Enriching Spanish-Speaking English Learners’ Experiences in the English Music Classroom

By NAfME Member Nabile Anahí Galván García

This article was first published in the April 2024 issue of Journal of General Music Education.


According to the National Education Association, one out of every four children in the U.S. public education system will be an English Learner (EL) by 2025, with at least half of these students likely being Spanish-speaking EL students. As school populations become more ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse, current and future music teachers must increase awareness of the barriers that the growing population of Spanish-speaking EL students may encounter. In this article, the author describes the language acquisition stages that Spanish-speaking EL students typically go through, providing insights into possible strategies for addressing their language barriers and socio-emotional needs, as well as fostering a culturally responsive and sustainable environment in the music classroom. In doing so, the author describes several concrete methods that music educators could use to engage with and learn more about the rich Spanish-speaking communities. Thus, becoming more responsive to the current demographic changes and challenges.

Imagine waking up, getting ready for the day, and heading to your new music class. Arriving at the school building, you are shocked to learn that everything is in a language foreign to you. Naturally, everyone expects you to interact and learn as if you were comfortable speaking their language. You instantly start wondering how you will escape the situation. Though nothing in your earlier formation prepared you for dealing with what it is, you must carry on. Unfortunately, this is the reality for 10.4% of the K-12 student population in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). With demographics continually changing, according to the National Education Association (2020), one out of every four children in U.S. schools will be an English Learner (EL) by 2025. Consequently, teachers might anticipate a significant increase of EL students in their classrooms.

The 2020 Census revealed that the United States is more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021), and the Hispanic/Latino community—as referred to in the Census—is one group whose population is expanding most rapidly in this country (Nadeem, 2022). Despite this, White teachers and candidates comprise 81.9 and 86.02%, respectively of the current and future music teacher workforce (Elpus, 2015). This demonstrates the uniformity of the music teacher population and the pool of prospective future music teachers (Elpus, 2015). Regardless of prior training, many of these teachers could lack specific knowledge in strategies and tools necessary to effectively engage with and show respect to the linguistic, musical, educational, and cultural processes of the Spanish-speaking EL[1] communities. Instead of being partners or classmates, a lack of understanding and strategies might result in a broader social distance between students and teachers (Jorgensen, 2011). Therefore, it is critical to address the potential causes impeding a discernible increase in the number of Spanish-speaking ELs represented in music classes (Abril & Kelly-McHale, 2015; DeLorenzo & Silverman, 2016; Escalante, 2019) and to reiterate the need for additional research, particularly about Spanish-speaking EL music students (Elpus & Abril, 2011). More specifically, music education researchers should aim to broaden existing initiatives that focus on ELs as a single, homogeneous group. Similarly, research about Latino American music students should go beyond a monolithic approach. These monolithic approaches cannot address their members’ critical individual characteristics. Nonetheless, teachers should be aware of the many differences among Latin American populations in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. A critical discussion about increasing Spanish-speaking EL music participation is necessary so that the students “can teach us about teaching and learning in shifting cultural contexts” (Irizarry, 2015, p. 20). This article will add to such discourse by presenting tools and commonalities that can be used to reach and understand Spanish-speaking EL music students, while also offering several strategies to appreciate and validate students’ natural resources and uninvested capital.

Guitar student in lesson

Photo: Frazao Studio Latino / E+ Collection via Getty Images

Since Spanish-speaking ELs’ challenges are not exclusive to academic classes, music educators should also look for ways to help them succeed holistically. Earlier studies in music education have found that EL children in the United States are less likely than their native-English-speaking counterparts to engage in school-sponsored music programs (Lorah et al., 2014). The lingering gap might be linked to various features of EL students’ educational experiences, including potential language challenges requiring students to hold a more significant cognitive load (Lorah et al., 2014; Verdugo & Flores, 2007). This is especially concerning for Spanish-speaking students, given the United States’ continued population increase (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021), augmented by a lack of representation in the music classroom (Elpus & Abril, 2019). Thus, this raises concerns about systematically excluding music instruction from their curriculum (Abril & Kelly-McHale, 2015). Additionally, cultural differences and social-emotional factors must be considered to ensure students’ engagement and success in music teaching spaces (Lorah et al., 2015). In other words, as school populations become more ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse, music teachers should be concerned holistically about EL students’ learning and development. Doing so could allow teachers to make informed judgments, especially in selecting and engaging learners with music that reflects their multimusical and diverse culture (Abril & Flowers, 2007). The author of this piece comprehends the difficulties associated with learning a second language in a culturally and linguistically foreign context. She is both a Spanish-speaking EL student and a music teacher. Her teaching engagement with the Spanish-speaking community and her own learning journey, have made her aware of the development and challenges of learning English. She also recognizes the social-emotional stress and reactions elicited in this process. Consequently, her background motivates her interest in assisting music teachers to be knowledgeable on this matter, so that they can make meaningful curricular decisions and render learners more responsive.

