It’s hard for novice learners to understand what’s happening when the instructor is staying in the target language. All of the L2 words and phrases can sound like a jumble of unfamiliar syllables. One of the most important jobs of a foreign language teacher is to pair those unfamiliar sounds with meaningful extralinguistic input through PAIRING. Although there are a million things a teacher can do to PAIR, the more limited focus of this post is to share strategies for using your hands to make your instructions for interpersonal mode tasks more meaningful.
One of the biggest tricks that a foreign language teacher can have up her sleeve is: USE FEWER WORDS. The more words you use the more you risk confusing your novice L2 learners. So when you’re trying to communicate that…
- …each student will have a partner and that
- they will have to practice an L2 conversation that has the 4 following components…
…don’t throw in extra words! It will be too difficult for novice learners to track with you if you say something like this in the target language: “With a partner, do the following: Partner 1 says, “Hello.” Partner 2 says, “Hello.” Partner 1 says, “What is your name?” Partner 2 says, “My name is _____.” Partner 1 says, “How are you feeling today?” Partner 2 says, “I’m feeling _____.” Both partners say, “Goodbye.”
During that string of instructions, many novice learners will not have the L2 skills to even understand that you are talking about 2 people saying things back and forth to each other. (Remember, it’s easy for novice learners to hear the target language as a jumble of foreign syllables.) So break it down as easy as you can. Try doing something like this:
1- Write the target conversation on the board like this:
- 1- Hello.
- 2- Hello.
- 1- What is your name?
- 2- My name is _____.
- 1- How are you feeling today.
- 2- I’m feeling _____.
- 1- Goodbye.
- 2- Goodbye.
2- Put your two hands up in the air pretending that each hand is a person. Hand 1 is Partner 1 and Hand 2 is Partner 2. Make your hands face each other.
3- Help students know that Hand 1 represents Partner 1 and Hand 2 represents Partner 2. Do this by making Hand 1 and 2 talk to each other. Say the word, “One,” in the target language while making Hand 1 talk. Then say the word, “Two,” while making Hand 2 talk. Repeat this three or four times. Students will start making a connection between Hands 1 & 2 and the numbers 1 & 2 on the board written next to some L2 words.
4- Continue helping students know that Hand 1 represents Partner 1 and Hand 2 represents Partner 2 by having your two hands act out the interpersonal conversation you have written on the board.
5- Help students practice the conversation by having them raise their two hands like yours. Repeat steps 3 and 4. This time, however, have students repeat every word/phrase you say while making their hands 1 & 2 act out the conversation that’s written on the board.
If you follow steps 1 through 5 you will have effectively helped students know that what they are practicing is a conversation between two people. They know which words Partner 1 should say and which words Parter 2 should say. You’ve given them a model that allows your instruction to be comprehensible. Your use of the two hand method has helped you reduce the amount of L2 words you’re saying; increasing the chance that they will understand your instructions.
Now students will be ready to successfully practice the conversation with a partner in class.
This two hand method is also helpful for teaching novice learners what the word, “repeat,” is in the target language. Sometimes a very young learner will not know what to do if you say (in the TL), “Repeat after me: Red.” If this is the case, use the two hand method to show that you want them to say the word that you are saying.
- Stand close to the student. (Maybe 3 feet apart)
- Put Hand 1 in front of your mouth and pointing in the direction of the student. (As if Hand 1 were talking to the student)
- Say, “Repeat: Red.”
- Then put Hand 2 closer to the student and point Hand 2 towards yourself. (As if Hand 2 were talking back to the teacher)
This may help the student understand that you are expecting him to say the word that you are saying. If the student still does not say the word “red” after you:
- Keep your 2 hands in the same positions.
- Put hand 1 in front of your mouth and say, “Red,” and make Hand 2 say, “red” from the direction of the student.
- Repeat this fairly quickly 3 or 4 times.
- On the last time, make Hand 1 say, “red,” but make Hand 2 be silent and look at the student as if your saying, “please say what Hand 2 was supposed to say.”
- After these steps the students should be able to successfully learn that you want him to repeat what you are saying.
Remember, the point of the 2 hand method is to reduce the amount of words you say in the target language; increasing the chance that students will find meaning in your L2 immersion environment.
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