March 14, 2019
Audrey Yates (Irias)

Learning when to use ser versus estar is always a challenge. I have to come back to it and review it every year. I remember back when I was in my Syntax class in college that we spent a whole month reviewing it! I would tell my students to take comfort in the fact that Spanish majors needed a whole month to review a concept in an in-depth grammar class that they learned back in Spanish 1. That did help them feel better. That, and reminding them that learning a language is a process and Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I have taught ser and estar the “old-fashioned” or “traditional” way, with conjugation grids and mnemonic devices. The students knew the conjugations and each mnemonic device inside and out. They could conjugate them and put them into sentences, but still, when it came down to it, would struggle if one sentence had an instance to use ser and the next sentence, estar.

I decided to shake things up and make learning more organic, rather than a prescriptive approach. I would find pop or reggaetón songs in Spanish, and have them read along with me three times, as they would fill in a cloze-activity exercise with aforementioned vocabulary. We would then have a recognition-based discussion, where they would partner up and guess what the various forms of ser and estar meant in that song, which would lead to them both meaning a form of “to be.”

Here are some samples of those songs:

I recommend adding “letra” to the end of your searches, to get the lyrics-version of a song. That said, searching for a particular conjugation or expression will yield more results than searching for infinitives.

Before going deep into the “when do I use which,” I would show students snippets from different types of media, based in Spanish-speaking countries. Again, I would ask them what they thought it meant, besides answering comprehension questions. The more they saw the verbs in different contexts, the more they were able to pick up when to appropriately use them.

Here is some poetry I could use:

https://www.poemas-del-alma.com/blog/mostrar-poema-398199 and https://www.poemas-del-alma.com/blog/mostrar-poema-228336. For other types of media, I can search for expressions used with conjugations of each verb at https://www.linguee.com/spanish-english/translation/ and check out those websites in the Spanish column. Be sure to find the website you want before class time, because while they may appear on Linguee, that doesn’t mean the website is still up and working.

It isn’t until after I spend two weeks going back and forth do I broach the conjugation or “when to use” discussion—less time for more advanced classes. I still review it, even for my advanced classes, in case there are any doubts or I clear up something they didn’t know they misunderstood. But, by this time, most students are able to use both verbs correctly in original utterances.

Please note that the websites worked at the time of publishing this blog and as I am not their creator, I cannot promise that they will continue working. I hope, however, that this blog helps you when you teach ser versus estar.

Posted By Audrey Yates (Irias) | Teacher’s Discovery

Audrey Yates (Irias) started learning Spanish at age 10 in a FLEX program in her elementary school, because her aunt lived in Puerto Rico. She was so enamored with learning languages that she dove in head first, and took multiple years of French and Spanish in high school. Following her passion, she was a double major in Spanish and French Education and a TESOL minor, at Illinois State University—during which time she studied in Spain and France. She taught for 11 years in both traditional as well as virtual classrooms. In 2016, she earned her master’s in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Illinois.

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