No Duct-Taping L2 Fruit On The Foreign Language Proficiency Tree

A grower’s ambition is to cultivate her fruit trees so that they produce plentiful fruit for years to come.  And that’s the goal we have for our foreign language students: we want them to grow, mature and blossom; bearing healthy L2-fruit, not just in the classroom, but in their future workplaces and communities.  Whenever our students show evidence of L2-fruit on their outstretching language branches, we celebrate their steps towards target language acquisition.

How do we ensure our language students will bear healthy L2 fruit for years to come?

How do we ensure our language students will bear healthy L2 fruit for years to come?

Unfortunately, some of the methods used in our profession reveal a misunderstanding of the way L2-fruit is produced.  Instead of providing instruction that fosters natural and independent L2-fruit production, we take pieces of L2 fruit and try to duct tape them onto our students’ branches.  Learners will have a hard time producing healthy, lasting L2-fruit when our primary work is:

  • facilitating the memorization of uncontextualized vocabulary lists.
  • modeling how to use a foreign language grammar reference book to successfully conjugate verbs on their homework.
  • giving out word searches and crossword puzzles for ‘foreign language fun time’.
  • practicing verb conjugation raps from YouTube that help memorization but leave the students unsure of what to do when it comes to applying the skill during a conversation task.
  • conducting conversation activities that are motivated by a need to practice isolated skills rather than a purpose to engage in meaningful communication.

These efforts might allow students to display some L2 knowledge for a test or classroom activity.  However, it’s quickly evident that it doesn’t produce lasting L2 fruit.  (How many times have you heard an adult say, “I don’t remember anything from my high school language courses?”)

We must stop duct-taping L2-fruit on students’ foreign language branches and start focusing on their foreign language root system.

I’ve changed my focus.  For almost three years I’ve started following ACTFL’s recommendation of staying in the target language for over 90% of class time.  (Side note: speaking in the target language doesn’t magically make your students acquire the target language.  Unless you effectively PAIR incomprehensible L2 with meaningful, compelling and corresponding extralinguistic input, you’ll be wasting your time.)

Since I’ve made the switch, my students surprise me by what they can do with the language:

  • Today I told students that we are in the month of November and a 4th grader raised his hand and said (in the target language,) “My birthday is in November.”  Perfect sentence structure.  Correct form of the verb.  The last time we formally discussed that phrase in a lesson was10 months ago when he was in 3rd grade.
  • A 1st grader got excited that she beat a fellow student in around the world (to practice identifying numbers).  The boy next to her forgot to sit down after he was beaten.  She looked at him pridefully and said (in the target language), “Sit down.”  (We’ve never formally practiced that word).
  • My kindergarten students (whom I’ve seen for less than 240 minutes of instruction) come into the classroom and start tip toeing around the reading rug.  I say (in the target language), “Class, count to 10,” and they do.
  • Today my fourth graders were shouting at me in unison (in the target language), “It’s not for Adam.  It’s for Nehemiah!” because I was giving the pen to the wrong person.
  • We pass out papers, split up into groups, explain the instructions to games, administer formal assessments using Turning Technology data collection devices, and more ALL IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE.
  • Click here to watch video demonstrations of how I teach my students while staying in the target language.

It’s working!  Students are producing L2 spontaneously and creatively.  They don’t need L2-fruit duct-taped to their branches.  Their root system is developing.  They are producing fruit on their own.

Just like with fruit trees:

1- There is a dormant/silent period when L2 learners are immersed in a foreign language environment.  Don’t expect students to produce fruit right away.  Fruit trees don’t.  It takes several seasons for fruit to develop.  While the students are in their ‘silent’ period:

2- Don’t be discouraged if you start out with a low-yielding fruit output.  Fruit trees gradually produce more and more fruit with each season.  Don’t lose hope.  Keep focusing on the ‘root system’ by staying in the target language and making incomprehensible L2 input meaningful through PAIRING.

It’s being done.  Foreign language teachers are staying in the target language and effectively making input comprehensible.  Their students are producing L2 creatively and spontaneously inside and outside of the classroom.  Check out the writings from language professionals like these:

What about you?  What are your success stories?  How are you focusing on the root system to ensure your students are producing long lasting L2-fruit?  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 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).

Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible For Novice Learners

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

When working with novice L2 learners, I think facilitating interpretive mode activities is super easy.  It’s the interpersonal mode that I find more challenging.  I’m jealous of foreign language teachers that get to work with intermediate or advanced level students.  It seems a bit easier to launch students into L2 conversations if they have a vocabulary foundation to work with.  However, when I think of facilitating interpersonal mode activities with novice learners, questions like these come to mind:

  • How can I help students have conversations if they have little or no L2 vocabulary foundation?
  • How can I stay in the target language and give comprehensible orientation regarding how to navigate the interpersonal mode activities?
  • How can I help novice learners stay engaged if their L2 skills only enable them to carry a 1 or 2 sentence/phrase conversation?
  • How can I make L2 conversations exciting when the topics of such simple conversations tends to be dull? (i.e. “What’s your name?”  “How are you?  “I’m fine.”  etc.)
  • How can I teach students to have L2 conversations effectively enough to enable them to have these conversations spontaneously with other people outside my classroom?

Here are some principles I keep in mind when I try to encourage novice L2 learners to engage in the interpersonal mode:

1- Keep the conversations teacher-led and teacher-initiated at first.

