Back to School Spanish Lesson

It's Spanish Friday and since my kiddies are going back to school on Monday, I thought I'd combine the two to bring you the very first Motherhood in Mexico Back-to-School Spanish Lesson. 

Let's start with the basics:
Escuela - School
Kinder/Jardin de Niños - Kindergarten
Guarderia - Daycare 
(Escuela) Primaria - Elementary School 
(Escuela) Secundaria* - Junior High 
Preparatoria (Prepa)/Bachillerato - High School
Universidad - University
Colegio - Private School  (Colegio in Mexico does not refer to college!)

*One of my biggest pet peeves when watching movies or TV shows dubbed in Spanish is when they refer to High School as Secundaria.  

Young children, some as young as 3 years old, attend Kindergarten for 2 to 3 years, depending on how old they are.   Some start with Primero de Kinder (First Grade).  But some, mostly older kids, jump right into Segundo de Kinder (Second Grade).  And all kids attend Tercero de Kinder (Third Grade).

Elementary Schools in Mexico are just like most schools in the U.S.
Primero = First grade
Segundo = Second grade
Tercero = Third grade
Cuarto = Fourth grade
Quinto = Fifth grade
Sexto  = Sixth grade

When you start junior high, you don't continue with 7th, 8th and 9th grade.  You start all over with First, Second and Third grade.
Primero (de Secundaria): 7th grade
Segundo (de Secundaria): 8th grade
Tercero (de Secundaria): 9th grade

Same with Prepa and Bachillerato.  Although some schools divide the year into semesters.
10th grade = Primero (de Prepa) or Primer y Segundo Semestre
11th grade = Segundo (de Prepa) or Tercer y Cuarto Semestre
12th grade = Tercero (de Prepa) or Quinto y Sexto Semestre

Some schools have so many students that they offer morning and afternoon classes.
Turno Matutino = Morning classes
Turno Vespertino = Afternoon classes

Back to School Questions:
What grade are you in?
En que año estas (en la esuela)?

What school do you go to?
A que escuela vas?

Who is your teacher?
Quien es tu maestra/o?

Speaking of teachers...Did you know that in Mexico it is customary to call teachers by their first name? 

There is so much more I could add to this list, but I think I'll save it for another day.  I'll just add one more word for you moms and dads.  It's where some of us will be spending our weekend and most of next week...

Papeleria - Office/School Supply store



  1. Talking about which grade we were in during certain events in our lives is something Carlos and I had trouble untangling. He'd tell me when he was in 1st year of Secundaria, etc. and I would have no idea what he was talking about LOL.

    I would feel weird calling my teacher by their first name. That seems out of place in the culture considering the Spanish language specifically has a formal "you" (usted) - so you would expect it to be even more formal. I wonder what the history is behind calling teachers by their first name.

    So your kids are back to school on Monday, too? Do they go to a private school that follows the American schedule? In El Salvador only the private American and British schools are on our schedule. Traditionally this is not back to school time in El Salvador. They actually graduate around October.

  2. Thank you so much for this lesson on the education system, I have not in my 12 years of being friends with Mexicans understood the school system.  What really threw me off was the starting over part. Thank You!  Thank You! Thank You!   *As I bow down to you* 

  3. Leslie, except for las palabras "primaria" y "secundaria," I'd had little-to-no exposure to the others you've listed. The grade descriptions get detailed once you hit 7th grade! I'm fascinated by all this. I'd love to know what a typical day of school is like in Mexico. Do they still teach cursive writing? How many students to a class? Do they have to wear uniforms? I wonder how much things have changes since my mom was a kid. Don't know if I'd like getting stuck with the "late" shift in the schedule. Thank you for sharing this. ; )

  4. What a delightful maestra you are!

  5. Thanks for this awesome post! What a great time for it as everyone prepares for school....i leaned a couple new words!

  6. Even though I grew up speaking espanol, I never did get that whole preparatorio, secundaria thing. Thanks for the explanation!

  7. It wasn't until I moved to Mexico that I finally understood the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years of Secundaria and Preparatoria.  My cousins in Sonora would laugh at me when I'd tell them I was in 8th or 9th grade, saying that there was no such thing.  :P 

    The kiddies do get to call their teachers by their first names, but they also address them with the formal "You".  I don't know the history, but I will ask my teacher sister-in-law when I see her this weekend. :) 

    My kiddies all go to public school.  As for the scheduling, all of the schools here in Mexico follow this schedule. :P  

  8. You are very welcome, Juanita! :)  The starting over use to confuse me too. 

  9. Ezzy, I will try to answer all of your questions in a post.  Very soon! :)  

  10. Gracias!  It's easy when I have such great students! :)  

  11. You're very welcome! :)  The use of preparatoria and bachillerato for High School throws a lot of people off.  And the fact that most movies and TV shows translate High School as Secundaria makes it all the more confusing. :P 

  12. DO you know the best book or cd to use with my 3 girls to teach them spanish their ages are 7,6 and 2. The two year old does pretty good we have really tried but the two older ones have fallen behind. my husband is mexican but i am not fluent so we dont speak to each other in spanish. any suggestions.