How To Avoid “Freaking Out” Novice L2 Learners When Staying In The Target Language

Great question on Twitter, yesterday, from a high school french teacher named Martha Behlow:  (Link for tweet here)

90% target language in upper levels is realistic, but what about levels 1 & 2?  How do you keep them from freaking out?

There were some wonderful answers offered by Virginia Rinaldi, Cecile Laine, Laura Sexton and Kristi Placido (As of 12:57pm ET on 12/8/2014).  In more words, or less, they suggested the following: (live links below for further reading on each topic from Tuesday’s Tips…)

I’ll add my thoughts here:

1- Picture your novice/intermediate-low students as infants and toddlers learning their first language.  (Easier to do if you are a parent)  Doing this will help you avoid thinking,

“Ahhh!  ACTFL says students and teachers should stay in the target language at least 90% of the time!!  How am I supposed to do that with novice learners!?!”

You wouldn’t expect your 10-month-old to produce very much L1.  Older infants might only be able to attempt single words or parts of words.  To communicate their thoughts and feelings, they would rely on signs, body language and noises.  Verbal communication is led/directed/initiated by the adult.  The dynamic should be the same in the L2 classroom.  Your novice learners shouldn’t be expected to carry on conversations in the target language, just like you wouldn’t expect your 1-year-old to carry the conversation around the dinner table.  Novice language learners need to be observers.  They need to hear L1 in context.  They need to hear L1 in comprehensible forms.  When language is comprehensible, and when there’s repeated opportunities to hear the CI in a meaningful context, language will be naturally acquired.

This doesn’t mean that novice learners don’t need to be immersed in L2.  They do!

2- Novice learners don’t need L1.  They can be very successful in an L2 immersion environment.  Use the following effective and practical strategies to stay in the target with novice learners:

3- Not only can novice students SURVIVE in an L2 immersion environment – THEY CAN THRIVE.  When you teach a foreign language by speaking L1, you tend be a “skills instructor” and a “memorization facilitator”.  It’s not a very natural approach and it doesn’t yield very organic results.  Consider an analogy of a tree; where the tree is your student and his ability to produce L2 is like a tree’s ability to display fruit.  Being a skills instructor is like being a farmer who’s trying to hang individual pieces of fruit on the branches of a tree.  It’s awkward.  It’s not natural.  It looks a bit funny to see fruit pieces duct-taped or stapled to the branches of a tree.  The fruit won’t stay up there for very long before it falls off.  Using L1 to teach L2 is a strategy that doesn’t focus on a learner’s “language root system.”

According to this analogy, a novice speaker might have 10 pieces of L2-fruit that you’ve helped them hang up.  An intermediate speaker might have 50 pieces of L2-fruit that you’ve helped them hang.  If you have a highly motivated “skills memorizer” in your class, you might be able to help them hang one or two hundred pieces of L2-fruit on their tree.

When you stay in the target language and ensure that input is comprehensible, you are focusing on the student’s root system.  You are no longer focused on producing fruit by duct taping it up on the foreign language proficiency tree.  You are feeding the tree.  You are nourishing the tree.  The tree might not produce L2 fruit right away.  But it will in time; and the fruit it produces will emerge on it’s own.  And it will continue to produce fruit on its own even when there’s no instructor their to duct tape it on.  Watching your students produce L2 fruit on their own is so exciting.  (See more on this analogy/topic by clicking here.)

4- Don’t talk over their heads. In other words: DON’T USE TOO MUCH L2 VOCABULARY.  Try to only say the words they know.  And say those words over and over and over again.  Language learners (including infants learning L1) need to hear new words and phrases over and over before they acquire and produce those language terms on their own.

You might ask, Sr. Howard…“what the -ell am I supposed to do with my novice students for 200 minutes or more a week if 1- I’m supposed to stay in the target language? and 2- If I’m only supposed to say a handful of words!?!”  For my answer, check out the links under point #2 of this blog or some of the following links:

Keep the conversation going!  How do you help your novice students not “freak out” when you speak in the target language?  Leave comments below.

 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).

Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners (Part 4)

Sometimes I don’t know how to help novice learners (with almost NO L2 vocabulary foundation) practice language in the interpersonal mode.  I learned a great strategy at a RLRA presentation at ACTFL 2012.  Read below to see how well this activity can work for teaching basic vocabulary (like classroom object nouns).  Keep in mind that you can use the same activity for many different vocabulary units.

Use this activity to help students practice a conversation without having strong vocabulary foundation.

Use this activity to help students practice an L2 conversation without having a strong vocabulary foundation.

1-  Get the materials ready.  On index-sized cards, make a classroom set of pictures and their matching words.  (i.e. a picture of a pencil will be on one flash card and the L2 word for pencil will be on another flashcard.)  Make enough so that each student can have either a picture or one of the matching words.

How to practice the interpersonal mode when students don't even know basic nouns: Try using this conversation 'matching' activity:

Not sure how to practice the interpersonal mode when students don’t even know basic nouns in the TL? Try using this conversation ‘matching’ activity:

2- Here’s how the ‘Find Your Match’ activity goes.

