A Common Teaching In The Target Language Mistake

I spent a day observing a high school French teacher for the purpose of giving her feedback regarding her use of the target language with students.  I was excited about my visit because I am ALWAYS wishing for opportunities to learn more French!  …and HERE was my chance to spend a WHOLE DAY in a French class.  I decided that I would write down everything that I was able to learn just from listening to her speak French.

There were a lot of things that this teacher did really well because my list ended up being very long!

At the beginning of period 1, the bell rang and she moved to the front of the class to address the chatty students saying, “votre attention s’il vous plaît.”  I understood!  Had she shown me each of those words in isolation, I would’ve said, HUH!?!?  However in this circumstance my lack of French knowledge didn’t matter.

She used different forms of extralinguistic input to make the incomprehensible L2 meaningful:

I learned because a piece of incomprehensible L2 was *paired with comprehensible extralinguistic input.

Here’s another example.  The teacher had given a seat work assignment.  Students had to fill in a few blanks on a French worksheet.  After a time of everyone working quietly, one student put her pencil down and looked up.  The teacher walked over and said, “Vous avez fini?”  I hadn’t known what those words meant but, in that moment, they became meaningful to me because they were *paired with comprehensible extralinguistic input.  (*incidental situational and *gesticulated input.)

Those are just two examples (out of dozens) when incomprehensible French words/phrase became meaningful to me because of extralinguistic input *pairing.

Pretty simple, right?

I don’t think most foreign language teachers struggle with doing this kind of thing.  It comes naturally and we do it without thinking.

The only 2 problems I saw in this particular classroom were:

1- She was only giving her students a small amount of *pairing chances.  I didn’t make an exact calculation but I’d guess *pairing was only happening during 5% of the class time.  When it happened, it was GREAT!  But it didn’t happen very much.

2- Sometimes she *paired a piece of comprehensible extralinguistic input with TOO LONG of an L2 phrase.

Here’s what I mean.  At the end of class the students got out of their seats and started congregating by the door.  Meanwhile she started doing some paperwork at the desk.  When they got too loud, she started saying something like, “asseoir.”  I had no idea what she was saying, and neither did the students because no one was responding.  There was no comprehensible extralinguistic input available to make the incomprehensible L2 word meaningful.

Afterwards, I gave her this advice,

“In a non confrontational way, if possible, stand more towards the door.  Say, “sit down,” in French with a big smile, while walking towards a student and motion for them to sit down.  This might make it comprehensible if you are very slow about it.”

I also wrote her this:

“Make sure the target L2 is exactly matched with the corresponding extralinguistic input.  Read this post for an explanation.
EXAMPLE of NOT exact match: motioning for students to sit down and then saying the following in the TL, “It’s too early…I want everyone to sit down in their seat.”
EXAMPLE of good EXACT match: making eye contact with William.  Standing in front of William.  Motioning for William to sit down and saying, “William, sit down.”

A teacher who teaches in the target should have the following as their goal (note: quote taken from a previous post):

Repeated and meaningful opportunities wherein a piece of incomprehensible linguistic input is joined to a corresponding piece of comprehensible extralinguistic input.”

Make it your goal to have this happen hundreds of times during one instructional session.


*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.

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Señor Howard

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

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

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