Is your goal to become a Spanish teacher in the public school system?

After high school, you’ll need to go to college and pick a major, before eventually completing a Masters in Education and a teacher certification exam for your state’s licensing.

Out of a total estimated 20.5 million college students across the country, in 2013 just 1.5 million were studying foreign languages. Spanish was the most popular with 790,000 students studying the language at the tertiary level.

Sadly, the Modern Language Association says language study numbers have been dropping. Spanish enrollment dropped 8% between 2009 and 2013, and in some college and universities, less popular languages have stopped being taught altogether.

However, smaller colleges have claimed success in encouraging students to think how language skills can help them grow an international career, and are aimed at giving students practical knowledge on how Spanish skills could support a career in law or medicine, for example.

Mastering Spanish is key if you want to become a Spanish professor, but learning a foreign language is also important for many different professions.

What’s the best route to follow to become a Spanish teacher? What should you choose as your major in college?

Most future Spanish students often narrow their choices down to Spanish or Education….

We’ll describe the difference in the majors below so you can decide which best fits your goals. However, if your college allows it, we’d always recommend minoring in whichever you don’t pick as your major! (Ie, a Spanish major with a minor in education, or vice versa.)

The curriculum and key learning goals of a Spanish major

A Spanish major is the most popular major in many college’s modern language departments. Language students are often enthusiastic about the multiple ways it can be applied to government and social services, translation, international business, or, of course, teaching. Especially if you’re living in the Southwest United States, learning to speak Spanish to a really high level can seem like an especially practical choice.

Your professor’s goal will be to prepare you for any kind of industry requiring multilingual skills. They’ll want to give you the broadest foundations possible, and for some jobs, will even recommend studying multiple foreign languages:

  • international business
  • tourism
  • import-export
  • translation
What should you major in - teaching or Spanish - if you want to become a Spanish teacher?

The first key thing - declaring a Spanish major often still leaves you plenty of time to explore other subjects too. Beyond the intermediate level, classes will more be about a range of history, culture, and social topics related to Hispanic life, and taught in Spanish. Whichever classes you end up choosing, by declaring a Spanish major you’ll be learning more than vocabulary and perfect conjugations.

Some Spanish majors will also choose to study a second or even third language. This isn’t really a bad idea for people who want to become school teachers, given many school systems want teachers who can teach more than one language, at least at the beginner and intermediate level.

If you declare a Spanish major, your studies will include:

  • The history and politics of countries where Spanish is spoken (Spain, Latin America, colonial history)
  • Spanish language, communication, and culture
  • Translation practice, and how to translate different kinds of texts.

A Spanish major is a great way to expand your knowledge about a wide variety of linguistic, historical, political, and cultural issues. You’ll be learning about subjects that are both enriching, and practical for your professional future.

Depending on your school, you may find yourself missing the literary emphasis that your Spanish classes might have had in high school. Depending on the university you’re at and professors you have, you may find yourself taking incredibly practical, or incredibly literary based classes.

Is a teaching major the way to go to become a Spanish teacher?

Declaring a major in Education is a more general degree, aimed at anyone who wants to become a teacher in the future.

Classes focus exclusively on teaching methods, child development and psychology, and everything else you need to learn to become a Spanish teacher, essentially!

Beginning their junior year, students will often begin spending time in school systems and out of university, as they begin their observation hours. A lot of their fourth year is also spent out of the college classroom and in the school, shadowing an experienced teacher, and then become a student teacher, eventually spending two weeks to a month teaching independently.

With a major in education, you’ll probably need to continue your Spanish studies on the side, but you’ll be well prepared for your future in the classroom and will graduate college already having gained teaching experience.

Discovering other cultures is great. How well do you know Madrid’s city center?

Declaring a Major in Education is focused on preparing you for the practicalities of teaching, and maybe even preparing for that all-important teacher certification exam.

You’ll learn:

  • classroom management and disciplinary techniques
  • child development and psychology
  • teaching methods and styles, how to develop a lesson plan and introduce a topic to ignite the love of learning in your students.
  • how to develop a lesson plan and introduce a topic to ignite the love of learning in your students.

In short, it’s a more pragmatic programme of study! You’ll be fully prepared for the classroom and anything your future students throw at you, with a Major in Education.

At its most basic, a Major in Education will cover testing and teaching methods, concepts like integrating technology into the classroom, and different courses on classroom management and child psychology. You’ll get practical fieldwork completing a semester of student teaching under the watchful eye of a certified teacher, and normally your course will also help you prepare for your state’s licensing exam.

