Being In Diapers & Staying In The Target Language

I talked with my students about diapers during our last session of the school year.

I switched into using L1 so that I could debrief with them about why I teach L2 the way I do.  Here’s what I told them:

“You guys do a great job!  I’m very proud of what you do every time you walk into my class.  You’re learning a lot.  AND you are learning in a very special way.  You are learning like you’re in diapers.”

(I paused to let the awkwardness of the statement take its effect.)

“Yes.  You are learning like you’re in diapers.  Here’s what I mean.  I try to teach you L2 like I’m your mom and like you’re in diapers.  You see, when you were a baby and still crawling around the floor, you were learning your first words.  Maybe you didn’t even realize that you were learning how to talk, but you were.  You said things like, “Dada,” “Mama,” “potty,” and “drink.”  To help you learn them, your mom didn’t use flashcards.  Your mom didn’t give you homework.  When you were in diapers she didn’t have you repeat your words 5 times each.  She didn’t have you write them 10 times on a piece of paper.

You learned your first words without trying to learn them.  You learned them without realizing you were learning them.  You could almost say that you learned your first words by accident.

That’s how I’m trying to teach you L2.  Some of you might feel like L2 class with Sr. Howard is just fun.  We don’t copy spelling words.  We don’t have lots of homework.  We don’t stare at each other and repeat vocabulary words 7 times.  Your hand doesn’t get tired from copying lists of words.  That makes some of you feel like we don’t do “learning kinds of things” in here.  But that’s not true.  Everything I do with you is on purpose.  Every single thing we do, from the moment you walk down the hall towards my room, is on purpose.  I’m always trying to help you learn L2 words the way you learned your first words when you were in diapers.  If you watch me…if you stare at me whenever you’re in here…if you realize that everything I’m doing is on purpose, you’ll have hundreds of chances to learn L2 EVERY TIME you see me.  And you don’t have to copy, you don’t have to do packets of worksheets, you don’t have to do lots of memorizing.  L2 class is like T.V.: all you have to do is watch.  Next year, if you keep doing these same things, you’ll have hundreds of chances to keep learning L2 every time you walk through these doors.

Some of you know what I’m talking about because you’re surprised that you’ve said so much in L2 this year.  You’ve said things like _________”  (Then I recall some of the amazing things that students have started to say in L2 this year.)  “You’ve learned all of these things without even trying.  Keep watching me and you’ll learn L2 the way you learned when you were in diapers.”


That was my motivational speech and it’s based on their ability to pay attention and my ability to meaningfully and repeatedly *pair comprehensible input with incomprehensible L2 input.  It’s fun.  It’s natural.  It’s easy for the students.  It’s producing exciting results.


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

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Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Debunking 5 MORE “Teaching In The Target Language Myths”

(For myths 1-5 click here.)

Myth #6 –

Pictures and gestures will make L2 input comprehensible.

Although I’m not a foreign language acquisition expert (and I haven’t done any formal research) I’m coming to the conviction that Myth #6 is NOT true.  Up until recently I thought it was true.  My thinking went like this:

  1. I tell my students, “The boy is sad,” in the target language.
  2. They look at me with confused faces because the L2 input is incomprehensible.
  3. I show them a picture of a sad boy and repeat the L2 sentence.
  4. Their confused look goes away.
  5. I conclude that I made the L2 input comprehensible by providing a visual/picture.

I’m realizing that my thinking was a little incorrect.  Here’s the line of thinking that I believe is more accurate:

  1. I tell my students, “The boy is sad,” in the target language.
  2. They look at me with confused faces because they can’t find meaning in the L2 input that I used.  (AKA…the linguistic input was incomprehensible.)
  3. I show them a picture of a sad boy and repeat the L2 sentence.
  4. Their confused look goes away.
  5. I conclude that their confused look DIDN’T go away because the L2 input all the sudden became comprehensible.  I helped them find meaning by using 2 forms of extralinguistic input (*representational input and **incidental situational input).  (**Side note: How I used the second form of extralinguistic input is probably not obvious.  However I don’t want to take the time to explain it here.  Feel free to contact me if you want an explanation.)

The students found meaning in the extralinguistic input I used NOT in the linguistic input!

