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 – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

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