Language To Language OR Language To Living

I was silently YELLING at my students in my head.

angry teacher

“We’ve been over this a thousand times!”

“They are the simplest of L2 questions.  I know they’re novice students, but…C’MON!!!  How can they NOT know how to respond to “How are you?” or “What’s your name?” in the target language!!?!

  • I’ve modeled the target questions and responses!
  • We’ve gone over it again and again in class!  …even with puppets!
  • I made an “engaging” video to help them remember!
  • We’ve played practice games!
  • I’ve done everything I know how to do!”

Granted, the students COULD answer the questions during the games/activities IN CLASS.  However, as soon as I surprised them with the same L2 questions in the hallway or in the cafeteria they would look at me with a blank stare, pause and say, “huh?”

Confused-student

Why?

Why COULDN’T they answer (in an improvised, or real-life, situation) the same questions they were correctly answering during the classroom games/activities?

I think it was because I was asking them to do something I never prepared them to do.

Here’s what I mean:

At the beginning of my teaching career I taught students L2 by speaking L1.  I used a lot of different strategies to help them memorize L2 to L1 translations.  When I planned my lessons, the question in my head usually went something like this: “What can I do during class today to make sure my students know that, ‘¿Cómo estás?’ means, ‘How are you?'” (Side Note: Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that this is necessarily a WRONG approach to teach a foreign language.  I don’t believe there is one BEST way to teach L2 in every academic setting.  For more on this click here.)

So we would practice…and memorize…and repeat…and play practice games…and sing practice songs.

Some things went well.  The students could participate.  Some students would get good at winning those practice games.  But when I asked some of those winning students to answer one of those L2 questions at random outside of class it would always seem like they would think the following thoughts:

“Uh oh.  Sr. Howard just asked me a Spanish question that I think I’m supposed to know.  He said, ‘¿Cómo estás?’  Ummm…wait…I know that one.  What does ‘¿Cómo estás?’ mean again?  Oh yeah.  It means, ‘how are you?’  Okay wait…I know this.  Ummm.  So if he’s asking me ‘how are you?’ I need to tell him how I’m feeling.  Okay.  I’m feeling good.  But what is, ‘I’m feeling good,’ in Spanish?  Oh yeah…that’s, ‘estoy bien,’ I think.  Okay…so he says…’¿Cómo estás?’…and I say, ‘estoy bien.’  I hope this is right.”

Do you see their struggle?  Do you see how they couldn’t use L2 naturally because they were trying to make connections between the two languages in their heads?

My classroom activities weren’t fully preparing them to use L2 naturally in a real-life situation.

There was a missing link.  They were learning things ABOUT L2.  But they weren’t quite able to connect what they were learning to real-life.

During the last few years I’ve made some changes to my approach to teaching a foreign language.  The changes have helped me learn what thousands of foreign language educators already know.  I’m not well acquainted with the available research on foreign language teaching approaches/methods.  So I can’t astutely describe the changes I’ve made.  But a phrase popped into my head the other day that sums it up well for me:

Language To Language OR Language To Living

In 2012 I decided to start teaching a foreign language by staying in the target language.  Together with my students, I’ve thrown L1 out the window.  With no L1, the students don’t spend time making connections between two languages.  Now there’s only L2.  And the L2 is connected to all the things that happen when we’re together.  (See video examples here.)

I’ve observed some things that have surprised me.  The one surprising thing that I’ll take the time to point out now is MY STUDENTS CAN DO IT!  They can answer those same, simple L2 questions even when we’re outside of the classroom.  We’ll run into each other at the local mall…AND THEY CAN ANSWER THEM.  I’ll see them at the food store…AND THEY CAN ANSWER THEM.  Outside on the playground…THEY CAN ANSWER THEM.  Even the youngest students!  Even after I haven’t seen them for 2 months during summer break!

The difference is that I don’t use class time to practice Language To Language connections.  I use class time to foster Language To Living connections.

I probably would’ve realized these things years ago if I would’ve taken the time to read the available foreign language acquisition research.  Instead I’ve had to stumble upon it on my own.  But slowly, I’m getting it.  I’m getting that…:

  • …when I effectively teach a foreign language by speaking the foreign language, the students will have been experiencing in the classroom what they’ll need in order to use L2 naturally outside of the classroom.
  • if I DO CHOOSE to teach a foreign language by speaking L1, I’ll need to make sure that I set aside the necessary class time to help them make that next connection.  I can’t only spend time helping them make connections between two languages.  I have to help them make the connection between the L2 they’ve learned and the real life situations they’ll have to use it in.