The conviction that I’m coming to is:

A piece of incomprehensible L2 input STAYS incomprehensible until an individual can find meaning in it APART from the help of comprehensible extralinguistic forms of input.

The pedagogical implication of this conviction is:

I need to, repeatedly and meaningfully, *pair comprehensible extralinguistic input with it’s L2 linguistic equivalent until it becomes comprehensible to the student.  (See a video example of how I do this here.)


Myth #7-

Excellent foreign language teachers stay in the target language 100% of the time.

There ARE excellent foreign language teachers who stay in the TL 100% of the time.  There are ALSO many foreign language teachers who stay in the TL 100% of the time AND are INEFFECTIVE.

A teacher’s effectiveness should NOT be measured by how often she’s speaking to her students in the target language.  That’d be like saying, “you’re a really good diet-er if you purchase a lot of Special K food products or drink a lot of Slim-Fast shakes.”

In order to know if you’re doing well or not, you have to determine how effectively you’re moving towards your goal.

The goal of dieting is to lose weight.  So it makes more sense to measure your dieting effectiveness by how much weight your losing and NOT by how many weight loss products you purchase.

Just like a “diet-er’s” goal is NOT purchasing weight loss products, a foreign language teacher’s goal is NOT speaking in the target language.  Speaking in the TL is just one of many strategies that a teacher can use in an attempt to do her job well.  And what is her job?

Her job is to help learners comprehend/use more L2.

A teacher’s effectiveness, therefore, should be measured in relation to the progress her students have made towards comprehending/using more L2.


Myth #8 –

Teachers who stay in the target language have to be very dramatic, creative and good at Charades or GUESS-tures.

I don’t think so.

In my experience, I feel like I was more of an entertainer before…when I spoke L1 to teach L2.  (see this post for more)  My class used to feel like just another academic subject.  (i.e. “Here are the language rules.”  “Copy down the vocab.”  “Let’s practice this skill.”  Etc.)  In order to motivate students to do the hard work of language learning, I had to bend over backwards to make it fun, entertaining, worthwhile and engaging.

Now that I’m teaching in the target language, class feels LESS like doing academic chores and more like having meaningful experiences in a new language.  We have the flexibility to do things that don’t feel academic.  We can laugh, tease and play AS WELL AS copy down vocab, practice conversations and grammar structures.  As long as it’s in the target language and I’m *pairing incomprehensible L2 input with other forms of comprehensible input, the students learn.

I also don’t have to put in a lot of effort in order to help students find meaning.  See some of the following posts for effective strategies that don’t require inordinate amounts of energy:


Myth #9 – 

Teaching in the target language takes too much time and effort.

Maybe Myth #9 is true…especially if you’re not accustomed to teaching in the TL.  Whenever you start something new it takes a bit more time until you get the hang of it.  But once you develop your “bag of tricks” or have your resources developed/found/organized, I think it doesn’t take much effort at all.

In fact, teaching in the target language has made my job more fun!  I’m observing that my students are learning and retaining A LOT more L2 AND, at the same time, I feel like I’m doing a lot less work than I used to.  I use lots of routines (which cuts down on the amount I have to plan).  I have the students do most of what needs to be done while we’re in class (which keeps me from running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off).

Check out what my class is like by clicking here.


Myth #10 –

Teachers who stay in the target language CAN’T effectively ASSESS the progress of their students.  These teachers also don’t set daily performance objectives for their lessons.  They just sort of “go with the flow.”

Regardless of whether a teacher stays in the target language, I NEVER would think it’s good practice to conduct instructional sessions without setting daily performance objectives for students.  Teachers who don’t communicate performance objectives to their students are doing them a disservice.  If L2 immersion feels like wandering in a dark room, communicating explicit and comprehensible performance objectives is like handing your students a flashlight.  Objectives help them:

  • know where you’re going.
  • know what you want them to pay attention to.
  • know what’s expected of them.

I also think that it’s NECESSARY to assess the progress of students frequently so that the students can have feedback on their performance and so that teachers can know if they’re doing their job.

I haven’t written a series on assessments in the 90+% target language classroom YET.  However I’m looking forward to it.  Presently here are the only two posts that have to do with assessment if you care to read them:


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

When District Expectations Make It Hard To Teach In The Target Language

Alison Morrison (check out her blog here) sent some great questions about how to stay in the TL when the expectations from district administration make 90+% TL use more complicated.

