Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Physical Spanish Phonics


When I trained as a secondary MFL teacher in 1994-95, phonics were not mentioned.  We were not trained how to teach the sound-spelling link, and, indeed, it wasn't expected.  Those were the days when students were supposed to just absorb the different phonic and pronunciation rules.  It was clear, especially when preparing Year 10 and Year 11 students for the oral components of their modular GCSEs, that this didn't work.

Then in 2000 I was invited to be part of a working group in Sunderland LA, looking at the findings of the Invisible Child report by David Buckland, Jeff Lee and Glenis Shaw.  David Buckland came to spend a day with us to discuss it.  (NB the date of the CILT publication of the report says 2001, but we were definitely already discussing it in January 2000.)  

In the group we formulated listening strategies, to break down and demystify the often impenetrable audio recordings that we find ourselves obliged to use, and reading strategies, in particular the analysis of texts.  We also decided that phonics, the sound-spelling link, was very important for building confidence for the "invisible children" and in fact for all.  I still have the posters that we compiled for French, Spanish and German, to display in classrooms, for example this one for that Spanish sound that we can't write in English!

Since then, I've always endeavoured to include some phonics in my lessons.

Phonics are an integral part of the Key Stage 2 programme of study for Languages.  What exactly does it expect us to do?
  • (in the aims of the programme of study) "... continually improving the accuracy of their pronunciation and intonation"
  • (in the subject content introduction) "using their knowledge of phonology, grammatical structures and vocabulary"
  • "explore the patterns and sounds of language through songs and rhymes and link the spelling, sound and meaning of words"
  • "develop accurate pronunciation and intonation so that others understand when they are reading aloud or using familiar words and phrases"
I had always tried my best to achieve these objectives, even going so far as to create my own resource for Spanish.  But I was never completely happy with how it was going in class.

In the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group, there had been a lot of chat about a publication called Physical French Phonics, which was proving popular for teaching French phonics, something that is of course a lot more complex than Spanish.  

Then last year, Jenny Bell, Sue Cave and Jean Haig published Physical Spanish Phonics, which I have to say has revolutionised the way I teach phonics, and has vastly increased the children's knowledge of sounds and their confidence with pronunciation.

The idea is that you have a image which represents a sound, and which also gives you an idea of what that grapheme sounds like, for example someone biting into an apple for the "a" sound.  Then that picture and phoneme/grapheme are accompanied by an action.  I then take one of our words (the months, most recently, for Year 4) and represent each sound using the images.  We then look at the images, say the sounds and do the actions for each individual sound before then blending them to make the word.

This approach has been particularly successful for the very low ability children, who often get left behind and who might find the sound-spelling link most difficult.  Using this process they can easily sound out and then blend the words.  It is also clearly contributing to a significant increase in confidence for all the children.

With Year 4 I have been using Physical Spanish Phonics to sound out and blend the months, prior to putting the months into our sentence builder which puts together birthday sentences:

By the time the children see this, they already know the numbers (from the previous Year 4 unit), the word mi (from Year 3) and the word es (from Year 3).  So knowing the sounds of the months, which we have just practised in isolation with the sounds and then by reciting them in order, is confidence-building, and allows us then to move quickly into the meaning and structure of the sentences.

I gave my Year 4s a challenge this morning, after we had practised the months and their sounds some more.  I showed them the words viña, ceño, jabalí and cerezas, accompanied by the Physical Spanish Phonics images, and asked them to work with their partner to work out how to say these words, none of which they had ever seen before.  Their pronunciation was beautiful.

I asked Year 4 to tell me what they thought of working on phonics in this way:
  • "It helps a lot."
  • "It helps me to work out words easily."
  • "If I get stuck I can look at the pictures."
  • "It makes me concentrate."
  • "If you're joining in with everyone and you're a bit lost you can look at the pictures and listen to the others."
  • "I take it in a bit more."
  • "When I do the actions I can say the words better."
If you're looking for a way to teach phonics in Key Stage 2 or even early Key Stage 3, I definitely recommend Physical Spanish Phonics.  I really like how the actions allow you to see exactly who is putting in the effort, and how the actions also give you a shorthand to use to correct mispronunciations in a quiet and non-threatening way.  To refer back to the programme of study, it helps me to explore, develop and continually improve the children's pronunciation. Why not give it a try!

1 comment:

  1. Really insightful post, especially as I have just ordered the book and intend to ramp up explicit phonics teaching in Y3 and 4. It is so true that the lower attaining children often struggle to process a new word because they do not have a grasp of the Spanish letter-sound correspondences. We also know that lower KS2 have had years of intense phonics training in English lessons,so should respond well to something similar, and in the case of Spanish at least, easier (given there are fewer phonemes and spelling is regular). The other driving force, don't we know, is the greater weight being given by Ofsted to the systematic planning and teaching of phonics in the primary language curriculum. So I hope this book helps to accelerate the learning of all, but particularly those who appear 'tongue-tied', whilst also ticking the 'Ofsted compliant' box!