“My Students Don’t Feel Comfortable When I Spend Long Amounts Of Time Teaching In The Target Language.”

 “My students don’t feel comfortable when I spend extended amounts of time teaching in the target language.”

“My students complain when I stay in the target language.  They say, “Miss…I don’t speak Spanish!” or “What she sayin’!?” or “I didn’t understand a word you just said!”

“Staying in the target language may be a good instructional goal to shoot for, but it just wouldn’t work for my students.”

Along these lines, a reader made some insightful comments after reading last week’s blog post:

I think many HS students walk into a WL class “expecting” those L1 -> L2 connections to be made.  Many of them think they can’t function unless they “know” what those words mean in L1, and they dislike having that knowledge gap created.  It’s difficult for many of them to “trust” in the L2.  Lots of L1 interference comes into play here.  (I’m not commenting on whether these things are good or bad pedagogically — those are just my observations of student reactions).

If a foreign language teacher approached me for advice pertaining to situations like these I would say:

1-  My students, as well, experienced levels of discomfort when I switched into staying in the target language.  (Read my story of transitioning into 90+% TL use.)

When I asked students to participate, they would often say things like, “But Sr. Howard, I don’t understand Spanish!”  I guess their conclusion was that they were in the wrong place.   It was as if they felt like they boarded the wrong flight.  “I must be in the wrong place because this feels like a place for people who speak Spanish.  …and I DON’T!”  They assumed that my “Speaking Only Spanish” class wasn’t for them because they didn’t speak Spanish.

2-  Expect the transition into 90+% target language use to include a level of discomfort.

It’s normal for individuals to feel uncomfortable (especially at first) in an L2 immersion environment.  Explain to your students that it is okay if they feel uncomfortable.  Explain that it’s normal to feel confused or overwhelmed when someone starts talking with sounds they’ve never heard before.

3-  Give students a reason (or motivation) to “stick with it” even though it’s uncomfortable at first.

Click here to read a list of what I did to increase student motivation to “stick with it”.

Read this post for what I believe is the most important reason to “stick with it”.

4-  Give students tools/strategies to make sense of their new L2 world.

There are times when a class of mine might need a refresher on what tools and strategies to use in order to make sense of the language they’re hearing.  Whenever this happens, I pause instruction in the target language to tell my students, in English, things like:

  • “Don’t expect to understand 100% of what I say with my mouth.  Your goal isn’t to understand everything.  I don’t expect you to understand everything.”
  • “You can’t understand what I’m saying by just listening.”
  • “You have to WATCH, WATCH, WATCH!”
  • “You might think, ‘Sr. Howard, why do you make us be so quiet while you are teaching?  It’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop!’  Boys and girls, I ask you to be so quiet because the only way you will learn Spanish in my class is if you are watching what I’m doing or showing you.  If you are talking to a friend, or if your whisper makes someone stop looking at me, NO SPANISH LEARNING will be happening.  And you have a job to do when you are in this room.  Your job is to learn Spanish.  And to learn Spanish, I make it very easy.  All you have to do is WATCH.
  • “I never get mad at a student for trying.  I never get mad at a student for making a mistake.”
  • “I do get very mad at a student for making fun of someone else who makes a mistake.  I also get mad at a student if she keeps another student from WATCHING the source of instruction.”
  • “In this class, mistakes are good.  In this class I will say, “Hooray!” when you make a mistake because it means that you tried!”
  • “You’ll notice that I do some of the same things over and over again.  Those are the important things to pay attention to.  Also, notice what I write under the word, “IMPORTANTE” on the board.  Those are the important things to pay attention to.”
  • “You’ll never understand if you don’t WATCH what I’m doing or what I’m showing.”
  • “Spanish class is like TV:  All you have to do is watch.”

It’s important to give your students tools for making sense of their new L2 world because they can no longer rely on their ability to understand what’s being spoken.

