A teacher’s chances of winning the behavior management battle, in a 90+% TL classroom, soar when she excels at pairing incomprehensible L2 input equivalent and comprehensible extralinguistic forms of input. Student tendency to engage in off-task behavior increases when he/she doesn’t understand what is happening in class. Therefore, a 90+%-TL-using-teacher should have a goal of causing students to understand most of what’s happening in an L2 immersion environment.
How can a foreign language PAIR effectively?
1. Use Fewer Words – When speaking in front of students, many teachers think that they need to sound like a native speaker. This is, generally, NOT a good practice. Staying in the TL (depending upon the proficiency level of the students) isn’t about sounding like a native speaker. Don’t try to string together fancy sounding words. Don’t try to speak quickly and fluidly. These actions actually make incomprehensible L2 input feel more aversive to L2 learners. And when this happens, students easily lose hope and give up.
Instead, teachers should consider the following principles in order increase the chance that a student will be willing to engage in an L2 immersion environment:
- Use fewer words
- Speak slowly
- Insert brief pauses between words
- Focus primarily on using vocabulary from the day’s performance objectives.
I learned the ‘Use Fewer Words’ principle when my daughter was 10-20 months old. I quickly learned better ways to verbally instruct my crawling, non-language-using daughter to stay out of the kitchen? Obviously a parent should not say something like: “Infant daughter, there are some dangerous things in the kitchen. Furthermore your father and mother are not in there to supervise you. Therefore our desire is for you to stay in the living room with us.” In a situation like this, a parent needs to eliminate extra words. I took my daughter to the threshold between the kitchen and living room. I pointed to the kitchen side of the threshold and said, “NO, NO, NO.” I pointed to the living room side of the threshold and said, “YES, YES, YES.” I took the extra time to repeat these statements 3 or 4 times. She was able to understand because I used fewer words and I made their meaning obvious. If I would’ve used 4 sentences with complex ‘native speaker level words’ my daughter wouldn’t have even listened or looked at me. (In teacher words: she would’ve engaged in off-task behavior.)
These same principles can be applied to foreign language classrooms. When communicating with L2 learners, eliminate extra words. Take extra time to ensure that your words are paired with comprehensible extralinguistic input. Use situations, and context, to make words and phrases meaningful. The more understandable the input is, the easier it will be for students to stay on-task during learning activities.
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