Señor Howard

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

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

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

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?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).

Instructional Strategies: Intro

Over the last several weeks my posts have been dedicated to answering questions like, “How do you manage student behavior AND stay in the target language?” (New to this blog? – Click here to see all blog posts touching on this topic.)

Looking ahead, I will start transitioning to instructional strategies that are effective for use in the 90+% TL-Use-Classroom. (I say start because I may still touch on classroom management by posting videos of classroom management techniques in the target language.)

Topics will include:

  • The importance of routines
  • How to create and develop worthwhile routines
  • Effective vs. Ineffective worksheets and handouts
  • What works and doesn’t work when focusing on interpretive, interpersonal or presentational modes

Feel free to leave questions and comments below regarding instructional strategies for the 90+% TL-Use-Classroom.

 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).

Glossary of Foreign Language Teaching Terms

Here’s a list providing quick and simple definitions of key terms used by linguists and language educators.

  1. L1 – a person’s native language. (more info)
  2. L2 – a person’s second language or the language being learned. (more info)
  3. TL – Target Language.  The language being taught.
  4. Native Speaker – Describes a person who demonstrates the highest level of language proficiency.  A native speaker has spent their childhood and teenage years growing up in the country in which the target language is the official language.
  5. Heritage Speaker – Describes a person who demonstrates a high level of language proficiency.  A heritage speaker has not grown up to adulthood in a country in which the target language is the official language.  Their family unit speaks the target language as L1 even though they live in a foreign country.
  6. CI – Comprehensible Input – Simply defined: Understandable or intelligible information being received/processed by an individual.  A foreign language is generally incomprehensible to a language learner.  A foreign language teacher uses techniques to make L2 comprehensible to her/his students.
  7. Flipped Teaching or Flipped Classroom – An instructional model wherein students learn new material before they get to class.  Class time is used more for practicing language instead of learning language components for the first time. (more info)
  8. AIM (Accelerative Integrated Methodology) – A method of developing proficiency in the target language.  Teachers focus on gestures, key words, content based instruction and contextualized approach to grammar. (more info)
  9. #TL90plus – a hashtag used to facilitate discussion about staying in the target language as a strategy for teaching a foreign language.  TL stands for Target Language.  90plus refers to ACTFL’s recommendation “that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom.” Click here to join the #TL90plus conversation on twitter.

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com@HolaSrHoward

learn Spanish with Señor Howard

A list of questions that makes this article easier to be found by search engines:  🙂  What is L1?  What does L2 mean?  What does TL stand for?  What’s the difference between a native speaker and a heritage speaker? What’s the definition of comprehensible input?  What is flipped classroom or what is flipped teaching?

 

My ‘TL’ Story (Part 1): Why I Didn’t Use The Target Language

From 2004 to 2012 I found it very difficult to stay in the target language.  In the classroom I was creative, strict, and entertaining.  However, my target language use was limited to 5%-25% of class time. (see video example)

Any TL (target language) I did use was generally…

  • …during a beginning of the class routine.
  • …isolated phrases throughout the lesson.
  • …lyrics to a song.

Most of my directions to the class were always given in English.  I would feel guilty about not using more of the TL.  I knew my supervisors would expect it.  I assumed my colleagues would disapprove of me if they saw how little I used the target language.  When I knew a formal observation was approaching I’d try to use more of the TL so the students wouldn’t be so ‘thrown off’ if I started only speaking in the TL when my supervisor was in the room.

Why didn’t I use the target language during at least 90% of my instructional time?

  • I was afraid of the students misbehaving.
  • I was afraid of students giving up and calling out, “I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying.”
  • I felt like I could cover material faster if I spoke mostly in English.  (And there was a lot of material to cover)
  • Whenever I asked another teacher “how do you effectively manage behavior AND stay in the target language?,” I felt like I never got a satisfying answer.
  • etc

How about you?  Why do you find it challenging to use the TL in the foreign language classroom?  Leave comments below.

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com@HolaSrHoward

My ‘TL’ Story (Part 1): Why I Didn’t Use The Target Language

My ‘TL’ Story (Part 2): Negative Affects Of L1 Use

My ‘TL’ Story (Part 3): Inspiration To Start Teaching In The Target Language

My ‘TL’ Story (Part 4): SUCCESS – Transition To 90+% Was Easier Than I Thought