How to teach Spanish all in Spanish

How do you start teaching Spanish to a class of native English speakers who have no clue about Spanish at all? And is it possible to continue teaching them without using a word of English?

First let’s agree on something shall we?!
It is better to conduct language lessons using only the target language because immersion is a more effective way of language learning than non immersion.

Teaching solely in the target language is not only desirable, it is totally feasible too. Let’s look at some of the ‘tricks of the trade’.

  • Little by little – and start at the beginning!

Find me a student who hasn’t heard of the word ‘Hola’ before! Or ‘Adiós’. Start with these.

  • Graded language

Graded language is classroom language that is adapted to the level of the learners in some way. Grading your language is a skill which is usually perfected over time.

  • Corrections

Regular corrections are a great way of ‘drilling’ the target language. Tip: take notes of student errors made during the lesson and round off the class by pointing out these mistakes and seeing if the students can correct them themselves first.

  • Repetition

Keep on saying what you’ve already said! Say it again in the next lesson and in following lessons. In short, go over what you have already taught until the students have absolutely nailed it (then you needn’t mention it again!)

  • Props

Props convey meaning superbly. Look at the above image…

“Estoy contenta” – I am happy

  • Demonstration

Show ’em how it’s done!

  • Images

We all know what the image above shows so it’s going to be pretty obvious when you say the word “Perro”, right?

Tip: images which impact more are better than images which don’t, but make sure the meaning is not lost. For example, an image of a dog wearing a hat is not suitable if you just want to teach the word “Perro”.

  • Cognates

Cognates are words in two languages that share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation.

Shown above is an ‘elefante’. Now, because that word is similar in English I wouldn’t need an image to teach it. I can just say “Elefante” and my students will know what I mean.

Here’s a useful list of Spanish cognates:

  • Praise words

Praise quality work by students to the heavens! They learn so much faster when given positive signals.

‘Fantástico’, shown above, also happens to be a cognate. Use that to your advantage by introducing others afterwards that need not be cognates! For example ‘Muy bien’. If you say Muy bien in the same enthusiastic way you say Fantástico then the meaning will be obvious.

  • Gestures

Teaching verbs? This gesture is ‘Telefonear’ (another cognate!) or ‘Llamar’.

Gestures like this one are universal, so all students will get what you are conveying straight away.

  • Summary

Translating from English to Spanish or vice versa is not a technique used by a quality Spanish teacher. A key problem with translation is that is allows the student to think in their own language rather than the target language. Admittedly, students with a low level of Spanish may be thinking in English and translating into Spanish (children much less so than adults) but they know that’s happening out of necessity and they know it’s not desirable. If your students are older, try explaining to them why you conduct your classes solely in Spanish, and watch those nods of approval in return!

In this article I have listed some ‘tricks of the trade’; devices you, as a teacher of Spanish, can employ to ensure your teaching stays solely in that language.

Devices listed here: Little by little, Graded language, Corrections, Repetition, Props, Demonstration, Images, Praise words, Cognates, and Gestures.

What have I missed? Be sure to let me and your fellow Spanish teachers know!

See you next time,


Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…