Study abroad to become bilingual

As a future Spanish teacher, surely your goal is to become bilingual in your language of choice, the language of Don Quixote, of churros, tapas, and margaritas.

In order to learn a language really well, college Spanish courses are important, but they aren’t enough all on their own.

Spending some time studying abroad in a Spanish speaking country is key to perfecting your verbal language skills, improving your listening comprehension, and becoming truly fluent in Spanish.

In order to achieve this, most schools will offer you study abroad programs for up to one year.

For a Spanish Major, often you’ll be encouraged to go for the full year, and classes will include registering at the local university. It’s a great way to really perfect your mastery of the language and practice your knowledge for daily life. You’ll enrich your Spanish vocabulary, meet native-Spanish students…It’s a great way to complement your college studies and is really important for those hoping to become a Spanish teacher.

For Majors in Education, study abroad can be a bit more difficult but is by no means impossible. Depending on your college’s distribution and major requirements, you may be able to organize your courseload to free up a semester or two of study at a local university in a Spanish speaking country. Of course, their teacher qualification processes will be totally different to your state’s. But courses on child psychology, or if you have distribution requirements that need filling in science and math…filling those requirements while studying abroad and perfecting your Spanish can be an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone.

Studying abroad in Spain is a great way to perfect your language skills, and is also a great opportunity for personal growth!

If you’re dreaming of spending a year in Spain and becoming totally bilingual, majoring in Spanish is probably your better option!

What’s the best way to prepare for your teacher certification exam and become a full-fledged Spanish teacher?

After college, you’ll need to pass a teacher certification exam in order to become a fully qualified teacher. Most school systems will also require a Masters in Education, although in most cases you can complete this within a few years of hiring, and if you’re teaching at private schools, may not be required at all.

However, working out your local teacher certification processes is definitely necessary to become a Spanish teacher!

So once you have your bachelors degree, you’ll need to take your state’s teacher certification exam. Unfortunately, almost every state has their own teacher certification exam, and although some are mutually recognizable, that’s certainly not true for all of them.

Unfortunately, a Spanish major definitely doesn’t prepare you for the teacher certification exam. An education major does a bit more, but if you’re going to college in different states from where you eventually intend to teach, you might be prepared for a teacher certification exam other than the one you need to take, which is less than helpful.

Getting a Masters in Education is also a requirement for new teachers in most public school systems. You’ll often have a certain amount of time to finish the masters after qualifying (sometimes up to five years) and how stringent your school system is might be tied to the current demand and competition for teachers in your subject.

A Masters in Education is essentially an expansion of the material covered in a Major in Education, so it’s especially good for those students who chose to major in Spanish at the undergraduate level.

You’ll cover pedagogy, teaching methods, training and learning tools…you’ll get all the information you need to combine your Spanish skills with teaching expertise and become a great Spanish teacher.

In order to become a Spanish teacher, you need to pass your state’s teacher certification exams!

In some states, you’ll be taking the National Teachers Examination with a foreign language education component. If this is your case, you may need to cover literary analysis and Hispanic civilizations to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject as well as your teaching skills.

Some teacher certification exams for foreign languages will also include an oral component, which tests you for your capacity to analyze and argue your point in Spanish, all while demonstrating expertise in Spanish history and culture.

Can you teach Spanish without passing your teacher certification exam?

Teacher certification is an absolute must if you want to teach in the public school system, but some private schools won’t require it or will ask for alternative qualifications, and there are no set requirements to become a private Spanish tutor or substitute teacher.

If you’re planning to go this route, a Major in Spanish is probably the best choice for you so you can really develop your expertise in Spanish grammar, language, culture, and vocabulary without worrying about teaching classes often geared towards your state’s certification exam.

But if you want to teach in a public school system. you will definitely need to pass your teacher certification exam, and probably prepare for a Masters in Education as well. If this is your goal, it’s worth considering a major, or at least a minor in education at college to make sure you’re as prepared for the teacher certification exam as possible.

Is it possible to teach Spanish without any formal qualifications?

Are you still having trouble deciding?

There really is no right answer, but especially if you want to teach Spanish at the high school level, we would strongly recommend finding a college where you can double major, or at least major-minor in the language and teaching at the same time. It’ll be lots of study, but that way you’ll be fluent in Spanish and have gained classroom experience by the time you graduate - it’s the best of both worlds!

Above all, the choice is a question of personal interests and preferences!

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.