A Chat About English/Spanish Pedagogical Connections

by Dr. Patricia Morales

When I decided to pursue a degree in Linguistics several years ago, one of the hot topics of research was contrastive analysis, a linguistic instructional tool that compares and contrasts two language systems. Even though comparisons of language features and language interference became part of my literature review and lexicon, instructional strategies to support language and content development became my passion. 

My fascination with teaching language undoubtedly began at school when I was an elementary student in an English as a foreign language (EFL) classroom in Chile, my home country. But it was not until my experience teaching K-12 English learners and adult college courses that my interest in pedagogical and theoretical linguistics shifted almost entirely to applied linguistics and its implications for teaching and learning content in two languages. Since then, my focus in providing professional development has always kept the instructional empowerment of ESL, bilingual, and dual language teachers at its heart while pulling from pedagogical tools such as contrastive analysis.

Connections Are Inevitable

Historically, transitional bilingual education programs have been designed to teach English and Spanish languages separately, with a primary focus on monolingual teaching strategies. Nowadays, the vast majority of research studies are connecting the interdependency of languages through the analysis and emphasis of topics such as cross transfer, metalinguistic awareness, and translanguaging, as relevant, active, and positive factors impacting a bilingual brain. Research studies continue to show that cross-language transfer promotes thinking and enhances conceptual development, making positive connections more possible between languages in bilingual instructional settings.

Teachers’ awareness of the connections between languages can help them facilitate students’  processes of natural interdependency and transfer between languages. Bilingual learners can then better develop metalinguistic and cross-academic transfer skills that they will be able to apply while learning new content or when they transfer content from their native language to their second language.

The implementation of research-based relationships between English and Spanish in dual language classrooms equip bilingual students with a variety of instructional strategies that facilitate linguistic, academic, and cultural transfer. 

This transfer can also be facilitated or enhanced by teachers through examples that cover essential areas of language acquisition, as well as activities and strategies that promote pedagogically the development of linguistic academic connections in the bilingual classroom.

Instructional Suggestions

The following strategies are particularly useful during literacy and content development because they enhance conceptual clarity and language connections.

  1. The use of graphic organizers in English and Spanish to ensure that bilingual students classify, elaborate, explore, and analyze ideas and vocabulary words.
    • graphs and charts to organize and compare data
    • diagrams to compare and contrast
    • flowcharts to show cause and effect
    • timelines to organize and sequence events
    • mapping to explore special relationships among concepts and vocabulary words
    • outlines to summarize and make predictions
  1. The use of cognates (words with common etymological origins) to analyze and discuss narrative and expository text, promote oral interaction, build vocabulary, and stimulate background knowledge. 
    • word walls with true academic cognates (same meaning) in English and Spanish, such as optimistic/optimista
    • activities that include English and Spanish cognates in social and academic interactive dialogues. 
    • teaching students how to identify and select lesson vocabulary in both languages, such as common words, functional words, academic words, and specialized vocabulary
  1. Strategies that promote sound and letter relationships and foster comprehension skills. 
    • comparison of homophones in both languages such as two/to, and cenado/senado. 
    • comparison of words with multiple meanings in both languages such as homonyms; quarter (15 minutes), quarter (25 cents), and hoja (leaf) and hoja (sheet)
    • comparison of idioms (modismos) in both languages, such as Are you pulling my leg? ¿Me estás tomando el pelo?

Examples of Connections

Let us review a few examples of these pedagogical relationships in the areas of phonology, morphology, and semantics:

The analysis of relationships between English and Spanish such as the ones shown above can provide teachers and students a way to strengthen the innate process of transfer. 

As seen in Table A, sound correspondence in vowel sounds and consonants in both languages facilitates and connects the process of phonological transfer and bridging. In Table B, we see that morphological correspondences of affixes connect both structures of vocabulary words, which promotes metalinguistic awareness and enhances the transfer of formation of words. On Table C, the use of cognates, which are words that share common etymological origins, not only expedites language learners’ understanding of their native language but also gives them insights into its shared roots with their second language. 

In this way, the awareness of common sounds, the use of similar prefixes and suffixes, and all social and academic vocabulary connections promote the process of learning and transfer by activating students’ academic background knowledge. Comparing and contrasting two language systems in this and other ways is a powerful tool to enhance instruction within our bilingual and dual language classrooms.


Morales, P. 2019.  English/Spanish Linguistic and Academic Connections – Recursos pedagógicos para el salón bilingüe y dual. First Edition by Ellservices – Seidlitz Education LLC

Want to Learn More from Dr. Morales?

Join her for any/all of these upcoming virtual trainings! Learn more about (and register for) each on our upcoming events page.

  • TexES ESL 154 Test Preparation and Practice: October 10, November 7
  • Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test Spanish 190 Preparation: October 13-14
  • English/Spanish Linguistic and Academic Connections: October 14, November 11, December 2
  • Optimizando y enriqueciendo el desarrollo de la lectoescritura: October 15, November 12, December 3

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