Music teachers who want to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse Spanish-speaking population must recognize that every child is academically, linguistically, and emotionally connected to their native language and culture (Abril, 2003). By knowing and, most importantly, understanding the assets and needs of Spanish-speaking ELs, music teachers can provide effective communication, an enriching learning environment, and techniques that benefit all learners. For these reasons, music teachers may consider drawing from John Dewey’s (1899/1915) recommendation, which encourages teachers to emphasize each student’s natural resources and uninvested capital for the active growth of the children. These resources are communication, inquiry, construction, and artistic expression (Dewey, 1899/1915). In doing so, teachers will be encouraged to adopt a relatively open-ended approach to lesson planning. As they do this, they could strive to address the following suggested categories: Spanish speakers’ language acquisition to increase communication and inquiry; social-emotional needs to construct their learning environment; and a culturally responsive and sustainable pedagogy to assist artistic expression.

Stages of Language Acquisition to Increase Communication and Inquiry

Language is “perhaps the greatest of all educational resources” (Dewey, 1988/1915, p. 59). Teachers must be aware of the stages of language acquisition in order to respond to communication and inquiry. When the new school year starts, incoming Spanish-speaking EL students might use their native language to communicate, use facial and body expressions, or be completely silent during the first few classes. These communicative actions may not guarantee thorough understanding. Thus, language acquisition is, and will be, a crucial educational goal for every Spanish-speaking EL student. This section examines five stages of English language proficiency that ELs must achieve to be deemed English proficient in public schools. Since Spanish is the most often spoken language for ELs (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022), this piece focuses on the unique challenges and assets Spanish-speaking ELs may face, as well as approaches for teaching music at each stage. English proficiency requirement marks may differ from one state to the next. In this article, the five stages will be designated as Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency (Krashen & Terrell, 1983, as cited in Hill & Miller, 2013).

Spanish-accented English has been negatively stereotyped (Bouchard Ryan et al., 1977), which is a concern that extends even beyond the classroom. Therefore, students may fear talking in class, which may be reflected during stage one. Stage one is the Preproduction stage or “Silent Period.” Here, the students absorb the new language, and their vocabulary is minimal. As Restrepo and Silvermann (2001, cited in McCormack & Klopper, 2016) state, “pronunciation is the most difficult part in the acquisition of a language as there are many differences between the phonological elements of the mother tongue and the foreign language” (p. 419). Consequently, students’ fear of exposing their accent or mispronunciation is a concern to ponder when trying to boost communication. However, music educators should keep welcoming students to the classroom while providing ways to demonstrate their knowledge. Providing a range of instructional strategies could be beneficial for students at this stage. Modeling, visual instruction, gestures, and body prompts for tasks at hand can all play a crucial role in aiding comprehension and engagement. For instance, teachers might use rhythm echoing, good posture demonstrations, straightforward routines, or engage in copycat activities. Additionally, asking for thumbs up or down as response offers a simple yet effective response option. Furthermore, researchers have revealed that Spanish-speaking EL students’ anxiety increases when speaking in front of a group of students (Young, 1990). Hence, singing in unison with plenty of repetition is ideal for increasing oracy, pronunciation, and vocabulary acquisition (McCormack & Klopper, 2016). While the Spanish-speaking ELs may seem to be displaying apathy, it is crucial to understand that this might not actually be the case. They may lack the language tools or the confidence required to express themselves, so patience is key. This silent stage might persist for over six months (Webb, 2020), making it critical to remember this information when planning and programming your music students’ activities and performances.

