Spanish as a Third Language

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The lexicon is a key component in all language development and enables us to define reality. It is also the vehicle for culture. Therefore it is important for students to build a repertoire of words and expressions that is rich and varied enough for them to be able to communicate effectively with the greatest number of Spanish speakers possible.

From the time they start learning Spanish, students acquire the vocabulary required for their communication needs. They also use the lexical knowledge that they have acquired in their first and second languages to better understand the meaning of new words in Spanish. Exposure to a variety of oral and written texts enables them to build their vocabulary and express themselves with increasing fluency in Spanish.

The following table presents the various elements of lexical knowledge that students must acquire: target vocabulary, the meaning of words and expressions, word formation, spelling and semantic relationships.


Student constructs knowledge with teacher guidance.

Student applies knowledge by the end of the school year.


Student reinvests knowledge.


Cycle Two

  1. Meaning of words and expressions
3 4 5
  1. Understands basic vocabulary related to his/her immediate environment (e.g. the classroom, school, home)
  1. Uses basic vocabulary related to his/her immediate environment
  1. Understands vocabulary related to the expression of personal, educational or social needs (e.g. expresses his/her preferences and feelings, follows instructions, formulates requests)
  1. Uses vocabulary related to the expression of personal, educational or social needs
  1. Understands common vocabulary related to the topic under discussion (e.g. el viaje, la reproducción, las estaciones, los países to discuss the migration of the Monarch butterfly)
  1. Uses the vocabulary learned during his/her interactions and productions
  1. Understands the literal and figurative meanings of certain words when listening to, reading or viewing texts (e.g. llevar puestos unos pantalones to describe what someone is wearing and llevar bien puestos los pantalones to describe the authority exercised by someone)
  1. Understands idiomatic expressions when listening to, reading or viewing texts (e.g. ¡Caramba! which means “Oh dear!”; ¡Qué rico! which means “That’s so good!”; hablar de uno a sus espaldas which means “to talk about someone behind his/her back”)
  1. Uses idiomatic expressions acquired by listening to, reading or viewing texts
  1. Word formation
3 4 5
  1. Identifies the root to which a prefix or a suffix has been added (e.g. incómodo, casita)
  1. Identifies the derivation process for building words
    1. adding a prefix (e.g. sobrenombre, rehacer, imposible, abajo)
    1. adding a suffix (e.g. comedor, rojizo, rápidamente)
  1. Understands the meaning of certain prefixes and suffixes (e.g. the negative or lack of (in-), as in indiscreto; a profession (-or), as in director; a place (-ería), as in panadería)
  1. Identifies words created by compounding (e.g. lavaplatos, medianoche, pintalabios)
  1. Spelling
3 4 5
  1. Spells correctly the words that he/she has learned
  1. Capitalizes words correctly (e.g. in proper names, in titles)
  1. Places accents in the correct places in the words that he/she has learned (e.g. cafetería, marrón, Perú)
  1. Semantic relationships
3 4 5
  1. Establishes a semantic relationship between
    1. words from the same family (e.g. comer, comida, comedor, comilón)
    1. words from two different languages but with the same etymological source (e.g. the cognates train − and tren, liberty − and libertad)
    1. words from the same lexical field (e.g. el vendedor, los recuerdos, el precio, el regateo to talk about el mercado)
    1. two words with the same meaning (e.g. the synonyms volver / regresar, el pelo / el cabello, jamás / nunca)
    1. two words with opposite meanings (e.g. the antonyms antes / después, la pregunta / la respuesta, mínimo máximo)
    1. a generic term and a specific term (e.g. the hypernym fruta and the hyponym plátano)
    1. two words that have the same spelling but different meanings  (e.g. the homonyms como – I eat, como – like / sobre – envelope, sobre - on)
    1. two words with the same pronunciation but different meanings (e.g. the homophones el − the, él − he / varón − man, barón − baron / tuvo − he had, tubo − tube)
    1. certain words that are generally used only with certain other words1 (e.g. el vino tinto and not el sombrero tinto, una rebanada de pan and not una rebanada de mantequilla)
  1. Recognizes that the same word can have different meanings2 depending on the context (e.g. contar dinero − to count money, contar una historia − to tell a story, contar con alguien − to rely on someone)
1.  This semantic relationship is called “collocation.”
2.  This semantic relationship is called “polysemy.”

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