ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín

Support material for teaching Spanish as a foreign or second language in Colombia by Jorge Enrique Estupiñán.

Support material for teaching Spanish as a foreign or second language in Colombia by Jorge Enrique Estupiñán.


When I was, for the first time, in a classroom with foreign students and, obviously, with the idea of teaching to them how to speak, read, interact and, in a nutshell, how to think and live in Spanish language, I thought it was going to be an easy job due to my experience like a native Spanish speaker and like a teacher. But, what a surprise! I finished all the class I had prepared for being taught in three hours, in twenty minutes. After that embarrassing situation I had to look for a different way in my Spanish teaching’s process.

When I started to search the right information in order to bring it to my classes I faced an unusual circumstance, especially at this time when we suppose all information is easy or at least possible to reach because of the internet. That circumstance was the absence of Colombian text books to work in a Colombian Spanish language’s class. However, not all were bad news and after some days of exhaustive searching, I finally found some books referred to teaching Spanish.

When I started to analyze the contents of the books, I couldn’t believe what I was observing: Vocabulary in most of the books were a vocabulary for a special reading of the language (Spanish language in this case) in a specific context which, of course, was not the context of our country, our city, our culture, our vocabulary, our thinking and our way to see the life like Colombian people. So I started to suspect it was going to be a hard way.

My experience in my first Spanish language class to a foreign student was not the best. As I mentioned before, I finished teaching the prepared issues, in twenty minutes or a half hour. However, I had to look for a solution for my problem in the real context of a new experience of teaching. Now, and remembering the sentence “Reading the word and the world” ( Freire and Macedo,1987), I understand what I did. I did read my world with a new context because before that, I thought about Spanish language like my first language, and I was considering my natural language’s learning process as the only way to reach a new language’s knowledge. Reading the world in that moment meant trying to understand the point of view of a person who didn’t experience the life in our country when was a kid. When you understand which is the starting point of this process you can imagine what should be the suitable way to face the challenge. I had to understand a concept that I didn’t know but I found in the text of Joan Wink: “What is critical pedagogy? It is a prism that reflects the complexities between teaching and learning. It is a prism which sheds light on the hidden subtleties that might have escaped our view previously”. (Joan Wink, 2005)

Teaching a second or foreign language (I hope resolving the dilemma of these two terms during the process of our study) needs a set of several resources in addition to the knowledge and the experience. It means resources such as books, audio and video materials, newspapers or magazines. Resources like these which are useful as didactic tools to support the processes that we go developing in our classes. The only problem about resources appears when there is not a coherent relationship between the texts or resources that we use, the concepts that we teach and the context of the language in our environment. We could find movies, newspapers, magazines, songs, TV shows’ fragments and anything related to the media production in our country. And, of course, that’s the same that our students are going to find during the time of staying here. But it is not the same case of the study books because although in Colombia, teachers are starting to develop new study books, and trying to write them according to the normal Colombian life, most of the Spanish teaching’s books are not made in Colombia, what is more, they are not made in Latin America. The difference between the language of the books and the language used in the daily life opens a gap between the process of learning a language into the classroom and the same one into the quotidian language’s environment and we have to wonder as Spanish teachers if we are teaching Spanish language to be used on interacting to our native Spanish’s speakers community or on reading Spanish, Mexican or Argentinian books. Even though the answer seems to be obvious, we keep using the same books made in other countries due to the absence of texts made in Colombia.

There are many cases in which the use of some words is not the same in each country. In some cases because the colloquial use changes the meaning of the words, and in other cases because a word is common in a country but is almost unknown in others.

For example: The word alberca which means swimming pool is a common word in Mexico, but if you use the same word in Colombia It’s possible that only highly educated people know it’s meaning because the usual word here is piscina which is just a synonym.

Another example of different use of the words is the pronoun vosotros. This pronoun is common in Spain’s Spanish language but in Latin America is not common because all Latin-Americans use the pronoun ustedes, instead of vosotros.

Also there are some cases in which the meaning of a word changes according to the country or to a region in the same country. For example: The verb coger which in Colombia could mean to take, to catch and other meanings related to the same sense, in Mexico means, in a vulgar way, to fuck.

In a Textbook I found a simple instruction: “¡No miréis el texto de la pareja A! (Artuñedo & Donson, 2000 p: 65) My translation: “Do not look at the text of the couple A”. This instruction appears to be very simple, but is not the suitable way to express the idea in our country, due to the use of a conjugation of the pronoun Vosotros, which as I commented, is not common in Colombia.

With these examples we can understand that we won’t teach to our students, how to live and speak in every countries where Spanish is spoken. However we could take care on what kind of Spanish we are teaching if our students are living here, and we know about their communication needs. In some cases, the words that a group of persons use in a specific place define more than a simple code of communication. The words and its use define their way to see the world, the way to understand (read) their reality, the mode in which they are a community.

It is not easy to start a new process of teaching in which there are not bases or support material. This was the case of Spanish language’s teaching when it started in Colombia. And even though we don’t have the explicit information about the origin of Spanish language’s teaching in Colombia, there is an interesting story to read about that.

Aurora Cardona narrates:

Myriam Guerrero de Munar

Graduada en la Universidad de La Salle en el año de 1981. Título: Licenciada en Idiomas: Inglés, francés y    español

En el año de 1989, viaja con su familia a Mámbita, una población a seis horas de Bogotá en Cundinamarca, donde estaban construyendo en ese tiempo el Proyecto Hidroeléctrico de El Guavio.  Debía permanecer  allí cerca  de 4 años por el trabajo de ingeniero  del esposo.