Teachers could potentially minimize the communication anxiety of Spanish-speaking ELs by informing themselves about native speakers’ pronunciation tendencies. Music teachers who are aware of these tendencies could gently correct their students while praising their participation and efforts. During the second stage of Early Production, students will tend to provide one-word answers or two-word phrases. Whereas the EL students’ vocabulary might have doubled by this time, it is still typically no more than 1,000 words (Webb, 2020). For instance, to understand students’ short answers, learn the sounds of the five Spanish vowels (a, e, i, o, and u). Spanish is a phonetic language, which implies that, with few exceptions, words are pronounced precisely as written. Students will naturally try to enunciate and write new words using the vowel sound of their primary language. Providing phrase prompts and visuals of new vocabulary will be helpful. In addition to the activities mentioned before, Spanish-speaking ELs in the early production stage can benefit from music teaching activities incorporating visuals for tempo, dynamics, parts of instruments, or musical symbols to assist their communication skills. Moreover, teachers could recognize that native Spanish speakers’ pronunciation, syllabication, and sentence stress could influence their singing, given that the Spanish and English phonological systems work differently (Silva Valencia, 2022). In Spanish, vowels are pronounced in one consistent way, and there are no silent vowels, potentially creating difficulty in differentiating between English vowel phonemes (Afonso Funke, 2021). Music teachers should plan accordingly to teach the sounds of the numerous vowel sounds, diphthongs, diagraphs, consonant blends, initial/final sounds, endings, and any other sounds that Spanish lacks, yet are required for singing activities in English. Hence, the advice is to incorporate explicit phonetic awareness activities into music lessons. As much as possible, accompany these practices with positive facial expressions, encouragement, compliments, and other enthusiastic replies to make students feel included and welcome their progress (Zhang, 2016).

smiling high school strings students in rehearsal

Photo: Hill Street Studios / DigitalVision Collection via Getty Images

Teachers may notice that Spanish-speaking ELs use Spanglish, a mix of the Spanish and English languages, to complete their verbal expressions. This might be more evident during the third stage of Speech Emergence. Here, EL students speak and comprehend more readily (Webb, 2020). Instead of seeing Spanish as a barrier to excel in English, music teachers can consider effective ways for students to draw from their native language (Martínez, 2010). The goal is to teach Spanish-speaking ELs to appreciate both the Spanish and English languages as tools for comparing, retrieving, and contextualizing information. For instance, cooperative learning allows students to learn and apply double agent words—words new in English that are used in the first language (Webb, 2020). It also encourages them to find near-perfect cognates in those languages (e.g., fantastic-fantástico, perfect-perfecto). Also, many English words that finish in “tion” frequently translate into Spanish as the same word but with the end in “ción” (Irizarry, 2015, p. 127) (e.g., appreciation-apreciación, attention-atención, composition-composición, presentation-presentación). Teachers must remember and remind students that they are not blank slates. They have language knowledge and do not have to start from zero. Students should be invited to bring their language discoveries to the music classroom. Furthermore, many Italian musical terms share a vowel pronunciation similar to Spanish. Therefore, prompting connections with Italian music terms can be included during music instruction. Spanish-speaking ELs could grasp these concepts in Italian faster and be able to help their classmates with musical vocabulary acquisition. Besides, words such as lento, moderato, animato, doloroso, energico, and many more Italian musical concepts are already part of their native language. Incorporating these words as part of their musical vocabulary could aid Spanish-speaking ELs’ communication in the music classroom.

The challenges continue throughout the language acquisition process. Music educators may notice that, by the fourth proficiency stage, Intermediate Fluency, students have tremendous comprehension and use communication, though with some grammatical errors; hence, fewer accommodations are necessary. The last stage is Advanced Fluency, in which the EL student will engage fully in the music activities and comprehend English (Webb, 2020). However, this does not mean that their challenges and tendencies are gone. Reaching advanced fluency level might take years and varies according to the student (Collier, 1989; Hakuta et al., 2000). Besides, as students progress in their education, music and language involve more complex systems. Cummins (2000) distinguishes between social language, which he refers to as basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS), and academic language or cognitive academic language proficiency. Even though music students may acquire BICS and be able to speak English in an informal school environment, this does not imply that they have the language skills required to benefit from an English-based academic education without additional support. Music educators must acknowledge that students are simultaneously learning the English language and music vocabulary. Consequently, music educators must maintain patience through each stage and be willing to repeat instructions several times with an accessible vocabulary, ensuring paths for communication and inquiry.

