SIL Peru releases fifth volume of textbook series for adult learners of Spanish

The Castellano textbooks were developed for graduates of bilingual schools pursuing advanced education. Volume E is the latest in this series designed to address challenges typically encountered by mother tongue speakers of Peru’s indigenous languages.

Lee este reportaje en castellano.

(April 2013) The fifth in a series of textbooks for learners of Spanish as a second language was recently released by SIL Peru.* 

Castellano E was co-authored by Patricia Davis, PhD, an SIL literacy and education consultant, and Luisa Pinto C., Lic., a Peruvian literacy and bilingual education specialist, with input from colleague Mary Hovey and several trainees. The Castellano series is designed for indigenous adults who speak some Spanish but who need a higher level of fluency to pursue their goals of advanced vocational training or university-level education.

A major cause of difficulty for students from Peru’s ethnolinguistic minority communities is the vast difference between the grammatical structures of their mother tongues and Spanish. Spanish is a Romance language with characteristics (both grammatical structures and vocabulary cognates) similar to many other European languages. There is no relationship between Spanish and the indigenous languages of Latin America. Thus, students learning Spanish as a second language must learn a completely different system—they cannot simply overlay Spanish vocabulary on the same basic system of their own languages, as is the case when students learn a related language. Therefore, the Castellano series was designed to address common areas of difficulty, including:

  • Verb conjugation: Spanish has a multitude of irregular verbs—learners of Spanish as a second language must simply memorize most forms of these verbs.
  • Formal/informal speech: Spanish uses different pronouns and verb forms for 'familiar' address (relatives, friends, or persons close to the speaker) and 'formal' address (authorities, elders, persons of respect one does not know well). A learner may have great difficulty learning to interpret the social context in each situation and then apply the correct verb forms.
  • Sentence structure: A Spanish sentence is made up of distinct nouns, verbs, articles, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Many of this region’s languages are polysynthetic/agglutinative systems in which most information is communicated through affixes and particles that cluster around the verb root.
  • Gender systems/noun classes: Spanish has a two-class gender system (masculine and feminine) for nouns. Many of the local languages also have noun class systems, but categories differ (animate/inanimate, for example).
  • Articles: The question of when to include an article and which article to use—definite (el, la, los, las) or indefinite (un, una, unos, unas)—is one of many obstacles faced by learners of Spanish as a second language.
  • Tense/aspect/mood: Spanish verbs encode three main time divisions (past, present, future), while some Amazonian languages have as many as five or six past tenses and others emphasize distinctions of aspect (for example, complete vs. incomplete actions).
  • Phonetics and phonology: Spanish and the languages of Peru include different inventories of speech sounds and different phonological rules, such as those governing syllable structure (for example, in many of the local languages, [s] and [n] do not occur word-finally). These factors lead to difficulties in pronunciation, and mispronunciation may stigmatize a speaker.

co-author Davis has been involved with bilingual education in Peruvian Amazonia since 1963. Prompted by the need she observed for further Spanish as a second language offerings for adults, she decided to pursue an MA in foreign language education at the University of Texas, Austin. For her thesis, she produced an outline for the teaching of Spanish based on the progression used in a number of well-respected Spanish textbooks, with modifications to meet the specific needs of students from the ethnolinguistic minority communities of Peru. This outline provided the basis for what would become the Castellano series. The first experimental version of Volume A was published in 1992. Several trainees (some from local communities) interested in textbook development assisted Davis with Volumes A-C. Luisa Pinto C. was involved in revisions of the first three volumes and has co-authored both Castellano D and Castellano E.

SIL has a long history of partnership with Peru’s ethnolinguistic communities. In 1946, SIL’s founder Cameron Townsend received an invitation from the Peruvian government to bring staff into the country for linguistic research and language development. Later, at the request of the Ministry of Education, SIL cooperated on the development of a bilingual, bicultural education program for twenty-eight languages of Peruvian Amazonia. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, SIL staff developed a full curriculum of primary school textbooks, including a series of mother-tongue readers and textbooks for the teaching of Spanish as a second language. For a time, at the Ministry's request, SIL staff served as teacher trainers and supervisors in the region’s bilingual schools.

As a result of this cooperation in multilingual education, literacy rates in both local languages and in Spanish dramatically increased. However, a new problem arose as graduates of local schools pursued advanced training and education. Davis describes the circumstances that led to the development of the textbook series:

Basic literacy in both the mother tongues and Spanish had become the norm in most language communities of Amazonia—close to universal education. Children began to graduate from primary school, and high schools began to be established throughout the area. However, as bright indigenous young people began to graduate from high school and sought entrance into universities, we saw that most were failing the entrance tests or dropping out, unable to keep up with their classes. A large part of this failure appeared to be due to lack of higher-level skills in Spanish comprehension, reading and composition. Spanish as a second language had been taught throughout the primary grades, but the time allowed for this subject had not been sufficient to permit monolingual students (who were learning Spanish as a foreign language) to catch up to their Spanish-speaking peers (who had heard and spoken Spanish since childhood). High school instruction, delivered entirely in Spanish, had not successfully taught the information that a non-native speaker needs to compete at the university level. 

Each lesson in the Castellano E text includes the following components:

  • Vocabulary building exercises
  • Reading (broadening knowledge of literary genres and world knowledge)
  • Composition (practice in writing in different genres)
  • Pronunciation and spelling
  • Grammar
  • Practice drills
  • Review of past concepts


Download Castellano E—this and many other resources in the SIL Language & Culture archives are available for free download according to SIL’s fair use policy.

 *In Latin America SIL, is sometimes known as Instituto Lingüístico de Verano, or ILV.

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