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Welcoming Spanglish in the Classroom

Gaby Jones (maiden name: Farrera) is an MLIS graduate student at Texas Woman’s University with 15 years of experience as a bilingual elementary teacher, and a current intern at the Diverse BookFinder.

No student should have to “leave themselves at the door” or feel that part of who they are is not welcome at school. 

Laura Hamman, Emeline Beck, and Aubrey Donaldson. A Pedagogy of Translanguaging.

When I first came to the United States to work as a bilingual elementary teacher, I imagined my class would be full of Spanish native speakers that needed to learn English. The reality was very different. It quickly became apparent that most of my students, if not all of them, were already fluent in English and Spanish, albeit in a social setting. They were also conversant in a blended form of both languages: Spanglish. My knowledge of English and Spanish was often not enough to surmise what my students tried to convey sometimes. They had to show me what they meant during incidents such as the following:

One morning, I asked a couple students to retrieve materials from the supply closet. I can’t even remember what it was, but they soon came back saying the door was "lockeada." I stared at them, frankly confused. They spoke to me in Spanish, but the word I heard sounded like “loca,” which means “crazy” in Spanish, and I could not make sense of what they were trying to say. They finally pulled me to the door to show me what they meant. I realized the door was “locked”. They had blended the English word “locked” with the Spanish participle ending “-ada” and had come up with the Spanglish term “lockeada.”

Spanglish encompasses both the blending of word parts from two different languages and code-switching, alternating fluently between English and Spanish. Both skills fall under the umbrella of translanguaging, the practice of making use of all of one’s linguistic abilities. When it comes to bilingual and multilingual students, it means mixing grammar, phonetics, and words from two or more different languages. Hispanic bilingual adults in Texas code-switch all the time. However, students are usually expected to use only one language at a time since this is viewed as “proper English” or “authentic Spanish.”

During my initial years as a bilingual teacher, I failed to see that Spanglish is a valuable resource to both develop students' language skills and build an inclusive classroom community. In my previous experience with the locked door, instead of correcting my students, I should have said, “Lockeada? That’s clever! You’re blending ‘locked’ and ‘cerrada con llave’. Let’s add all those words to our Word Wall. Do you know of any other words that have the same meaning?”

Educators create translanguaging spaces by valuing students’ personal linguistic histories and embracing a colearner role.

Henderson, K. I., & Ingram, M., “Mister, you’re writing in Spanglish”: Fostering spaces for meaning making and metalinguistic connections through teacher translanguaging shifts in the bilingual classroom.

By welcoming Spanglish into their classrooms, teachers can help build an open and positive classroom environment. Spanglish is as much a part of Hispanic American culture as different types of Spanish are to Hispanic people in different Spanish speaking countries. Disregarding Spanglish as part of a students’ background risks alienating them. Plus, it sets them further back when it comes to language skills since they are not given the opportunity to make use of the connections and knowledge they already bring to school.

In the end, becoming a better bilingual teacher in the U.S. did not hinge on my English and Spanish proficiency, as I first thought. What really made a difference was my willingness to learn, understand, and embrace my students’ language and culture.

Here are some Picture Books in our collection that portray English and Spanish code-switching. Use them to celebrate Spanglish and its connection to the unique identity and experiences of Hispanic American children.

The Adventures of Chupacabra Charlie


by Frederick Luis Aldama and Chris Escobar

"In their debut picture book, Frederick Luis Aldama and Chris Escobar invite young readers along on the adventures of Chupacabra Charlie, a polite, handsome, and unusually tall ten-year-old chupacabra yearning for adventure beyond the edge of los Estados Unidos. Little does Charlie know when he befriends a young human, Lupe, that together, with only some leftover bacon quesadillas and a few cans of Jumex, they might just encounter more adventure than they can handle. Along the way, they meet strange people and terrifying danger, and their bravery will be put to the test. Thankfully, Charlie is a reassuring and winsome companion who never doubts that he and Lupe will return safely home. With magical realism, allegory, and gentle humor, Aldama and Escobar have created a story that will resonate with young and old readers alike as it incorporates folklore into its subtle take on the current humanitarian crisis at the border." -- publisher

Folklore Oppression & Resilience

Coming Soon:

Mi Casa is My Home

by Laurenne Sala

Bienvenidos to Lucía's home. Lucía lives in her casa with her big, loud, beautiful familia, and she's going to show you around! From la puerta, where Abuela likes to wave to the neighbors and wait for packages from Puerto Rico or Spain, to la cocina, where Lucía watches her Mamá turn empty pots into soups and arroces, to el patio, where Lucia and her cousins (and her cousin's cousins!) put on magic shows, Lucía loves her busy and cozy casa. With warmth and joy, author Laurenne Sala and illustrator Zara González Hoang celebrate home in this bilingual picture book that feels like an abrazo from your most favorite people, your familia.

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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