In the final stages of language acquisition, students will continue to benefit from the use of intentional teaching strategies and techniques. These approaches are crucial to support their learning of both nonmusical and musical content. Conversely, this necessity for individualized assistance contrasts with some existing teaching approaches in music education. Many music teacher education programs require novice educators to plan lessons down to the minute (Allsup, 2016; Wacker, 2019) to “squeeze every second” from their lessons (Allsup, 2016, p. 66). Likewise, American band directors’ ten-second rule is widely practiced: detect and correct an issue in 10 seconds and have the students perform again (Allsup, 2016). Such strategies are instructional practices that misalign with the communication needs of Spanish-speaking ELs. In most cases, they think first in Spanish and then translate to English. Therefore, when asking students questions, allow ample time to think—at least twenty seconds—before accepting a response to alleviate the issue (Webb, 2020). Given the need for substantial wait time, what might have been interpreted as a lack of interest before can now be understood as a lack of opportunity (Abril, 2003). Teachers can also continually check for students’ understanding of the material during class. For instance, if you ask for a response or action, have students raise their fingers close to their chest and give a number from one to five as a signal of their understanding. If there is hesitation and lower finger rates, encourage students to ask their neighbors for clarification and then explain again using different vocabulary. Such techniques may minimize the fear of embarrassment among peers while still providing teachers with immediate feedback to readjust instruction. In continuing with visual aids, music teachers might display charts where students can point to rhythm, articulation, and dynamics to demonstrate awareness of what they are being asked to play. Music educators should picture themselves as ensemble director, who know that their students’ understanding will depend upon the conductor’s body language, facial expressions, gestures, and nonverbal cues. Engaging differently and less often with Spanish-speaking ELs is tempting due to the fear of humiliating them, but ultimately, this fear translates into diminished learning opportunities (Abril, 2003).

On the other hand, music teachers should adopt actions and instructional techniques that encourage all students to believe in their potential for communication and inquiry. Such actions were evident during the pandemic; many music educators created a library of videos, added software, and created websites to meet their students’ individual and group needs for learning from home. Many teachers sought out new resources in and out of the music realm. They elaborated upon their former learning aids and methods of instruction in greater detail than ever before (Parkes et al., 2021). Making these technological resources available to Spanish-speaking ELs can be a valuable asset. For instance, telling the students about adding captions to videos on most platforms will help them learn pronunciation and spelling simultaneously (Webb, 2020). Also, the pace of instruction can be adapted to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking ELs. According to research, those students frequently remark that teachers’ speaking speeds are too fast (Carlow, 2004; Irizarry, 2015). It could also be beneficial to promote the addition of apps (e.g., Duolingo, Fun English), readers (e.g., Natural Reader, TTSReader), and browser extensions (e.g., Readme, WorldHippo) to support differentiated instruction and assist students’ effective communication in their music classroom experiences. Additionally, music educators are continually looking for activities to help students strengthen their abilities to listen, read, play, and compose music. To claim the achievement of a well-rounded music education for Spanish-speaking ELs, an intentional effort should be made to strengthen their listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills within the music classroom. Achieving these aims will enhance their abilities to communicate and inquire, as well as have an impact on their musical talents. 

Addressing Social-Emotional Needs to Construct a Learning Environment

While nurturing Spanish-speaking EL students’ communication skills is essential, it is also crucial to address their social-emotional needs in constructing their learning environments. When students are placed in a stressful environment, their capacity to learn or produce spoken language may be hindered. According to research on the feelings of EL students, they are more likely to be timid, silent, and distant (Lorah et al., 2015; Zhang, 2016). They may appear to be less gifted in English than in their native language. Hence, their confidence and self-esteem can be negatively affected (Zhang, 2016). This underscores the importance of music instructors in creating an enriching classroom environment (Lorah et al., 2015).

A potential reason why EL students might exhibit negative classroom behaviors is that they lose their linguistic capacity to communicate their ideas, views, feelings, and values effectively (Zhang, 2016). To help Spanish-speaking ELs feel appreciated in the classroom, music teachers must create meaningful activities that consider their students’ challenges and needs. For instance, by including Spanish-speaking ELs in altruistic activities, teachers can affirm values such as simpatía (agreeableness), ganas (drive), empeño (dedication), respeto (respect), and dignidad (dignity), which are values that are strongly endorsed by their caregivers in relation to education (Grace & Gerdes, 2019). Affirming these values could show the students that, even if they are not fluent in English, they still possess a full range of skills, values, and knowledge. These actions could then reinforce the idea that learning another language is a positive and enriching experience.

For Spanish-speaking ELs, language and bilingualism are critical to their identity formation and how they construct relationships with others (Arredondo et al., 2016). Despite this, anti-Spanish language policies and sentiments have been manifested in the educational system, resulting in language oppression (Irizarry, 2017; Pérez Huber, 2010). Even today, students may not have the opportunity to express and explore their identities during monolingual school experiences. Music educators must understand “the plural and evolving nature of youth identity” (Paris & Alim, 2014, p. 85), even within the same culture. Thus, it is essential to encourage Spanish-speaking ELs to maintain and deepen their language identities in the classroom. For instance, a simple yet significant gesture, such as learning how to greet your students in Spanish, can make a world of difference for them. In addition, students struggling to adapt to a new culture will be eager to have a sensitive teacher who understands their social-emotional and academic challenges.