Señor Howard,
I just discovered your blog last night and was so excited! I feel like I have gotten away from staying in the TL in favor of adding more complicated activities to my lessons. You have inspired me to strive for immersion by not only giving examples, but the tools in order to be able to do so. Thank you!

I have two questions for you (and I apologize if the answers are somewhere on your blog):
1). Do you use project-based learning in your lessons? My district is really pushing inquiry-based learning and I found it difficult to do without using L1.
2). Also, what do you do with students who enter your program in the upper grades with no language experience? I had a lot of new students this year in the upper grades and it was difficult at times motivating some of them who were not used to immersion and did not have the same foundation as my other students. Any thoughts?
I greatly value your opinions!
Thank you for this outstanding professional development!
Alison Morrison

Here’s how I replied.  I’d love to read your replies to Alison’s questions in the comments section below.


Hi Alison,

I think the most helpful thing I can do is point you to Laura Sexton (if you haven’t already heard of her).  Her website is http://www.PBLintheTL.com.  (Project-Based-Learning in the Target Language).  She’s incredible.

The other thing that might be helpful to hear from me is:

Don’t feel guilty if you feel like you aren’t using the TL as much as you think you should.

I don’t think using the TL is the right strategy to use in every foreign language education setting.

For example, staying in the TL might not be the best way to prepare students for a district-wide test that assesses students’ abilities to provide the English word for L2 vocabulary or that requires students to provide the correct form of a conjugated verb.  (See this post for more on this.)  If your district is pushing for inquiry-based learning, it may not be most beneficial to stay in the target language 100% of the time with your students.  Sara-E Cottrell (from http://www.musicuentos.com) will be the first to tell you that there are many methods for teaching a foreign language and any one method isn’t THE right way to teach a foreign language in ALL educational settings.  (Check out her amazing video on this topic here.)

I personally choose to use the target language because it helps me with the issues of retention and motivation.  I only see my students once every 6 school days.  Before I used the target language, they’d forget everything.  Now students are using Spanish words, phrases and some sentences to communicate with me out in the hallways and on the playground.  Sometimes my students use phrases that I’ve never even directly taught them.

Another positive is that we’re having a good time.  (the motivation issue)  The students are learning/acquiring and sometimes they don’t even realize that they’re learning or that I’m even administering an assessment.  We laugh together and class feels meaningful to them.

It should be noted that I don’t have a lot of administrative pressure to teach in a certain way.  I have the privilege of teaching in the way that I feel is best for my students. (Lucky me)

Regarding what I do with students who enter into the program without much language experience:

…nothing fancy.  I probably do what every teacher does: I do the best I can with a tough situation.  Maybe, instead of requiring them to answer an open-ended question, I might ask them the same question but give them two options. For example, let’s say the question is, “Describe the dog in the picture,” or, “What is the dog like?”  Whereas experienced students might have to start using some L2 adjectives and sentences structures to answer, I might help the new student by saying, “Is the dog big and white or is the dog small and brown?”  I’ll make the answer very obvious to the new student with my vocal inflections and facial expressions.  I’ll give them chances to succeed so their confidence level can increase.  I try to make it so that L2 class becomes a place where they want to be and want to succeed.

Feel free to ask more questions or follow up questions at any time!
Best wishes!

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com@calhwrd

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Debunking 5 “Teaching In The Target Language Myths”

Myth #1 –

“Staying in the target language is only for teachers who are native or near native speakers.”

Myth #1 MAY BE TRUE when a teacher is working with students who already function at a high L2 proficiency level.  However, when teaching novice students or intermediate low students:

  • Long, complex, L2 sentences can become TL acquisition stumbling blocks.
  • Lots of advanced L2 words may sound fancy and impressive to the L2 speaking teacher who is saying them.  However, to the novice student, they sound confusing, overwhelming and quickly reduce his level of motivation.

I’m starting to believe that the effectiveness of an L2 speaking teacher is LESS related to the level of his L2 linguistic proficiency and MORE related to his ability to *pair L2 input with meaningful and comprehensible extralinguistic input.

L2 speaking teachers do well when they…:


Myth #2 –

“Students will acquire L2 if they hear L2 spoken.”