  • Students are randomly giving 1 picture or 1 matching word.
  • All students hold their picture (or word) against their body so no one else can see.
  • Each student must use the target language to find ‘their match.’  Students find their match when they find the person that is holding the flashcard that matches or corresponds to theirs.  (i.e. The student with the L2 word for ‘pencil’ must find the student with the picture of the pencil.  The student with the L2 word for ‘scissors’ must find the student with the picture of the scissors.)
  • Students walk around the classroom asking their classmates the following question in the target language, “Do you have _____?”  (i.e. Do you have a pencil?  or Do you have scissors?)
  • When Student A asks Student B, “Do you have ____?” student B responds with, “Yes,” or, “No” in the target language.
  • If the answer is, “no,” then student A continues his/her search for the match by asking other students, “Do you have ____?”
  • If the answer is, “yes,” then the two students have found their match.  They must sit down quietly together until the rest of the class has found their match.

3- How to give students meaningful directions while staying in the target language.

  1. Make sure the students can pronounce all of the L2 words before you attempt this interpersonal mode activity.  If students don’t know how to say the word for the flashcard that’s in their hand, the activity will breakdown.
  2. Model the ‘Find Your Match’ activity with the help of 4 students.  Ask 4 students to come to the front of the class.  Give them 4 large, sample pictures (the same pictures that will be used in the ‘Find Your Match’ activity).  Have students hold the pictures in front of them so the whole class can see which picture they have.  Show the class that you have a written L2 word that matches one of the 4 pictures.  While the whole class is watching you, put a confused look on your face as you examine your word and the four pictures.  Go up to the first student (who is holding the first of 4 pictures).  Say in the target language, “Do you have ____?” (and say the word that your holding in your hand).  If the student stares at you, repeat the question and tell them to answer with “Yes” or “No” in the target language.  The answer should be “No.”  Go down the line and repeat this until you get the fourth picture which will be the matching picture.  After the 4th student says, “YES,” show excitement because you’ve found your match.  Then grab your “match’s” hand and sit down together to show that all students should sit down quietly until all other students have found their match.
  3. Ask a confident student to model the ‘Find Your Match’ activity with your guidance.  The confident student will repeat all the steps under #2 above.
  4. If the class still looks confused, ask another confident student to model the ‘Find Your Match’ activity.
  5. When it looks like most of the students get the gist of what’s happening, hand out the matching flash cards.  Each student should have one.
  6. Using the two hand method, signal the start of the “Find Your Match” activity.  Repeat, “Do you have ____?  Yes/No.” in the target language over and over so that the students realize that you are doing what they have to do with each other.
  7. Circulate through the room.  Remind students to sit down quietly when they have found their match.  Help the students who are not sure what to do.
  8. When everyone has found their match, consider mixing up the flash cards and starting again.

Thanks to RLRA for this idea.

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com – @HolaSrHoward

Part 1 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 2 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 3 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 4 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

 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).

Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners (Part 3)

As a review, if you want novice learners to succeed during your interpersonal mode performance tasks…:

  • …keep the conversations teacher-led and teacher-initiated, at first.
  • …keep the L2 conversations super-simple.
  • …before you ask a student to respond to your L2 target question(s), make sure you’ve modeled the conversation plenty of times.
  • …show engaging, targeted and simple L2 conversations modeled on video. (like these and this)

When you’ve modeled and repeated the target conversation (until the students are almost sick of it), THEN it’s advisable to move past teacher-student conversations and onto student-student conversations.

1-  Start by letting CONFIDENT STUDENTS model the student-to-student target conversation in front of the class.

Don’t start by picking random students to model target conversations.  It’s intimidating and awkward for novice learners to practice a foreign language in front of their peers.  To them, the sounds of the L2 words are funny and strange.  Even if they know how to say the word, there’s a chance that they will feel awkward pronouncing the words in front of friends (since it’s not ‘normal’ or ‘familiar’ to them).  It’s even harder for ‘shy’ students to use the target language in front of their peers.  Always make sure you’re asking novice learners to do things that you are positive they can do well.  It’s important to not embarrass language learners.  Encourage future willingness to participate by doing things that increase student confidence.

By starting with confident students, less confident learners can watch to see what will happen if they stir up the courage to participate.  Reluctant students will watch to see…

  • …how the audience reacts to the student L2 speaker. (are they regarded as cool? dumb? stupid? a teacher’s pet? smart?)
  • …how the audience reacts to any mistakes the L2 speaker makes. (will they get laughed at?  encouraged?)
  • …how the teacher responds if the L2 speaker struggles. (does the teacher yell? smile? encourage? take points off?)
  • …what happens if the L2 speaker does well.
  • …what happens if the L2 speaker does poorly.
  • …etc.

If you want shy students to participate, make sure all students are warmly and genuinely praised for trying, regardless of if they’re successful or not.

2-  Have the target conversation written on the board.

