How to use songs to teach about regional Spanish variations
Leer versión en español aquí
"It is necessary to promote cultures, particular variations and how they are reflected in language. We can never do anything more than admit and accept these variations" *
Santiago Muñoz Machado, Director of the Royal Spanish Academy (Spanish: Real Academia Española or RAE)
With 21 countries adding their own particularities to the language, students deserve to be taught with a global and international approach to the Spanish language. Learn how to use songs to encourage awareness of these varieties.
There are 3 constant comments I usually hear from English speakers: 1) Your Spanish sounds different 2) They taught me a different way to say this at school, followed by the question: Which is the correct one? This usually happens with phrases like “cómo te llamas” and “cuál es tu nombre”. Finally, 3) Do you teach Latin American Spanish or Spanish from Spain?
One mom came to my class one day and told me that her bilingual father in-law had told her I was not teaching the correct way to speak in Spanish. She told me that according to him, I should be teaching “cómo se llama”, instead of “cómo te llamas”, and “cómo está”, instead of “cómo estás”. She was also concerned about the words I was using for the color purple (Morado) and monkey (Mico), both used in different countries, included Colombia.
Well, I won’t go over my whole speech to educate her, but I would definitely say that this needs to change. Spanish students deserve to be taught with a global and international approach of the language, and native and heritage Spanish speakers need to be aware of the regional variations of their own language. Recommended: Game to introduce Spanish Variations at TPT Store
I must recognize that growing up in Colombia, I really never cared that much about these varieties, in part because I did not think it was a big deal, second because there is a popular idea/myth there that we have the best and most pure Spanish around… not sure about that…there is a bit of arrogance in that statement actually.
Things changed when I started working in Public Relations and ended up having to travel to a couple of countries and work with people from different nationalities, and then daily life situations helped me to understand the importance of learning about our differences.
Things like: Ordering a soda at a restaurant in Argentina or Mexico (where I said: una gaseosa por favor, y con pitillo (a soda with a straw) ...WHAT?) or when, in Mexico, they asked me at the office what I would like to bring to a party to share with everyone, I said: “Una torta” (Sandwich in Mexico, cake in Colombia), and they laughed…but not more than when I said I needed a “Chaqueta” (bad word in Mexico, jacket in Colombia). I once heard a whole room laughing after a co-worker from Argentina said to an audience of mostly men in Colombia, during a conference, that the prize for the raffle was going to be a “remera” (T-shirt in Argentina) which they understood as “ramera” (will not include the meaning of this word in Colombia here to avoid misleading google search engines hahahaha).
It might sound complicated, but it is so important to enlighten students about this matter. While I was composing my songs, I remember trying to use the most common words, but how accurate can that be anyway? All in all, there are 21 countries, and they each have their own varieties of the language within their own territories. I used the words I thought are most common and added comments about the other options on the lyrics and the guides for the teachers. We cannot cover them all, but we can start with something simple and offer a couple of examples every time we can, so at least we help the students and their families to have a more realistic idea of how wide and rich our international language is.
"Spanish has the dual challenge of being a standard language for 480 million native speakers, and the assumption that the best way to defend their capacity to communicate is to respect the particularities"
- Luis Garcia Montero, Director of the Cervantes Institute.
A great way to do that is by using music for children. How?
Here are a couple of tips:
To expose them to different accents, find 2 or 3 artists from different nationalities
Select a few songs from their albums that may use the same vocabulary (This is easier with songs related with colors).
First, listen to one of the songs, be sure that the kids can identify the words you want to work with. You don’t need to play the whole song if it’s a long one, but choose a couple of verses.
Listen to a similar song by another artist and ask them if they can identify any difference in the accent.
To expose them to the use of different words to name the same object, find songs (in this case, it does not need to be from artists with different nationalities) about the same theme (This is easier with songs about transportation).
Identify the words in the songs, play the song that uses the word that your students already know, then play the song that uses a different word for the same object.
Here is an example:
For my exercise, I will use one song from Mariana Iranzi, one from Rockalingua, and one of my songs from the album Short + Fun Spanish Beats.
Mariana Iranzi is from Argentina, Cesar Chinchilla (Rockalingua) is from Spain, and I am from Colombia.
To identify different accents, I will use the song Arco iris from Mariana, Colorín Colorado from Cesar, and Amarillo, azul y rojo from my album Short + Fun Spanish Beats.
I will choose the words "Amarillo", 'cielo", and "corazón" to work over the sounds of the letters “ll”, "z" and the “c”.
To identify the use of different words I will use I Go from Mariana, and Lluvia, sol, viento y luna from my album. I will work with the words “kite”: cometa / barrilete, and “park”: parque/plaza. I will also use Mi Carrito from Nathalia, Medios de transporte from Rockalingua, and De paseo from my album, to work with the words "auto", "carro" and "coche", as each can be used for "car".
Again, if the song is long you don’t need to use the whole song, simply select the verses that include the words you’d like to work with.
Invite the kids to repeat the words, write them down, or invite them to draw a picture. You can also print out the words and locate them on a map over the country or some of the countries where it is used.
Doing this kinds of activities will also provide your students with exposure to different music styles, which is also an important aspect of the internationalization of our language. While folklore and traditional songs are very important in teaching the particularities of each Spanish speaking country, it would be unrealistic to try to teach students the language attached solely to a specific regional music genre or style.
*Source: El español, la lengua que une "a 480 millones de nativos" en sus diferencias - Eldiario.es
Ana Calabrese: I am a native Spanish speaker from Colombia raising 2 bilingual-bicultural kids in California. I founded Spanish Plus Me and recorded the album: Short + Fun Spanish Beats to promote the advantages of bilingualism, and encourage the introduction of the Spanish language to children, through the use of songs, movement and fun. You can find my songs on Spotify, Youtube, Amazon, iTunes and Google Play, and download all the lyrics with translations in English, Portuguese and French here. I also share content about bilingualism and some of our family adventures on Instagram @anacalabrese_spm and Facebook at @anacalabresebeats