Portrait of a happy Latino boy in preschool music class at school

Photo: Hispanolistic / E+ Collection via Getty Images

Fulfilling Spanish-speaking EL students’ social-emotional needs involves building positive personal relationships within the school’s social networks. Even so, cultural and linguistic differences may hinder the creation of those relationships. Previous literature has linked poor relationships between Spanish-speaking ELs, teachers, and peers to fewer educational opportunities (Schneider et al., 2006), high levels of discrimination, acculturation stress (Castro-Olivo, 2014), and low levels of self-esteem (Smokowski et al., 2009). Thus, music teachers must know that interpersonal interaction is normative and essential for many Spanish-speaking ELs (Burleson et al., 2019). In numerous Spanish-speaking cultures, social touch for greetings, such as hugging, cheek kisses, and shaking hands, are encouraged. In addition, in the Spanish-speaking classroom culture, asking students how they are doing at the beginning of class is expected. These actions indicate that their presence is noticed and valued. Not all teachers may be comfortable with these tactile interpersonal behaviors due to school district restrictions and personal preferences. Following the required parameters, however, and more modest approaches, such as greeting each other with a high-five or fist bump, could be used as positive interaction support. As a result, Spanish-speaking EL students could likely feel closer to their classmates and music educator. These small acts could reinforce their sense of belonging and self-esteem. Since warm and interpersonal interactions are central to Spanish-speaking cultures’ social relationships and emotional health, the formation and maintenance of bonds could be greatly appreciated.

In music, intellectual and social-emotional experiences are inseparable. Similarly, music educators can implement didactic activities to help music students learn, love, and express themselves through music. These activities could focus on promoting a sense of familismo (familism) and colectivismo (collectivism), values that are deeply embedded in the social-emotional fabric of Spanish-speaking communities (Greenfield & Quiroz, 2013). Recognizing this, teachers could prioritize the construction of collective and collaborative objectives over those of individualized approaches (Grace & Gerdes, 2019). When students have a strong sense of belonging, they will be equipped to adapt to the new culture, handle the pressures of their academic work, and overcome language challenges. By fostering the presented social-emotional experiences, educators will provide greater chances for Spanish-speaking ELs to discover and express their emotions, which can be one of the most significant benefits of music education. Exploring a variety of ways to construct productive social-emotional learning environments for Spanish-speaking ELs should be a fundamental goal in the music classroom.

Culturally Responsive and Sustainable Pedagogy to Assist Artistic Expression

Artistic expression emerges from communication and constructive resources, as Dewey explains, representing “refinement and full manifestation” (1899/1915, p. 60). Even so, cultural barriers may impact artistic expression and contribute to the achievement gap of EL students in U.S. music classrooms. Hence, understanding the educational challenges of Spanish-speaking ELs requires knowing their cultural backgrounds, showing “respect and affirmation of students’ cultural identities” (Irizarry, 2017, p. 85). To this end, a culturally appropriate approach to music teaching is crucial if Spanish-speaking ELs are to receive equitable pedagogical experiences, that are not “viewed through the lens of the dominant culture” (Abril & Kelly-McHale, 2015, p. 157). The cultural component of music education involves dealing with the curriculum content. The curriculum should focus on honoring and balancing the music, who the student is trying to become, and what the student brings to the program (Allsup & Benedict, 2008). In particular, if the repertoire students encounter is based only on Western-European musical heritage, music teachers may demonstrate a cultural bias (Lorah et al., 2015). Thus, one might inadvertently exclude a person coming from a different culture (Zhang, 2016). The curriculum omission of Spanish-speaking people and their music implies that they are not part of history and that their music is not worth mentioning, let alone performing. To avoid cultural bias, Spanish-speaking ELs require a holistic approach that includes their varied musics, ensemble types, notable figures, instruments, music purposes, and specific needs for artistic expression. Music educators should challenge themselves to learn about their Spanish-speaking EL students’ unique and varied musical preferences to incorporate this knowledge into the curriculum.