5-  When you stay in the target language, your students will stay uncomfortable IF you haven’t made a philosophical distinction between an ‘L2 immersion environment’ and a ‘COMPREHENSIBLE L2 immersion environment.’

It’s one thing to be in an L2 immersion environment and have no idea what’s being said.  (i.e. Example #1: Listening-in on a telephone conversation between two native speakers of a language you’ve never heard before)  It’s another thing to be in an L2 immersion environment (or situation) where you can understand completely what’s being said, even though you’ve never heard the language.  (i.e. Example #2: Someone just indulged in their first bite of a chocolate dessert and closes their eyes before slowly saying something to the effect of, “Delicious,” in the target language.)

In your 90+% target language environment, try to avoid facilitating an immersion experience like example #1 from above.  Instead, try to facilitate situation after situation after situation of examples like example #2 from above.

Remember to keep in mind this general rule:

Hearing a foreign language ALONE will not allow a person to acquire a foreign language.

6-  Stick with it.  Students will gradually become less uncomfortable.

Many transitions in life are uncomfortable at first.  When you start a new exercise routine, it can be painful at first.  When you start setting your alarm to wake up early after a long vacation, the first couple mornings can be very difficult.  A first year teacher is in for quite a long year as she transitions into a new teaching job.

If you give up quickly, you’ll never be able to notice that, eventually, it does get easier.  Tell yourself and your students that it won’t always be as hard as it is during the first couple weeks.  Stick with it and it does become easier.

The majority of my students have not only moved past experiencing discomfort in a comprehensible L2 immersion environment, many of them actually love it!  Some of them even forget that they’re actually learning L2.

A few minutes ago (as I am writing this post) one of my students just walked into my classroom with his mom.  We chatted for a while before it was time for them to leave.  When his mom said it was time to go, he said, “I wish that I could just stay here and live with Señor Howard.”  I asked another dad if his son told him what we did last time in Spanish class.  His Dad rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, he told me like 200 times.”  One mom said, “We’ve moved a lot, and we’ve never had a language class experience like my son is having now with you.  He is learning so much.”

An Italian teacher from Australia just tweeted me the other day and said:

“Gotta tell you that you inspired me! Am now running Year 8 and 9 classes in 100% Italian except for the last 3-5 mins! Thanks!  …and not only that, but have managed to inspire the other 7 people in my faculty! Xlnt results,kids focused,& enjoying it!:)”

7-  More about experience than language study.

If you still find your students feeling uncomfortable or uninspired, long after you’ve made the transition into staying in the target language, consider doing things to help the students focus less on language learning and focus more on whatever experience they are having in the target language.

For an example of this, read the posts on teaching grammar while staying in the target language.  You’ll notice from the scripts that a participating student could easily forget he’s learning language because the activity (eating cereal and/or wondering who’s going to get to eat the cereal) is so engaging.  If your activities/experiences are worthwhile and meaningful, it could be that the students begin to acquire L2 without even realizing it.

More posts to help you get started:

Rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  1. If something you are about to say in the target language isn’t going to be comprehensible, it’s not worth saying.
  2. Use less words.
  3. Set a goal that your students will not think, “I have no idea what my L2 teacher is saying.”
  4. It’s not unrealistic to set a high goal for how much of the input will be comprehensible for the students.
  5. Even though you are speaking a language that is foreign to them, you should strive to make sure that at least 80% of the input is comprehensible.  They may not understand every word.  …but that’s okay.  If you shoot for input being comprehensible 80% of the time it won’t matter as much to your students that they don’t understand every word.  The will still be able to decipher.
  6. It’s hard work for students to decipher the input that you are trying to make comprehensible.  Give them frequent deciphering breaks.

Keep the conversation going!

Have you tried out any of these teaching suggestions from Tuesday’s Tips for Staying in the Target Language?  How did it go?  Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #langchat (for general language teaching comments) and/or #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments).

 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!

Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Ensure That You Are Pairing (Part 2)

(This post contains Sr. Howard on video.  Click here or see below.)

