The Stubborn Spanish Subjunctive
By Lonnie Dai Zovi
Advanced Spanish teachers have been struggling to effectively teach the Spanish subjunctive to confused students for years. Some teachers teach it a bit too early. Some students are not ready to expand their mind that far. They will quickly erase the progress that they made with the many indicative verb forms.
When I started teaching the subjunctive in my Spanish 3 second semester class (because I thought I had to. My book told me to.) I had students ready to pull their hair out but even worse than that, was that some started to use the subjunctive form for everything. “Ella tenga dos lápices.” and other abominations.
So when should you teach it?Good question. If you follow a textbook most introduce it in Spanish 3, as mine had previously. DO you have to? Should you? That depends on your students. If you are lucky and teach an elite class, (small, well behaved, motivated and very intelligent) you might go ahead and teach it, or at least introduce it. I have never had classes like that. Most of my classes have been about 35 (or more). In the upper level they have mostly been motivated and capable….but not ready. The Spanish 1 and 2 teachers are good (I’m a 1 teacher, too) but unfortunately our classes are way too big and too diversified to always teach the bright ones all they should know at this level.
One exception to this is sweet Kristina. Kristina had scheduling problems so she unfortunately had to take Spanish 2 independently in my class when I taught Spanish 4. I mostly ignored her because she was bright enough to complete her assignments without much help. As I intensely taught the subjunctive from the grammar books and worksheets, Kristina would often listen. After weeks of good thorough teaching (according to me), I handed out the test on the subjunctive. Kristina asked it she could take it too. I laughed because she had not been a part of the class, had not had the benefit of direct instruction with questions, answers, discussions, worksheets etc. but I obliged her anyway and gave her the test. She got the highest grade of all! That both spoke to her readiness, passion and intelligence….and nothing about my teaching ability, obviously. Embarrassing. I was proud of her, but that also made me reflect on my strategies on teaching the Spanish subjunctive.
I decided to not teach per se, but to lightly introduce the subjunctive indirectly through conversations. Although I don’t speak Spanish 100% in Spanish 1, I so speak it a good percentage of the time. I make sure that I do more than just command. “Yo quiero que uds. me den su tarea.” Es necesario que escriban con pluma.” Es posible que Juanito no venga hoy.” Etc. With time, their simple utterances in Spanish include subjunctive phrases. At this point they just take my word for it, as a young child would.
By the time I teach subjunctive formally, purposefully, they have already subconsciously learned a lot of it. They will have heard me use it a lot, read stories, heard pod casts or news casts, listened to long or short videos, heard songs etc. all with subjunctive thrown in. At this time I also have put up subjunctive pictures on the boards that help them conceptualize the reasons for its use. Along side
Even though they have often heard songs (popular, folkloric, or classic) throughout their Spanish studies, I now present the focused songs (Songs For Learning the Subjunctive) that actually teach or reinforce the concepts and the verb forms better. The songs are actually musically accompanied rhythmic recitations (chants set to music) set to such tunes as tango, merengue, salsa and more.
With the Subjunctive pics on the board and in their notebooks, their previous informal introduction, the song/chants from Songs For Learning the Subjunctive, worksheets from workbooks or other sources, and projects (greeting cards, wish lists, letters to incoming students etc.) and of course conversations and writings, your students will be on their way to using the stubborn subjunctive fluently.