Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

This post contains video clips of Señor Howard teaching in the target language.

When working with novice L2 learners, I think facilitating interpretive mode activities is super easy.  It’s the interpersonal mode that I find more challenging.  I’m jealous of foreign language teachers that get to work with intermediate or advanced level students.  It seems a bit easier to launch students into L2 conversations if they have a vocabulary foundation to work with.  However, when I think of facilitating interpersonal mode activities with novice learners, questions like these come to mind:

  • How can I help students have conversations if they have little or no L2 vocabulary foundation?
  • How can I stay in the target language and give comprehensible orientation regarding how to navigate the interpersonal mode activities?
  • How can I help novice learners stay engaged if their L2 skills only enable them to carry a 1 or 2 sentence/phrase conversation?
  • How can I make L2 conversations exciting when the topics of such simple conversations tends to be dull? (i.e. “What’s your name?”  “How are you?  “I’m fine.”  etc.)
  • How can I teach students to have L2 conversations effectively enough to enable them to have these conversations spontaneously with other people outside my classroom?

Here are some principles I keep in mind when I try to encourage novice L2 learners to engage in the interpersonal mode:

1- Keep the conversations teacher-led and teacher-initiated at first.

Novice L2 learners aren’t going to be able to handle being sent off into groups to have L2 conversations.  You might be able to get away with it if you give them instructions in L1.  However if you’re trying to stay in the target language according to ACTFL’s recommendation, it’s better to keep it teacher-led and teacher-initiated at first.

Since novice learners generally lack confidence and hesitate to use the target language, I try to keep the spotlight off of any one individual student.  I have interpersonal conversations with the whole class.  I ask the entire class a question and ask them to respond.  (see video example 1 and video example 2)  Do this often.  It helps build confidence.  The repetition will help them understand and acquire the particular L2 component you are trying to teach.

If there is a student that shows confidence, try performing the interpersonal mode task with him or her.  Reward his/her willingness to participate with something more than verbal praise.  (I use for rewarding and redirecting while staying in the target language.  See this blog post for more info.)

2- Keep the L2 conversations super-simple.

Don’t try to teach too much L2 too fast.  L2 acquisition is a process.  Don’t try to bypass important steps.  Language learners need to hear the same things repeated many times in order to acquire L2.  In this video example, I make the interpersonal mode activity super-simple by asking students multiple choice questions that have only 2 options.

  • Step 1 – I make the L2 words for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ comprehensible. (see video example)
  • Step 2 – I ask the class simple L2 questions like, “Is Roger a boy or a girl,” and only expect them to answer with one word. (see video clip)
  • Step 3 – I repeat this many times to ensure acquisition.
  • Step 4 – I do funny things to keep students engaged.  I use humor to keep eyes on me. (see video clip)

3- Before you ask a student to respond to your question, make sure you’ve modeled the conversation plenty of times.

An effective foreign language teacher knows that he/she must encourage student self-confidence and avoid student shame/embarrassment.  Once an L2 learner loses confidence it’s easy to lose their willingness to try.  Avoid ‘losing’ students by making sure you’ve modeled an interpersonal mode performance task plenty of times.  A novice student should feel 90-100% sure of what’s expected of them before being asked to speak aloud in the target language.

4- One way to repeat simple conversations plenty of times (and avoid boring students )is by showing engaging, targeted and simple L2 conversations modeled on video.

Every once in a while (during the course of a lesson) get the attention off of you.  Find videos of other people modeling the same L2 skill that you are trying to teach.  It’s even better if you can find video clips of native speakers that are the same age as your L2 students.  See a video example here of how I did this during one of my lessons this year.  I like to make my own L2 model conversation videos (like this), but that’s extra work.  You can find plenty of examples online.

5- Once the students are comfortable with responding to the teacher’s target questions with the appropriate L2 response, allow confident students to model conversations in front of the class.

When I ask novice learners to model conversations in front of students, I like to have a script written for them on the board.  It helps them feel confident that they’ll know exactly what to do when they are nervous in front of their peers.

6- Once several pairs of students have modeled the conversation in front of the class, then ask all students to pair off and perform the conversation together.

This is a little easier said than done.  Think through the details of how you want the students to pair up.  Think through where they will stand.  Think through what they will do when they’re done.  I’ll share more ideas on how to do this in future posts.

How about you?  How do you make the interpersonal mode as easy as possible for your novice L2 learners?  Share comments below.

Part 1 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 2 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 3 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 4 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

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Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

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