Music is a powerful tool for communicating culture, emotions, and creating community. Thus, learning about and embracing Spanish-speaking musical traditions can reinforce students’ musical heritages and values. In doing so, individual students will be more likely to find meaningful connections to music. Nonetheless, selecting a curriculum that aligns with “students’ cultural backgrounds is far from a straightforward task” (Shaw, 2016, p. 64). Instruction based on misguided assumptions may alienate students (Shaw, 2016), a significant concern given the richness of and differences between, among, and within Spanish-speaking cultural groupings. Therefore, music educators should involve their students in the musical choices made in the classroom, seek to promote intercultural individuality, students’ interests, accommodate students’ curiosities, and recognize that students’ interests will change over time. Music teachers must constantly ask themselves and their students questions such as: What musical experiences may enhance collective learning? And how can we foster innovative ways of engaging with a diverse range of students? (Richerme, 2017). The questioning needs to be implemented, while still acknowledging that “culture shall be the democratic password” (Dewey, 1899/1915, p. 73) for knowledge construction.

Music educators looking to build a culturally responsive and sustainable curriculum could enrich their classrooms by inviting local music-makers (Richerme, 2017). Moreover, engaging with performers, composers, and teachers from diverse and varied Spanish-speaking backgrounds can also be beneficial. Especially if music teachers find the Spanish language a barrier to communicating freely with the Spanish-speaking community. For instance, the collaboration could include organizing a virtual live performance with a Spanish-speaking musician. At the end of the virtual performance, teachers, students, and community members could then ask the native speaker questions. The dialogue will produce new artistic expressions and learning possibilities in the classroom, thus challenging perceptions regarding how music students should look or the music they should play. In addition, if Spanish-speaking ELs hear encouragement from someone from a similar background, this could facilitate further musical exploration.

Furthermore, following the arduous efforts to make technological resources more accessible during the pandemic, music communities have been able to interact in ways that may have previously seemed impossible. Now, students can have the opportunity to interact with cultures far from their immediate surroundings. For instance, a teacher in the United States could collaborate with a class in a Spanish-speaking country by participating in a musical exchange, which could offer insight into the culture and musical tradition of another part of the world. Such actions can be deeply beneficial for all parties and participants. Connecting with another music educator from the same and/or different Spanish-speaking communities could open many opportunities. All these examples will impact Spanish-speaking ELs and assist music classes in developing an ethical disposition necessary for 21st-century life (Richerme, 2017). Additionally, this approach has the potential to make music more accessible to students’ loved ones, which could lead to more caregiver involvement. An increase in caregiver participation is deeply needed to challenge the parental deficit perceptions of Spanish-speaking parents and communities (Olivos, 2009). Overall, music can be used to teach that language, culture, and diversity matter. Successful music education integrates learning processes with cultural material in dynamic ways (Holland, 1960), making interactions and artistic expressions in the music classroom more meaningful.


Music educators must recognize the natural resources and uninvested capital of Spanish-speaking EL students. This approach may help to comprehend why they avoid, do not speak in, or quit music classes. Understanding the specific needs and strengths of Spanish-speaking EL music students allows music teachers to examine and consider communication and inquiry in language, as a primary barrier to these students’ success. Consequently, music teachers should familiarize themselves with Spanish-speaking students’ language challenges and possible ways to aid and welcome them. Addressing Spanish-speaking ELs’ social-emotional needs will contribute to construct an enriching environment that endorses their social and emotional values. In addition, implementing a curriculum that respects and sustains students’ cultural identity can enhance their artistic expression. Including elements from students’ own cultures helps teachers build meaningful connections across the various communities. Since music achievement and participation cannot be separated from language dominance, music educators must make the effort to advocate for Spanish-speaking EL students, ensuring they can access and contribute to significant interactions in the music classroom.


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[1] Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, and Latiné have been used interchangeably in the literature. However, the author uses the term Spanish-speaking EL as a descriptor to refer to people of Latin American, born in or descended from, who are educated in the U.S. educational system, and whose primary language is Spanish. The literature selected for this article that refers to the Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, and/or Latiné fulfills the author’s descriptor of Spanish-speaking ELs.

Top photo: Jose Girarte / E+ Collection via Getty Images

About the author:

Nabile Galvan headshot in red dress holding violinNAfME member Nabile Galvan, originally from Mexico, is an Associate Instructor of Music Education and a doctoral student in music education at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana. Her teaching background spans public schools and higher education institutions in both the United States and internationally. In her research and teaching practices, she focuses on areas such as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), bilingual music education, string pedagogy, and advocacy for the Latino/a/x/é music education community.

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April 2024 Teaching Music

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