Consider the following scenario:

If you answered the telephone and someone started speaking a mile per minute in a language you’d never heard before, you would:

  1. not be able to understand anything.
  2. be at least a little shocked and overwhelmed.
  3. arguably NOT be able to learn the language no matter how long you listened the native L2 speaker on the other end of the line.

Hopefully this simple scenario gives you insight into why I’ve been coming to the following convictions:

  • A novice L2 learner needs more than just L2 input in order to acquire L2.
  • It’s unrealistic for a teacher to expect novice students to acquire L2 if all he does speak in the target language.
  • IF the only form of available input is L2 linguistic input, the only way for a person to learn more L2 is by using L2 words she DOES KNOW to make sense of the L2 words that she DOESN’T KNOW.
  • If a person doesn’t know any L2 words (or if she only knows a few) her chances of learning L2 (by hearing L2) are very slim.

So…myth #2 will be FALSE particularly when a learner knows a negligible amount of L2 vocabulary.  Contrarily, Myth #2 becomes more and MORE TRUE as the amount of L2 vocabulary, that a student knows, increases.

(By the way…this doesn’t mean that novice students can’t acquire L2 in an L2 immersion environment.  They CAN!  It’s just that the environment CAN’T be an EXCLUSIVELY L2 input environment.  Their environment needs to be rich with meaningful and comprehensible forms of EXTRALINGUISTIC input that can be *paired with the incomprehensible L2 input.)

This leads me to myth #3.


 

Myth #3 – 

“I can only stay in the target language with level 2, 3, or 4 students but not with level 1 students.”

There are many strategies to help novice students thrive in an L2 immersion environment.  Here are some that I’ve mentioned on this blog:

1- Helping Reluctant Learners

2- Practical Advice/Strategies For…:

…Teaching Grammar While Staying In The Target Language.

…Introducing New Vocabulary While Staying In The Target Language.

…Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible.

Giving Activity Directions While Staying In The Target Language.


Myth #4 –

“Students will feel overwhelmed or lost if the teacher stays in the target language.”

Myth #4 will generally be TRUE any time students can’t find meaning from the available input that surrounds them.  If a teacher communicates in ways that students DON’T understand, then, yes, they will feel overwhelmed and lost.

Although I can’t say for certain, my guess is that there are many teachers who choose NOT to teach in the target language because they are afraid of this.  They believe that students won’t be able to find enough meaning in an L2 immersion environment, so they speak L1 in order to help them feel more comfortable.

I think it’s a wise choice to opt for helping students feel comfortable.  However I don’t think it’s necessary to speak L1 in order for L2 students to feel comfortable and find meaning.

Over the last two years I’ve been learning that it’s possible to speak exclusively in the target language (even to novice students) AND, at the same time, avoid overwhelming them.

The trick (at least a trick that’s working for me) is *pairing incomprehensible L2 input with meaningful and comprehensible forms of extralinguistic input.  It makes L2 class fun, meaningful and students seem to experience low levels (and in some cases NO level) of stress.

Last week a teacher from a different school district came to observe my classes for a whole day.  He told me that, from his perspective, every student understood everything that was happening and that they knew what was expected of them even though I didn’t speak L1.

Earlier this year I asked a class to hold up 1 finger if they understood nothing in my class and 10 fingers if they understood everything.  They all held up 9 fingers or 10.


Myth #5 –

“It’s impossible (or nearly impossible) to manage student behavior while staying in the target language.”

Myth #5 is what kept me from staying in the target language for 8 years.  I WANTED to stay in the target language but I didn’t know how to address this issue.  (Read more about this here.)

I don’t believe that there is ONE fail-proof solution for every behavior management situation.  In my search for a way to stay in the target language AND manage student behavior, people gave me a lot of suggestions that I knew would NOT work in my situation.

So I can’t tell you what will work for you.  But I CAN tell you that I THOUGHT it was impossible to manage student behavior while staying in the TL and NOW I think it IS possible.

If you’re not sure what to do about student behavior, I’d suggest:

  • resisting the the pressure to stay in the target language 100% of the time.  Try it for little chunks at a time.  See what works.  See what doesn’t work.  Talk with your students about how it felt for them.  Reflect on what you will do if you try the TL activity again next year.
  • making the time you spend speaking in the TL as comprehensible as possible.  When students feel like they don’t know what you’re saying, they will probably start to engage in off-task behavior.
  • making the activities you do while speaking in the TL as meaningful as possible.
  • talking to as many people as you can.  See what they tried and see what might work in your particular situation.  If you’re interested, here’s what I tried.

