Monday, March 4, 2013

Frustration With How Spanish Is Taught to American Students

My oldest daughter is homeschooled through a virtual school.  Because of this she has the opportunity to take Spanish in elementary school.  To complete the Elementary Spanish course there is required participation with tutors who are supposedly ALL native Spanish speakers.  For the most part I have found that their pronunciation is spot on and their English at times is difficult to understand.

The other day one tutor almost made me blow my top.  During the online live lesson lecture she kept reinforcing to the students that the Spanish vowel 'e' is pronounced as 'ay'.  In all my years, and all the places I've visited where Spanish is spoken I have never heard the Spanish 'e' pronounced 'ay'.

From the time I was little I was taught, "A, E, I, O, U. El burro sabe mas que tu!"  The equivalent pronunciations in English would be ah, eh, ee, oh, oo, respectively.  I sent a message to the Spanish teachers, the principal, and home room teacher regarding my frustration with the situation.  Not only because the vowel sounds were being taught incorrectly but because I responded immediately to the teacher, in Spanish, and she ignored the question/comment and continued saying it that way.  From her accent I do not believe that she is a native Spanish speaker.

I received a message back from the lead Spanish teacher who assured me that they only ever teach the 'e' as an 'ay' sound in the phrase, "Como te llamas?"  Pure BS.  I was there, I heard the tutor, a former brick-and-mortar Spanish teacher, say that the Spanish 'e' was pronounced 'ay' as in say not once but three times all without any reference to the phrase, "Como te llamas?"  Needless to say, I responded and let the lead teacher know exactly who it was and when I encountered the problem.  You can't fix what you don't know about.

One comment in the response rubbed me the wrong way. "They have all successfully taught Spanish in brick-and-mortar schools."  Successful by whose standard.  They didn't get fired?  The students went on to speak, write and read Spanish fluently?  Just because my high school Spanish teacher kept her job doesn't mean that her pronunciation was impeccable, her teaching skills good or that she didn't have a horrendous accent.  Nor does it mean that her students were able to speak and understand Spanish when she was done with them.  I actually ended up having to tutor several of my classmates because they could not understand the teacher.  Yet, she continues as a Spanish teacher, so I guess that makes her successful?

After doing some research I found two links that are very useful in learning how to pronounce the Spanish vowels properly and particularly the Spanish 'e' sound for which there is no direct English equivalent.  For the Spanish letter 'e' first look at this thread from  The most popular answer was well written and gave a pretty decent explanation of the pronunciation of the Spanish 'e'.  This link from the University from Iowa provides a fantastic demo of how each vowel is pronounced.  When you open it look under 'vocoides' -> 'vocales' -> 'medias' to find the 'e'.

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