This allows both the model students and the rest of the class to see what they need to say and to know what will be expected of them when it’s their turn.  It also gives the teacher a non-threatening way to prompt the student if he/she get’s stuck (just point to the script).

3-  Give lots of praise and meaningfully reward all students who participate.

Convince every observer that participating in L2 class will be positive, safe, non-threatening and rewarding.  Convince everybody that failure will not be followed with reprimand or any other negative consequence.  If a student is genuinely trying, they should always be encouraged and praised, even if they make mistakes.

4-  Be strict with students who make their peers feel embarrassed for trying.

5-  Eventually have all students, regardless of confidence level, attempt modeling the conversation.

6-  Repeat the target conversation chorally.

Let the students get lots of pronunciation practice.  Remember, their mouths aren’t used to moving in the new ways L2 requires.  Use your two hands as two puppets.  Make hand 1 say what person 1 is supposed to say.  Hand 2 models what person 2 should say.  It helps novice learners know that what’s happening is a L2 conversation.

7-  When students are very comfortable and familiar with the target conversation, allow them to practice without the direct supervision of the instructor.

There are many ways to do this.

  • You can make two lines of students and have them practice the conversation and then slide down the line and practice again with a new partner.
  • Depending on the target vocabulary, you can have students walk around the room writing down information that they discover after they speak in the target language with their peers.  (When is your birthday?  What is your favorite color?  What is your favorite food? How do you feel today?  What is your (fake) name? etc.)
  • You can arrange the desks/tables to put them in groups and practice the conversation with the peers they’ve been assigned to?
  • etc.

How about you?  What are ways that you help students have meaningful practice in the interpersonal mode in the foreign language classroom?  Leave comments below.

Part 1 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 2 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 3 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 4 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

 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).

Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners (part 2)

This post contains video clips of Señor Howard teaching in the target language.

If you want to help novice learners succeed during your interpersonal mode performance tasks, you’ll have to take it easy (at first) and keep things very simple.  Start by having lots of interpersonal conversations between person 1 (you: the teacher) and person 2 (the entire class together).

Here are 2 types of conversations that novice learners (even those who don’t have any L2 vocabulary foundation) can have with you:

1- Choice between two items.

Step 1 – Make sure students know what the L2 word is for 2 items.  The way I would do this is by taking two items out of a surprise bag or box.  (A pencil and a piece of paper, for instance)  Take item one (pencil) out of the bag.  Repeat the L2 word for pencil several times.  Consider passing the pencil around the room and having L2 learners repeat the L2 word for pencil.  Repeat the procedure for item 2 (a piece of paper).

Step 2 – Ask the entire class which item is which.  Ensuring that all attention is on you, hold up the pencil and ask the following phrase in the target language, “Is this the pencil or is this the paper?”  Students will most likely answer with the L2 word for pencil.  Affirm their correct answer by saying the following complete phrase in the target language, “Yes.  This is the pencil.”  Repeat the procedure with item 2 (paper).  “Is this the pencil or is this the paper?”  “Yes.  This is the paper.”

Step 3 – Ask an individual student which item is which.  Repeat the line of questioning with individual students as opposed to the entire class.

Step 4 – Add adjectives.  Pull out additional ‘surprise’ items.  (i.e. A big blue pencil and a small red pencil.)  Now (after establishing the L2 meaning for the adjectives) you can ask questions like, “Is this the big pencil or the small pencil?”  “Is this the red pencil or the blue pencil?”  “Is this pencil red and big or red and small?”  Etc.

You can repeat this type of interpersonal mode questioning with a wide variety of L2 vocabulary.  (i.e. “Is this the color green or is this the color blue?”  “Is this the number 7 or the number 17?”  “Is the mother’s name Elsa or is the mother’s name Anna?”)

2- Conversations about eating food.  (Video Example of Sr. Howard doing this in the target language)

It’s fun to talk about eating food in class.  Check to see if you have students with food allergies.  If no, proceed.

  • Take out a bag of Cheerios.  Pour some onto a plate.
  • Say things in the target language like, “Delicious,” “Yummy,” and “Good.”
  • Write the following TL phrase on the board, “I want ____.”
  • Say, “I want 5 Cheerios.”  Then count out 5 Cheerios and put them in your mouth.
  • Repeat the phrases “Delicious,” “Yummy,” and “Good” in the target language.
  • Say, “I want 7 Cheerios.”  Then count out 7 Cheerios and put them in your mouth.
  • Repeat the phrases “Delicious,” “Yummy,” and “Good” in the target language.
  • Ask the following in the target language, “Who wants Cheerios?” or “Do you want Cheerios?”
  • If someone raises their hand, point to the target phrase on the board and ask them to repeat, “I want Cheerios.”
  • Ask them if they want 5 Cheerios or 7 Cheerios.  If they say, “7,” ask them to repeat the complete phrase after you, “I want 7 Cheerios.”
  • Repeat this type of questioning as long as students are interested.

How about you?  What are ways you help your novice learners succeed in the interpersonal mode?  Leave comments below.

Part 1 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 2 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 3 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

Part 4 – Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

 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).