 

*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 11) – Forms Of Input: L1

I do speak L1, sometimes.

“When?” you might ask.

Well…I rarely use L1 to help students find meaning in L2.  (There’s plenty of other fun and effective ways to help them find meaning!  See here and here and here)

I rarely use L1 when giving directions for a learning activity or game.

Although L1 IS a form of input that foreign language teachers can use to help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2, I prefer to use L1 only in the following situations:

1- When students forget what we’re doing.

One time I was pretending that I couldn’t find one of the 3rd graders in my class.  In the target language I would teasingly say, “Where is Monica?  Where is Monica?  Where is she?!”  The students would get excited and want to tell me where she was.  I would give them the L2 words to say, “THERE she is!!” or, “she’s RIGHT THERE!”

After repeating this interaction 2 or 3 times, I heard a student say (almost under her breath), “Okay.  Let’s start learning now.”  Her tone of voice implied that she thought we were merely wasting our time with silly games.

The student forgot that what we were doing was more than just games.  She forgot that everything I do, in class, is full of purpose.  I’m not just teasing.  I’m speaking only L2…and having fun doing it!  I’m using situational input* and gesticulated input*.  I’m pairing* these forms of extralinguistic input with brand new L2 vocabulary.  I’m helping students acquire bits of L2 without even realizing that it’s happening!

In moments like these, when a student forgets the point of what we’re doing in L2 class, I may pause instruction in the target language to say a few sentences in L1.  (…especially when I get the sense that doing so will increase everyone’s motivation to stay on task.)

Generally I’ll say things like:

  • “I’m making this really easy for you!  Some classes are hard work.  Some classes require you to memorize lots of things (vocabulary, math facts, etc.)  Not here.  In a way, L2 class is like T.V.: all you have to do is watch.  If you are watching me you will be learning L2.  The moment you stop paying attention…you won’t know what’s going on.  I don’t ask much of you.  But I do ask this: watch, watch, watch!”
  • “Everything I do is on purpose!  Even when I make you laugh.  Even when I take attendance.  Even when I ask someone to close the door or turn off the lights.  It’s all on purpose.  If you are watching, you’ll have hundreds of chances, during every L2 class, to learn L2.”
  • “You have a job to do!  Your job is to watch.  When you’re watching me, you’ll be learning.  Sometimes I do silly things.  But it DOESN’T mean that L2 class is silly time.  L2 class is LEARN TIME.  I have a job while you’re in here and YOU have a job while you’re in here.  There’s lots of other times for being too silly.  There’s lots of other times for talking with friends.  Right now, let’s ALL do our job.”

As soon as the students are back “on-board” with what I’m trying to accomplish, I switch back into L2.

2- On an “As-Needed” basis for new students.

Every week or two a new student will transfer into our school.  Most of the time the new student is fine and doesn’t need any L1 orientation from me.  However, if a student is particularly intimidated by my L2 immersion setting, I will speak a few/phrases of L1 while the rest of the class is occupied with something else.

They might be phrases of orientation like:

  • “You’ll do great in this class.  All you have to do is watch.”
  • “If you’re not sure what to do, just watch the other students.  Do what they do.”
  • “We’re in the middle of this activity.  You’ll do a great job.  All you have to do is ____.”

At other times they might be phrases I use to endear the student to me:

  • “Wow.  You seem like a really great student.”
  • “I can tell you’re really getting this.”
  • “Hi.  Welcome to L2 class.  Is this your first day here?  Do you have any brothers or sisters that came to this school with you?”
  • “If you ever see me in the lunchroom or out on the playground, and you need something, just let me know.  I can help you if you ever need any help.”

3- To teach 1st year students one or two of my routines.

My 1st year students are kindergarteners.  We would have a hard time making it through 40 minutes of 100% L2 instruction (on the first day of class) without a little bit of orientation in L1.  So I typically take the first half of the first class to:

After that, we are able to spend the rest of the school year staying in the target language.  It’s a lot easier to stay in the target language than I thought it would be before I first started.


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
  • …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
  • …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.

STAY TUNED!

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).