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How to Introduce Literature into a Spanish Language Class

written by: Eric W. Vogt•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/29/2011

The USA is, generally, no longer a literary culture. The Spanish-speaking world, despite its problems with literacy, is still a literate culture -- a culture that thrives on the spoken or written word. Introducing Spanish literature, therefore, is a good way to expose students to Hispanic cultures.

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    How, When and What Literature to Introduce

    If you agree with me that it is important to introduce students to Spanish-language literature, there are a few remaining questions regarding how to address that need. Here are a few questions or thoughts to keep in mind:

    1. Age-level appropriateness is important, as it is in their classes in their native language (I'm assuming that is English for most of my readers);

    2. Native material. Don't use translations of English literature or the impression that all languages are translations of English will be reinforced and, consequently, the notion of English as somehow primary by nature will be instilled

    3. Small doses. Beginners need very short passages, obviously, but they also need to be exciting or exotic. Legends and folk tales have been published in Spanish. If you have beginners, use such material as has been written or adapted for children. The important thing is, as mentioned already, that it not be translated or written with non-Spanish speakers in mind;

    4. If you have a great passage, but it is a bit too advanced, supply English translations only of the difficult phrases and vocabulary. This also reinforces learning vocabulary from context, just as we do in our native languages;

    5. Use proverbs, especially the ones that have clear counterparts in English but are expressed so differently. This shows students that meaning and words are not interchangeable on a one-for-one basis. Example: Cada loco con su tema expresses the same idea as To each his own. Do not confuse proverbs with slang. Me tomas el pelo is not a proverb.

    6. I like to use some of the short, Romantic works from the Rimas of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the famous 19th century Spanish poet; and finally

    7. Find descriptive passages (of people, landscapes, etc.) that "paint a picture with words." This sort of passage is useful for vocabulary and also can be linked to studying famous people, events and places. Such passages can be found online by searching in Spanish (you can do that in Google) and they tie in nicely across the curriculum by linking with history and geography.

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