture; some areas of change are accepted and others unresolved
- Adaptation, an acceptance of the new culture and greater self-confidence of one’s place and personal development in the new culture
Cultural Differences Matter
What may at first appear as a lack of interest, or even disrespect, on the part of your student is often simply cultural difference.
In many Latin American countries (eg. Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, Perú, Colombia, Venezuela and more), children look down as a sign of respect when a person in authority is speaking to them.
Equally in Mexico, children don’t speak up in class as often and avoid asking questions so as not to “challenge the teacher.”
Many Latin students experience a more fluid idea of punctuality (coming from regions where, culturally-speaking, being late is normal) and they don’t have the same notions of personal physical space.
Getting the Student’s Name Right
When a student is entering a new classroom and may already feel insecure in their communication and belonging, pronouncing their name correctly means everything.
Many online translators will demonstrate how to pronounce names you might not be familiar with. This is the first signal to any student that they are welcome in your classroom.
Speak Slowly, Clearly, and Repeat
Speaking slowly and clearly and simply is very beneficial. This does not mean dumbing down your lesson or your language, but it simply means not talking a hundred miles an hour or using complex vocabulary.
The more you can speak slowly and clearly, take pauses, and enunciate your words and syllables, the easier it will be for your students to understand you. In essence, you want to help them overcome feeling like a fish out of water.
The more you repeat important things, the easier it will be for your non-native English speakers to pick things up. Even when you feel bored to death of the repetition, it’s critical for your Spanish-speaking student to hear essential phrases and words time and time again.
Lastly, avoid overusing idioms—like “talking a hundred miles an hour” or “fish out of water” or “bored to death”— which cause unnecessary confusion for early English learners.
One idea would be to make a fun challenge of letting other students call you out for saying idiom phrases, so you have to explain them!
Learn Common Spanish Phrases
In addition to having reference books available in Spanish, the best bridge to build with your Spanish-speaking students who are learning English is to speak some common Spanish phrases to them.
These recommendations are broken into useful categories with 20 common Spanish phrases in each.
Twenty Common Spanish Phrases for Basic Conversation
These phrases will help you casually greet your student.
|Phrases For Basic Conversation|
|Mucho gusto||Good to meet you|
|Buenos días||Good morning|
|Buenas tardes||Good afternoon|
|Buenas noches||Good evening|
|Gracias/Muchas gracias||Thank you/Thank you very much|
|¿Cómo estás?||How are you?|
|Bien/¡Muy bien!||Good/Very good!|
|Me llamo…||My name is…|
|¿Cómo te llamas?||What is your name?|
|Hasta mañana||See you tomorrow|
|Hasta luego||See you later|
|Good luck!||Buena suerte|
|Soy tu maestro/a||I am your teacher|
|Hablo muy poquito español||I speak very little Spanish|
|¿Cuánto inglés sabes?||How much English do you know?|
Twenty Common Spanish Phrases for Understanding
These Spanish phrases will help you to clarify and check on comprehension with your student.
|Phrases For Understanding|
|¿Comprendes?||Do you understand?|
|Si, comprendo/No, no comprendo||Yes, I understand/No, I don’t understand|
|¿Necesitas ayuda?||Do you need help?|
|¿Cómo puedo ayudarte?||How can I help you?|
|¿Tienes una pregunta?||Do you have a question?|
|Un poquito/no mucho||A little bit/not much|
|¿Quieres revisar otra vez?||Do you want to review again?|
|Más o menos||More or less|
|Es importante||It’s important|
|No importa||It’s not important/It doesn’t matter|
|¿Que dijiste?||What did you say?|
|No sé||I don’t know|
|¿Sabes?||Do you know?|
|Dije que…||I said…|
|¿Cuál es el problema?||What is the problem?|
|¿Es difícil/fácil para ti?||Is it difficult/easy for you?|
|¿Qué piensas?¿Cuál es tu opinión?||What do you think?|
|¿Cómo va?||How is it going?|
|¿Qué quiere decir esto en español/inglés?||What does this mean in Spanish/English?|
|¿Cómo se dice “X” en español?||How do you say “X” in Spanish?|
Twenty Common Spanish Phrases for Checking In
These Spanish phrases will help you check on your student to see how they’re doing or what they may need.
|Phrases For Checking In|
|¿Estás bien?||Are you okay?|
|¿Estudiaste?||Did you study?|
|¿Tienes hambre?||Are you hungry?|
|¿Tienes sueño?||Are you tired?|
|¿Tienes sed?||Are you thirsty?|
|¿Tienes frío?||Are you cold?|
|¿Tienes calor?||Are you warm?|
|¿Como sientas?||How do you feel?|
|¡Salud!||Bless you (after a sneeze)|
|¿Necesitas ir al baño?||Do you need to go to the bathroom?|
|¿Dónde está tu libro/tarea?||Where is your book/homework?|
|¿Estás listo(a)?||Are you ready?|
|Lo siento||I am sorry|
|Te escucho||I hear you|
|Te comprendo||I understand you|
|¿Quieres tomar agua?||Do you want to drink water?|
|¿Necesitas tomar una pausa?||Do you need to take a break?|
|Es hora de….(almorzar, estudiar, leer)||It’s time to….(lunch, study, read)|
|¿Necesitas algo?||Do you need something?|
Twenty Common Spanish Phrases for Instruction
These Spanish phrases will help you to give very basic instructions to your student.
|Phrases For Basic Instruction|
|Ven acá||Come here|
|Ten cuidado||Be careful|
|Ponlo acá||Place it here|
|Lee en alta voz||Read aloud|
|Nos reunimos||Let’s gather|
|Empecemos||Let’s get started|
|Toma||Here, take this (eg paper)|
|Toma tu tiempo||Take your time|
|Date prisa, por favor||Hurry, please|
Twenty Common Spanish Phrases for Detailed Instruction
These Spanish phrases will help you to give more specific instructions to your student.