If a FL teacher wants to effectively manage a 90+% TL classroom, she needs to make sure she is pairing the incomprehensible L2 with compelling and comprehensible extralinguistic input. If a FL teacher wants to use PAIRING effectively IT’S IMPERATIVE that his students are continuously and actively watching the point of instruction.

To illustrate, consider the following three examples:

  1. A teacher is introducing weather vocabulary.  The student can repeat the target vocabulary all she wants.  But if she never looks at it’s corresponding picture, she won’t connect the syllables she’s uttering with the meaning they represent.
  2. Imagine that a teacher puts a cupcake in his mouth and uses the moment to model L2 phrases like ‘That’s delicious!’ or ‘Yummy!’ in the TL.  An off-task student may hear the L2 phrases, but if he’s not watching the point of instruction he will not see the context clues that allow the target language to be comprehensible.
  3. A teacher wants to teach basic phonics (in the TL) and is modeling how to pronounce the syllables in the months of the year.  A student can easily repeat the sounds a teacher models.  But if the student isn’t watching the syllables that the teacher is pointing to, she will never know which letters/characters produce those sounds.

There are many reasons why a student may not be watching the source of instruction.  He may be hungry, emotionally overwhelmed, worried about classmates opinions, etc.  I’ve even noticed that my students get distracted because speaking in the TL feels funny and awkward to them.  Whatever the case may be, a teacher needs to do everything he can to keep students’ attention.  Without it, all the efforts to PAIR will be for nothing. It won’t be long before students begin engaging in off-task behavior.

In my class, I do these 3 things to make to show students that I have high expectations for how they behave.

1.  My 2 rules are simple.  In Spanish class I say, “Importante – silencio.  Importante – attención.”  (Watch a video of how I make this meaningful for my Spanish students)  The students must know that 1- it’s important to be absolutely silent and that 2- all eyes need to be on me.  This is the case whenever I am modeling L2 or giving instructions.

2.  I immediately reward exemplary behavior.  I use tons of verbal praise.  I use ClassDojo.  (See this link for more on ClassDojo and behavior management in the 90+% TL classroom.)

3.  I effectively redirect off-task behavior.  Sometimes, I feel very mean and strict during the first 1-3 mins of class.  But this is okay because it sets the tone for how I want the students to behave.  Don’t feel the pressure to be a nice, friendly teacher.  Be strict for the sake of increasing the amount of PAIRING instances (which leads towards L2 acquisition).  Remember, students cannot benefit from your PAIRING instances unless they are watching the source of instruction.  If you feel that a student’s behavior is negatively affecting the learning environment, don’t just let it go.  Effectively redirect it.

What do you do to make sure students are watching the source of instruction?  Leave comments below.

Management Strategies – Ensure Input Is Comprehensible (Part 1)

 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).

Comprehensible Input: Behavior Management is HUGE

Foreign language teachers spend a lot of time and energy preparing visuals, props and handouts so that their input with be comprehensible or understandable to their students.  But just remember…

…any effort to make input comprehensible IS WASTED if students aren’t completely engaged and paying attention.

This is such an important point that you can almost say “A comprehensible-input-issue is a classroom management issue”.  A foreign language instructor that wants to stay in the target language must have an excellent plan for behavior management.

If the students aren’t watching you and/or the point of instruction, none (or very little) of the input will be comprehensible.

Language learners (depending on their proficiency level) can’t rely on their sense of hearing to help them understand what’s being communicated.  Teachers need to use any number of strategies to help the spoken language be understood not through the students sense of hearing but through their sense of sight, or touch or through creating predictable situations where a limited amount of target vocabulary can be explored, experienced, experimented with…etc.  Consequently if input is to be comprehensible a student needs to be watching and engaged during all instructional activities.

A foreign language teacher should invest just as much energy into effective classroom management strategies as she/he does into strategies for making input comprehensible.

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

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).