Spanish as a Third Language

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Strategies are defined as a set of operations that students use to acquire, assimilate and reuse the target language.1 Some of these strategies enable students to reflect on their learning process and improve it. Some of them help students carry out a task, while others apply to the affective or social aspect of learning.

Having already developed certain strategies in their language of instruction or second language programs, students learning Spanish can apply this knowledge as they progressively broaden their inventory of strategies by other means, such as teacher modelling and guided practice.

The following table presents examples of useful strategies for learning Spanish. The learning strategies and language-use strategies were combined and then reorganized in accordance with the three competencies of the program: Interacts in Spanish; Understands a variety of texts in Spanish; Produces a variety of texts in Spanish.


Student constructs knowledge with teacher guidance.

Student applies knowledge by the end of the school year.


Student reinvests knowledge.


Cycle Two

  1. Interaction strategies
3 4 5
  1. Uses nonverbal communication
    1. uses various physical actions to communicate nonverbally (e.g. gestures, facial expressions, pauses)
    1. observes the listener’s reaction to find out if the message was understood
  1. Reproduces sounds, intonations and statements by repeating them out loud or to himself/herself
  1. Puts new terms or expressions within a context in order to remember them more easily
  1. Uses various communication strategies
    1. repeats what the teacher or other speaker says to formulate the beginning of his/her response
    1. uses certain words to buy time when he/she does not know what to say or how to say it (e.g. pues, bueno)
    1. asks questions to verify whether the listener understands (e.g. ¿Entiendes?)
    1. rephrases or starts over when communication reaches an impasse
    1. compensates for not knowing the right word or expressions by replacing them with known words or expressions
      1. uses a hypernym (generic term) instead of a hyponym (specific term) (e.g. mueble instead of silla)
      1. uses periphrasis (e.g. el hijo de mi tía instead of primo)
  1. Anticipates questions from the other speaker or the audience
  1. Asks the other speaker for help
    1. asks him or her to speak more slowly (e.g. Más despacio, por favor)
    1. asks the other speaker to repeat, rephrase or explain when he/she does not understand (e.g. No entiendo, ¿Puede repetir, por favor?, ¿Cómo?, ¿Disculpe?, ¿Qué quiere decir?)
    1. asks for assistance in order to learn new terms or new expressions (e.g. ¿Cómo se dice… en español?)
    1. confirms that he/she is using a word or phrase correctly (e.g. ¿Se puede decir…?)
  1. Participates actively
    1. continues to interact even when he/she does not understand everything that is being said
    1. works with his/her peers to carry out a task
    1. asks the teacher questions about the topic or task
    1. asks questions to keep the discussion going or to further it
    1. takes risks in carrying out new tasks
    1. seizes opportunities to speak Spanish
  1. Pays attention to the way he/she interacts in order to identify frequently occurring errors
  1. Is empathetic and tries to understand the point of view of others when working in a team
  1. Uses techniques to reduce his/her anxiety and build his/her self-confidence during interactions (e.g. visualization, self-motivation)
  1. Comprehension strategies
3 4 5
  1. Makes predictions about the text that will be listened to, read or viewed
    1. skims texts and uses the paratextual elements to identify the topic (e.g. illustrations, subtitles, headings)
    1. recognizes the structure of the type of text
  1. Sets a goal and takes it into account when listening, reading or viewing a text
  1. Takes into account prosodic elements (e.g. flow, intonation)
  1. Activates prior linguistic knowledge
    1. associates new words or expressions in Spanish with others known in the first or second language
    1. uses known elements to infer the meaning of new or unfamiliar elements (e.g. prefixes, word order in the sentence)
    1. establishes links between the topic of conversation and texts that have already been heard, read or viewed
    1. makes inferences to formulate language usage rules (e.g. adverbs formed by the addition of -mente)
  1. Recognizes elements of information that are essential for understanding a text
    1. searches for keywords
    1. identifies the main and secondary ideas
    1. draws diagrams, tables or other graphic representations in order to organize information
  1. Uses a variety of techniques to overcome difficulties in understanding
    1. consults the dictionary
    1. reads over or listens to a text several times
    1. notes down elements to be clarified
    1. asks his/her peers or teacher questions to verify his/her understanding
    1. works with his/her peers to find new information
    1. infers from the context the likely meaning of unfamiliar expressions or words
  1. Adopts a positive attitude toward comprehension problems
  1. Congratulates himself/herself upon achieving a goal
  1. Production strategies
3 4 5
  1. Participates in various forms of discussion to generate ideas or vocabulary and prepare to carry out a task (e.g. brainstorming, semantic mapping)
  1. Takes notes, selects and groups together information in preparation for writing his/her text
  1. Plans the production stages and the time required
  1. Selects an appropriate layout and communication medium
  1. Reproduces certain model texts, notably those whose structure is familiar and repetitive (e.g. short stories, songs)
  1. Draws on texts he/she has heard, read or viewed and on their structure in producing his/her text
  1. Uses known syntactic models to create new sentences
  1. Reuses words, expressions and grammatical concepts learned in class (e.g. words from the same lexical field) in the produced text
  1. Keeps in mind the topic of the text and the communication purpose
  1. Uses a variety of resources to produce and revise his/her text (e.g. teacher, dictionary, Internet)
  1. Reads the text over several times for content (e.g. relevance of ideas), form (e.g. verb agreement) and presentation (e.g. page layout)
  1. Encourages himself/herself so as to reduce anxiety
  1. Asks peers for feedback on his/her production
  1. Pays attention to how he/she produces texts in order to identify frequently repeated errors
1.  Paul Cyr, Le point sur les stratégies d’apprentissage d’une langue seconde (Montréal: CEC, 1996), 5.

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