Teaching accents to heritage speakers

UPDATED 8/28: I just added a practice activity to do the next day (attached to the end of the post).acento[1]
Part of me DOES NOT CARE about accents. Really, I feel like I’ve got many bigger, more important battles to fight than teaching the rules of accentuation… never mind doing it with traditional grammar terms. My principal goal for my heritage speakers is to develop their love of reading, period. During back to school night I recite Krashen and encourage parents to buy anything that their kids actually want to read. With compelling reading students will correct themselves much more efficiently than I could ever do with explicit instruction.

Having said that, I also need my students to buy into my class. Interestingly enough, my heritage language learners come to class in the first month anxious to “fix” their Spanish. They understand the case for reading, but nothing gets their attention like an old-fashioned lesson on the rules that govern the use of accents. Seriously! If you are a non-heritage speaker teaching a class for heritage speakers then you know how important it is to earn the respect of your students.

So here is a link to the class blog post that my heritage speakers follow on computer day, the day after I have taught them about palabras agudas, llanas (graves) and esdrújulas. We do lots of reading already in the first week, but when they get antsy I pull out this lesson on la sílaba tónica and it mesmorizes them. There are four activities that gently guide them to recognize the syllable with the golpe. Click here to go to these activities.

the next day: In class, as a quick transition activity after free reading we did these practice matching activities: Click here to download the powerpoint. The students used this student answer sheet (click here) to fill in their own answers, adding an element of accountability.

I’ll follow up with additional activities addressing accents as we continue throughout the year.


  1. the links to the quizlet activities are broken for me…do you have an updated version of these links?

      1. Hi Mike. When I click on the link above I get a message from WordPress saying that the authors of tchsespanol.wordpress.com have deleted the site. Maybe this page’s link was to that previous site rather than to Quizlet? I miss your Quizlet activities, the competitiveness created by the projected Gravity rounds with my Heritage learners was such a great community bonding activity!

      2. You might be able to find my profile on Quizlet, if it still there then dig into my lists until you find the accent activities.

  2. I have always found the approach “agudas, llanas, esdrujulas” too complex for my nonnative students. Instead I use these 2 rules:
    Category 1) if a word ends in a vowel, n or s, the natural stress falls on the next to last syllable. If the word breaks this rule, add an accent on the vowel taking the stress.
    Category 2) If a word does not end in a vowel, n or, the natural stress fals on the last syllable. If the word breaks this rule, add an accent on the vowel taking the stress.

    Category 3) I teach the monosyllabic words constantly from levels 3 and up (tu, de, el, mas, si etc.)

    All my nonnative level 3 students work with #1 all year, resulting in a 85% “clean-up” of the majority of Spanish words which fall into category 1. In Spanish 4 I force the second category rule.

    This year I have many more heritage speakers than in previous years (mixed in with non heritage in level 4), so with them I am focusing on Category 3 and learning the accents on verbs by verbs (pret, imperfect, future). Any thoughts on that, Mr. Peto?
    I have always believed that the best spellers are the kids that have read a lot in Spanish and/or English, so I will be trying to find ways for the heritage speakers to read more in all genres, particularly newspapers, web pages at first.

    1. I barely teach rules at all to my non-native speakers! I limit myself to a five second explanation, “fue means he went” and then get on with it. I don’t think I have ever had to explicitly teach accents to non-heritage speakers. Just by using the words, and seeing them written, they write accents nearly perfectly. If I wanted to draw attention to the spelling of a word I would write it on the board and then make sure to use it several more times that day and the following days to make sure it sunk in.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you that the best spellers are kids who read. With heritage speakers, if my kids aren’t spending some time reading every day then I believe I am doing something wrong. At this point in the year I have spoken so much about the power of reading (and particularly pleasure reading) that no one questions that sometimes up to half of our class time is spent on silent reading… often with little or no accountability. The only thing they question is whether my books are compelling enough. The other day one student in class pointed out that the public library has a pretty good selection of books in Spanish; that made my day!

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