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The importance of Own Voices literature in the language-learner classroom

By Adriana Ramírez (she/her/ella), Spanish teacher on the unceded territories of the Semiahmoo, Kwantlen, and Katzie nations


When I first started teaching Spanish in BC, I used the materials that were available in the different schools where I taught. Many of these materials made me feel uncomfortable; but at the time, I didn’t know how to put my discomfort into words. I was just starting my decolonization journey. What I did recognize immediately was that the textbooks felt very impersonal and artificial. The novels and stories available then were all written by white authors about cultures to which they did not belong. As such, they were full of misrepre-sentations, stereotypes, and “poverty porn” (a concept introduced in the 1980s that tries to bring awareness to the trend in different media outlets of using poverty as a form of entertainment and emotional manipulation).


There came a point where I could no longer use these resources. I didn’t want to support or reinforce the single narrative these resources led students to construct of the Spanish-speaking world. A narrative that was very narrow, very simplistic, and very biased.


When I decided to expand my collection of resources to use in my Spanish classroom, I was inspired to become part of the solution and write books that could make authentic stories available to Spanish-language learners. I wanted to show my students, and the world, what Colombia is like from the inside. I wanted Spanish students and teachers to learn from Colombia­, not about it.

 I wanted Spanish students and teachers to learn from Colombia­, not about it.

As a Colombian, I have the land in my blood and all my ancestors come to my heart, fingers, and mind when I write. They want me to write these stories; they want me to tell the world who we really are.


I am also well aware that my experience of culture and language as a Colombian cannot encompass the diversity that exists throughout the Spanish-speaking world; my voice alone can’t encompass the diversity that exists within Colombia itself. This is why it is so important for language teachers to include multiple voices from across regions of the world where that language is used.


We need to give students opportunities to read works by diverse authors, to feel diverse narratives, to experiment with different ways of understanding the world. This creates opportunities for students to learn from other cultures in a respectful and authentic way. If we want our teaching to be culturally and historically responsible, we must consider who writes the books we use in our classrooms.


Finding level-appropriate, Own Voices books for language learners can be daunting, but they do exist, and they allow students to start understanding the intersections of language and culture. If we are to meaningfully engage students in language learning with a lens of decolonization, we must critically evaluate the resources and books we use for that learning.


About the author

Adriana Ramírez is a Spanish teacher, author, and teacher-trainer. Adriana has a big passion for sharing with the world the beauty of her country, Colombia, and her people. You can see this love through all her published novels. A big advocate of the Own Voices movement, Adriana strongly believes that those who come from traditionally oppressed and colonized countries and territories must reclaim their right to tell their own stories and build their own narratives. Originally from Colombia, she actively works on recuperating the stories and the narratives that are part of her roots and her heritage. To learn more, visit


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