|Phrases For Specific Instruction|
|Habla más fuerte||Speak louder|
|Te toca a ti||It’s your turn|
|Siéntate, por favor||Be seated, please|
|Levántate, por favor||Stand up, please|
|Shh, no hables ahorita, por favor||Don’t talk right now, please|
|Mira al frente||Face forward|
|Inténtalo, por favor||Please try|
|Haz cola||Stand in line|
|Escribe tu nombre aquí||Write your name here|
|Haz tu tarea||Do your homework|
|Saca un lápiz, una pluma||Take out a pencil, pen|
|Abre el libro a la página…||Open your book to page…|
|Tráeme tu trabajo||Bring me your work|
|Dame un minuto||Give me a moment|
|No comas/tomes en clase||Don’t eat/drink in class|
|Préstame tu atención||Give me your attention|
|No me interrumpas||Don’t interrupt|
|Tienes que hacer tu tarea||You have to do your homework|
Twenty Common Spanish Phrases for Feedback
These Spanish phrases will help you to give feedback to your student.
|Phrases For Feedback or Response|
|¡Qué Bueno!||How nice/good|
|Bien hecho||Well done|
|Buena suerte||Good luck|
|Hay una falla/un error aquí||There is an error here|
|Eso no esta bien||That’s not appropriate|
|Puedes hacer mejor||You can do better|
|Estas mejorando.||You are improving|
|¿Cómo paso?||How did it go?|
|¿Qué falta?||What’s missing?|
|¿Qué es esto?||What is this?|
|No te preocupes||Don’t worry|
|Está bien||It’s good|
|Logramos con paciencia||We’ll get there with patience|
|Poco a poco||Little by little|
|Lo más importante es…||What’s most important is…|
A Picture (or Context) Is Priceless
With non-native English speakers, you get much further by using visual aids in your teaching—even more frequently than you might do now.
Having Google images to refer to is valuable. Maps, photos, and impromptu sketches also come in very handy when trying to explain certain things. The mental connection of imagery helps the student grasp the idea you’re trying to share.
Equally, consider creating strong situational contexts for your teaching:
- Are you on a hypothetical jungle trip while you meet new animal friends and learn their names?
- Are you planning to make a birthday cake and need to buy specific ingredients and decorations?
- Have you recently arrived in a mysterious country and need to look for clues to figure out where you are?
The more you put learning into a situational or thematic context, the less abstract the learning will be for the student—and this makes it easier for them to digest new language.
Talk with Your Face and Your Hands, Too
Since you’re reading this blog post, we can safely assume that you’re a teacher who cares deeply about communicating with your students who don’t yet speak English—and as such, you’re probably already fluent in TPR, or using hand gestures, when you speak.
Charades go a long way in bridging the communication gap.
For any student, facial expressions and gesturing add to your engagement and magnetism—and for a Spanish-speaking student, it can mean the difference between being totally lost or actually understanding you.
Feel free to exaggerate! Subtlety wins you no prizes here.
For example: “I looked through a telescope (visual charades) and saw a star (drawing in air or on chalkboard) falling (indicate with drawing), and I felt happy (big facial smile drawn by your hands).”
If you get your other students involved in charades and visual communication, it will be fun, interactive, and creative for the whole classroom! Ask your students to demonstrate words and concepts—asking, for example, to demonstrate what “forwards” and “backwards” means.
Pair Up Buddies
If a student knows they have support without having to ask you every single time they’re confused, it helps you both. Pairing up a new student whose English is developing with another student is conducive to learning, especially if that buddy speaks the new student’s native language.
Look for opportunities to inspire students to teach and guide each other in exercises relative to your lessons. At minimal, the new student will absorb something just from watching their partner interact and complete their work.
While you may be tempted to correct your student’s English at every opportunity, try to resist doing this. In particular, interrupting the student in the middle of speech shakes their confidence in a developing skill and may bring up shame in front of other students.
Instead, choose to celebrate when your student speaks in English. The most effective way to encourage self-corrections is to respond to their speech in a way that demonstrates the correct English.
An example of this is if a student says, “I am being sad,” you respond with: “You are sad?” or “You are feeling sad?”
If students know that mistakes actually represent trying and are a part of learning—this is also encouraging! For persistent mistakes, you may want to carefully correct them after the student speaks, or give exercises separately to improve.
Remember that sunshine, good soil, and water are more important to growth than picking weeds. Your energy of encouragement will ultimately resonate further than your corrections in helping your student.
Remember, They Are Working the Hardest!
Perhaps the most compassionate—and inspiring— thing to keep in mind is that the student who is trying to catch up on English at the same time they are learning new material is probably working the hardest.
If at times you need to scale back to consider what is reasonable for them to take in, this will help keep up their motivation. For instance, rather than answering questions on an article about culture that your class is reading, your student looks up the words in the article they do not understand.
Take care to notice whether a student is bluffing comprehension (smiling or nodding) or not asking for help when they need it—due to the tendency to want to please the teacher or appear competent.
“So, what are the two things we’re going to do now?” might be a more useful question than “Do you understand?”
Ready to Go Beyond Common Spanish Phrases?
If you consider all of these tips, along with learning some common Spanish phrases, you will be on the way to meeting the challenge of teaching native Spanish-speaking students who are still learning English.
Learning common Spanish phrases is one great step. Yet, the even bigger invitation with students whose needs might extend beyond your current knowledge base could be to take the opportunity to expand and deepen your own learning.
If you want to go beyond common Spanish phrases, this could be the perfect time to start. Sign up for a free class with our native Spanish-speaking professionals and learn to speak Spanish with your students who need your support.
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