Q/A: What To Do During The First Week Of Class and When To Use L1

Here’s a great question about L2 use in the foreign language classroom from a middle school German teacher:

Hello Señor Howard,
I’ve been teaching middle school German for 10 years, but I don’t like the amount of L1 I have been using. My goal is to use 90%+ TL in my classroom. In the past I have used many activities the first week in English to help get to know everyone and help them become acclimated to my classroom. What type of activities do you do the first week in L2? When do you feel it’s okay to use L1? Thanks for your help! So far I love the resources and advice on your page!
Carrie


Dear Carrie,

Thanks for writing! Best wishes on the upcoming school year and I hope the thoughts I’ve included below answer your questions.  (Your statements/questions are in bold with my response underneath each one.)

“I don’t like the amount of L1 I’ve been using.”

This may not be the way you are feeling (but it’s still worth mentioning)…Be careful NOT to assume that you’re doing something wrong if you use a lot of L1.  Some teachers feel that using L1 makes them NOT AS GOOD as other foreign language teachers.  It’s not necessarily true.  I don’t think that staying in the target language is the best way to teach a foreign language in every academic situation.  I wrote a couple of blog posts on debunking these types of teaching in the target language MYTHS.  To read more click here (for myths 1-5) and here (for myths 6-10).

“In the past I have used many activities the first week in English to help get to know everyone and help them become acclimated to my classroom.”

I really like your idea of helping everyone get acclimated/comfortable.  Intimidation and anxiety are big foreign language learning stumbling blocks.  If a teacher can kick those two things out of the classroom, at the beginning of the year, she’ll be doing herself a huge favor.  What you’re suggesting of using L1 at the beginning of the year to introduce students to routines, your teaching style, expectations, etc…is one great way to do this.  Here are some more:

What type of activities do you do the first week in L2?

Here’s a post I wrote about this topic entitled, The First Week Of Trying To Stay In The Target Language With Your Students.  In it, I give specific examples of how you can do the following:

One more thing: here’s a video of me teaching my students on the first day of the year.

When do you feel it’s okay to use L1?

There are generally 3 occasions when I use L1 in my foreign language classroom.  Click here for the full post on this.

My guess is that teachers feel like they have to use L1 in order to help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2.  I DO think that it’s absolutely necessary for students to find meaning in incomprehensible L2.  Without it, I don’t think L2 acquisition progress can be made.  The problem is (in my opinion) that many teachers don’t realize the amount of ways meaning can be found apart from using L1.  I’ve tried to list the various ways over the last several months (click on each item for more detailed info and examples):

The key for me has been repeatedly *pairing these extralinguistic forms of input with a corresponding piece of incomprehensible L2 in ways that are engaging for the students I work with.

Señor Howard

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

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd


*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 this is a term found in formal, academic writing.


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

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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).

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).