In English, we associate learning vowel sounds with learning to read. However, children who are learning Spanish should learn the vowel sounds early and practice them often, focusing on the sound, not the association with the written letter. The vowel sounds are important for pronunciation first, and for reading later. It is never too early for children to learn to pronounce the Spanish vowels correctly!
Ideally, a child is introduced to the sounds of Spanish before they know their letters. The sounds exist independently and establishing the sounds of the language is most important. Again, learning the Spanish vowel sounds is not only about learning to read – that can come later. By learning the sounds of the vowels your child is learning to understand and to speak Spanish.
The vowel sounds in Spanish are always the same. The accents in different parts of the Spanish-speaking world are due to different consonant sounds, different rhythms, and the omission of certain consonants, but the pronunciation of the vowels is consistent worldwide. The most important aspect of pronunciation to focus on when teaching Spanish to children is the sound of the vowels.
I was thrilled to find A, E, I, O, U, a vowel song that Carolina Gómez, Spanish teacher and founder of 123 Spanish Together and Fun for Spanish Teachers, makes available on YouTube. It can be used with pre-readers and also with children who already know their letters. For those of you who have a background in music, the song may remind you of a vocal warm-up, but with one essential feature – a native Spanish speaker is singing. The simple structure lets you adapt the song to different activities and the repetition makes it an extremely effective learning tool. You can listen to the whole Spanish vowel song on the 123 Spanish Together YouTube channel, and it is available on the CD Fun in Spanish.
Here are a few suggestions for using the song A, E, I, O, U. At the end of the post is a list of words for each vowel sound to help you find pictures to use for the activities.
These activities take advantage of the rhythm of the song to make it fun and encourage children to sing it often. Some of them involve associating the vowel sound with the image of a word that has the same initial sound, but they do not use written letters in association with the sounds, so children do not have to know the alphabet.
- For very little ones, sing the song together as you stir something, brush her hair, or even pet the dog. Any activity that can be done in rhythm is an opportunity to sing the vowels!
- Clap, drum, march or stomp in rhythm to the song.
- Jump side-to-side over a line in rhythm to the song. This is fun and kids are great at it!
- Jump rope to the rhythm of the song. You need to put in a small jump when the vowels are slower, and then take out the small jump when they go faster.
- Pass an object from one hand to the other in rhythm to the song.
Choose one object to represent each sound – things that begin with each of the five vowels. See the list below for suggestions. Draw or cut out pictures of the objects. Each child should have a set of five pictures, one for each sound. Glue the pictures to circles of poster board, or cardboard to make them stronger. Before you begin, pronounce the words together. Then, as you sing the song try one of these activities:
- Hold up the picture of the object that begins with the sound you are singing to show your friends.
- Drum the rhythm of the song on the picture with the same sound.
- Jump from picture to picture, standing on the correct one as you sing.
Assemble several pictures of objects that begin with the different vowel sounds.
- Point to the pictures and pronounce the words with your child. Mix up the pictures, and as you sing the song, sort them by the initial vowel sounds.
A– araña (spider), ala (wing), águila (eagle), abeja (bee), ángel (angel), árbol (tree), arco iris (rainbow), avión (airplane), abuelos (grandparents), agua (water), abrigo (coat), azul (blue), amarillo (yellow)
E – elefante (elephant), estrella (star), escuela (school), esquiar (ski), enfermero/a (nurse), ensalada (salad), escaleras (stairs), espejo (mirror), esqueleto (skeleton)
I-iguana (iguana), isla (island), iglesia (church), insecto (insect), invierno (winter), iglú (igloo), imán (magnet)
O– oso (bear), ocho (eight), once (eleven), ojo (eye), óvalo (oval), océano (ocean) , oveja (sheep), otoño (autum), oreja (ear), orquesta (orchestra), ola (wave), oro (gold)
U– uva (grape), uno (one), uña (finger nail) , unicornio (unicorn), universo (universe)
If children are learning to read or already reading in Spanish, then associating the vowel sounds with the letters is appropriate. It is important to reinforce correct pronunciation of the letters in Spanish. You can do the activities with images and letters, or just the letters, as you sing A, E, I, O, U.