Él tenía contacto con muchos ingenieros de diferentes países y vio la necesidad de que algunos de ellos se comunicaran en español con sus subalternos. Razón por la cual le sugirió, dictarle inicialmente  unas clases a un yugoslavo,  especialista  en soldadura. Él necesitaba que los obreros le entendieran qué debían hacer y no podía expresarlo sino en su idioma yugoslavo, en alemán o en ruso, por supuesto, los obreros colombianos no le entendían absolutamente  nada. Empezó a dictarle las bases del español, pero él solo quería  saber  frases  para  dar  las  órdenes  que  necesitaba  y algunas  palabras  fuertes (groserías) porque como los obreros no le entendían,  se burlaban de él y no le hacían las cosas bien, era necesario que demostrara su autoridad con esas palabras y así lograr que lo respetaran y le obedecieran haciendo bien el trabajo.


Al cabo de dos semanas más o menos, empezó a entender y a expresar muchas de las frases necesarias que Myriam le estaba enseñando y el resultado, fue la sorpresa de sus subalternos y el que le obedecieran inmediatamente cuando les daba órdenes.


En el mismo proyecto y en el mismo campamento donde vivía, había más extranjeros: canadienses, suizos y franceses, a quienes también les enseñó a hablar, entender, leer y escribir en español. (Cardona, 2011)


My translation:


Myriam Guerrero de Munar


Graduate of La Salle University in the year 1981. Title: Degree in Languages: English, French and Spanish.


In the year of 1989 she travelled with her family to Mámbita, a town, six hours from Bogota in Cundinamarca, where a hydroelectric project called El guavio was being built. She had to stay there for four years due to her husband’s job as an engineer.


He was in touch to many engineers from different countries and he saw the need to them to learn Spanish in order to communicate to their subalterns. For this reason he suggested her to teach, initially, to a Yugoslavian who was a welding expert. He needed the workers to understand to him about what they had to do, and he couldn’t express it in his Yugoslavian language or Russian or German languages because the workers understood absolutely nothing. She started to teach him the bases of Spanish language, but he only wanted to know sentences he needed to give commands and some strong words (rude words), because due to the workers didn’t understand to him, they mocked him and they didn’t the work well. It was necessary for him to demonstrate his authority and to get their respect and obedience by doing the work well.


After around two weeks, he started to understand and express many of the sentences that Myriam was teaching to him. And the result was the surprise of his subalterns and the immediate obedience of them when he gave them orders.


At the same project and the same camp there were more foreigners, Canadians, Swiss and French, whom she also taught how to speak, understand, read and write in Spanish. (Cardona, 2011)


From the text we can understand that there is a difference between what we think it’s necessary to teach, and what the students need about the language learning. Especially when the students are not kids, as in the case of ESPEX (Español Para Extranjeros) we need to introduce many words and concepts into our classes in order to rethink our world and make our students to rethink our world too, because most of the students have a previous idea about our culture, our society and in general terms about our country. But usually, the pre-concepts about our country are not their own impressions, and those ideas are guided by the media. Changing ideas or rethinking a world is a concept which is implicit in the text of Ira Shor when he says:


Critical literacy thus challenges the status quo in an effort to discover alternative paths for self and social development. This kind of literacy –words rethinking worlds, self-dissenting in society– connects the political and the personal, the public and the private, the global and the local, the economic and the pedagogical, for rethinking our lives and for promoting justice in place of inequity. (Shor, 2010)


The support material (Textbooks) could be appropriate or not, but if the teacher wants to make his/her work suitable to a specific case, has to be the first one who can understand the differences between the books and the real life in the classroom. If the teacher can read his/her world in which the students are an active part, he/she will have a good effect in relation to create a critical vision of the environment through the process of learning of a new language.


In conclusion: Reading the world is not only a concept of literacy. It’s a real challenge in every environment where a language is taught. Hence we, as Spanish language teachers (as a second or foreign language), have the obligation of finding, creating and developing the suitable support material for our daily work in the classrooms.

Number of words: 2129


Shor Ira. (1999) “What is Critical Literacy” Volume I, Issue 4

Cardona Serrano A. (2010) “Docentes de ELE que nacen y se hacen en Colombia” Universidad de la Salle, Facultad de educación, from:

Freire P. & Macedo D. (1987) “Literacy: Reading the word and the world”

Artuñedo B. & Donson C. (2000) “Curso de español para extranjeros, libro del alumno” Ediciones SM, p: 65

Wink J. (2005) “Critical pedagogy, notes from the real world” Retrieved from:











One comment on “Support material for teaching Spanish as a foreign or second language in Colombia by Jorge Enrique Estupiñán.

  1. Beatriz Garcés
    September 16, 2013

    Hi Jorge. Your paper is quite interesting. The experience you had in your first class teaching a foreign learner is something we as teachers have lived, me in particular. Many times our classes are not developed as we expected to be because we don’t see beyond our students needs but our own goals and interests what makes the classes teacher-centered. However, the reason our classes becomes more exciting, is the ability we as teachers have to overcome those kinds of difficulties in the classroom. In your case you seems to reinvent your classes and take advantage of our precious language. On the other hand, something similar happens to English teaching when using textbooks; they show us cultures different to ours and of course we have to deal with it. We need more about our culture to teach English. It could arise motivation in our students!. Finally, I want to ask you: What are the alternatives you as an ESPEX teacher are implementing in the classroom since the variety of ‘say things’ in Latinamerican even our country to teach foreigners and they don’t feel confused?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on September 10, 2013 by in Assignments.
%d bloggers like this: