Here you will find 10 basic English grammar lessons that might be helpful to you and your students as you introduce your students to similar or equivalent grammar concepts in Spanish. The explanations are short and straightforward, as they are intended more as memory prompts for you and your students than actual lesson plans.
How to use your English to teach Spanish
1. The Parts of Speech
a. A noun is a person, place, or thing. Nouns can be singular (ex: cookie) or plural (ex: cookies), concrete (ex: book) or abstract (ex: education), proper (ex: Mr. Miyagi) or common (ex: woman). Nouns are always used to answer the question “who?” or “what?” in a sentence. In Spanish, nouns are either masculine or feminine.
b. A pronoun takes the place of a noun in a sentence. (ex: He or him takes the place of Mr. Miyagi, while she or her takes the place of woman. They or them takes the place of the students.) In Spanish, there is an informal and formal third person: tú/usted and vosotros(as)/nosotros(as).
c. The three articles in English are a, an, and the. They always precede a noun. (ex: a book, an apple, the school). In Spanish, the articles indicate whether a noun is masculine or feminine.
d. An adjective modifies or describes a noun or pronoun. (ex: a beautiful book, a red apple, an old school). In Spanish, the gender of the adjective must be consistent with the gender of the noun it modifies or describes.
e. A verb communicates action or a state of being in a sentence. (ex: to be, to eat, to read, to run). In both English and Spanish, the verb systems are complex; some say the nuances of English grammar rules around verbs are more complex than the Spanish system, and others say the opposite, so clearly, the point is debatable!
f. An adverb modifies or describes verbs, much like an adjective describes a noun (ex: to be still, to eat quickly, to read slowly, to run gracefully).
2. Infinitives v. Conjugated Verbs
In English and in Spanish, an infinitive is based on a verb, which means it has to do with action or with a state of being. An infinitive consists of the word “to” plus a verb in its most basic stem form.
In Spanish, an infinitive is conjugated to reflect the person and the tense in the verb itself. In Spanish, an infinitive verb ends in -ar, -er and -ir.
In English, a gerund is based on a verb, which means that the gerund has to do with action or a state of being. A gerund ends in -ing and often functions as a noun.
The Spanish gerundio is better known in the context of the present progressive verb tense, so a direct comparison to the English gerund is ineffective and can be confusing to students.
4. The Conditional Tense
In English, use of the conditional verb tense is often indicated with the word “if” or with the word “would” in sentences that speculate about something that might happen in the future.
In Spanish, the conditional tense is appropriate to use in situations that are less likely to happen, whereas the future tense is more appropriate to use in situations that are very likely to happen.
A conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses (sentences) together. (Ex: My book is interesting, but I am too busy studying Spanish to read it.) Their use in English and Spanish are the same.
A preposition is usually used in combination with a noun or pronoun to make a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase modifies verbs, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. (Ex: The building with the red roof is my school.) Their use in English and Spanish are the same.
7. Direct Objects & Indirect Objects
A direct object is a noun phrase that indicates a person or thing that is the recipient of a verb. (Ex: I taught the students.) An indirect object is a noun phrase that also relates to a verb in a sentence, but in order for an indirect object to be used, a direct object must also be used. An indirect object identifies to whom or for whom the verb is performed. (Ex: The librarian brought the books to the students.) Their use in English and Spanish are the same.
8. Subject-Verb Agreement
This English grammar rule requires the verb in a sentence to correspond in number to the subject of a sentence; this rule means that a singular subject of a sentence requires a singular verb, while a plural noun requires a plural verb.
In Spanish, this same general rule applies, but there are special cases and considerations that make for exceptions to this rule.
9. How English is easier…
a. Unlike nouns and articles in English, Spanish nouns and their corresponding articles have a gender. Careful and thorough memorization is the most reliable way to learn the genders of nouns as there are always exceptions to any shortcuts that suggest a consistent pattern for either masculine or feminine nouns.
b. The rules of Spanish adjective order within a sentence can be complicated, but most of the time, adjectives appear directly after the noun in Spanish. If the adjectives end in the letter “o” (the masculine ending) they must be changed to an ending of “a” (the feminine ending) if needed in order to reflect the gender of the noun they modify or describe. If the adjective ends in any other letter, no changes to the ending are necessary.
To make matters even more complicated, some adjectives are only used with the verb estar, and others only with the verb ser; still other adjectives change meaning when used with ser or estar. Memorization is the most reliable way to ensure correct usage.
c. Possessive nouns with an apostrophe “s” simply do not exist in Spanish: for example, Julia’s book = the book of Julia (el libro de Julia).
d. “To have” means more than to possess in a literal way. Expressions using tener can denote age, hunger, thirst, sleepiness, temperature, even whether or not you are in a hurry! Again, memorization is the most reliable way to ensure correct usage.
e. In short, English speakers rarely use the subjunctive, whereas it is often used in Spanish. The unfamiliarity of the subjunctive can make for a lot of confusion for some Spanish learners, so extra time and practice could be very helpful for English-speaking Spanish students.
10. How Spanish is easier…
a. Punctuation in Spanish is different when using question marks and exclamation points. In Spanish, an inverted question mark and an inverted exclamation point begins questions and exclamations. As well, comma rules in Spanish are slightly different than comma rules in English.
b. Spelling is more predictable in Spanish whereas it can be irregular in English. Generally, learning the sound of each letter in Spanish means you can spell a Spanish word with ease. The r sound can seem similar to the rr sound, however, and the y sound can seem similar to the ll sound; as well, the different sounds of c, z, and s can take a little practice to discern. As well, it is important to remember that the tilde over the ñ is essential.
c. The word “it” is used less in Spanish as it is inferred in the conjugated verb within a sentence. For example, Es grande is a two word phrase in English, whereas It is big is a three word phrase in Spanish.
d. Negation is more straightforward in Spanish than in English thanks to the absence of complicated English prefixes. The simple no placed in front of a verb in Spanish is all you need.
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