Novice L2 learners aren’t going to be able to handle being sent off into groups to have L2 conversations.  You might be able to get away with it if you give them instructions in L1.  However if you’re trying to stay in the target language according to ACTFL’s recommendation, it’s better to keep it teacher-led and teacher-initiated at first.

Since novice learners generally lack confidence and hesitate to use the target language, I try to keep the spotlight off of any one individual student.  I have interpersonal conversations with the whole class.  I ask the entire class a question and ask them to respond.  (see video example 1 and video example 2)  Do this often.  It helps build confidence.  The repetition will help them understand and acquire the particular L2 component you are trying to teach.

If there is a student that shows confidence, try performing the interpersonal mode task with him or her.  Reward his/her willingness to participate with something more than verbal praise.  (I use classdojo.com for rewarding and redirecting while staying in the target language.  See this blog post for more info.)

2- Keep the L2 conversations super-simple.

Don’t try to teach too much L2 too fast.  L2 acquisition is a process.  Don’t try to bypass important steps.  Language learners need to hear the same things repeated many times in order to acquire L2.  In this video example, I make the interpersonal mode activity super-simple by asking students multiple choice questions that have only 2 options.

  • Step 1 – I make the L2 words for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ comprehensible. (see video example)
  • Step 2 – I ask the class simple L2 questions like, “Is Roger a boy or a girl,” and only expect them to answer with one word. (see video clip)
  • Step 3 – I repeat this many times to ensure acquisition.
  • Step 4 – I do funny things to keep students engaged.  I use humor to keep eyes on me. (see video clip)

3- Before you ask a student to respond to your question, make sure you’ve modeled the conversation plenty of times.

An effective foreign language teacher knows that he/she must encourage student self-confidence and avoid student shame/embarrassment.  Once an L2 learner loses confidence it’s easy to lose their willingness to try.  Avoid ‘losing’ students by making sure you’ve modeled an interpersonal mode performance task plenty of times.  A novice student should feel 90-100% sure of what’s expected of them before being asked to speak aloud in the target language.

4- One way to repeat simple conversations plenty of times (and avoid boring students )is by showing engaging, targeted and simple L2 conversations modeled on video.

Every once in a while (during the course of a lesson) get the attention off of you.  Find videos of other people modeling the same L2 skill that you are trying to teach.  It’s even better if you can find video clips of native speakers that are the same age as your L2 students.  See a video example here of how I did this during one of my lessons this year.  I like to make my own L2 model conversation videos (like this), but that’s extra work.  You can find plenty of examples online.

5- Once the students are comfortable with responding to the teacher’s target questions with the appropriate L2 response, allow confident students to model conversations in front of the class.

When I ask novice learners to model conversations in front of students, I like to have a script written for them on the board.  It helps them feel confident that they’ll know exactly what to do when they are nervous in front of their peers.

6- Once several pairs of students have modeled the conversation in front of the class, then ask all students to pair off and perform the conversation together.

This is a little easier said than done.  Think through the details of how you want the students to pair up.  Think through where they will stand.  Think through what they will do when they’re done.  I’ll share more ideas on how to do this in future posts.

How about you?  How do you make the interpersonal mode as easy as possible for your novice L2 learners?  Share 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).

Interpretive Mode – Build A Reluctant Student’s Confidence

Interpretive Mode…it’s a nice safe place for novice students to start their language learning journey.  It’s also a non-threatening way to introduce more experienced students to new aspects of L2.

If you want to be a confidence builder instead of a confidence crusher, let your novice students spend plenty of time in the interpretive mode.

Confidence is such an important thing for L2 learners to have.  However, if a foreign language teacher is not careful, she can easily extinguish any bit of confidence a novice speaker has gained.  Teachers must hold in balance the need to create communicative tasks that are challenging but not overwhelming.  Teachers should do everything they can to help their students succeed.

If you find that your students are consistently hesitating to participate during interpersonal mode activities, consider giving them more practice with the interpretive mode.

The interpretive mode can:

  • be less threatening than interpersonal and presentational mode activities.
  • allow shy students to participate without having to speak.
  • allow a teacher to build a reluctant student’s confidence by letting him be praised for correct answers without opening his mouth (which can be a risky thing).
  • help students get repeated practice, which they need to become familiar with new (and very unfamiliar sounding) L2 vocabulary

There are different ways for teachers to give their L2 students interpretive mode practice and stay in the TL:

1- Student chooses between a few different pictures after the teacher says or shows the L2 word/phrase.  (Video example)

2- Student chooses between a few different words/phrases after the teacher shows a picture. (Video example)

3- Student demonstrates the appropriate physical response to a word or phrase the teacher speaks.  (i.e. Teacher says ‘sit down’ and student responds by performing the physical action of sitting down.)

Don’t forget to make it fun!  All 3 of these methods can be turned into a game, movement/song routine, whole-class activity rather than an individual student activity.

What interpretive mode activities do you like using in your 90+% target language 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).

My ‘TL’ Story (Part 2): Negative Effects of Using L1

For the first 8 years of my career I wanted to use more target language (TL) but found it difficult to do so.  I only used the TL 5%-25% of the time.

I noticed several negative effects of using too much of L1.

1- I noticed that there was little evidence of my students acquiring L2 over an extended period of time.   For example, during a Greetings Unit, most of the learners could use the target vocabulary during class activities and games.  However, if I a student the same target questions outside the classroom, they would not understand me and they would fail to produce an appropriate answer.  Furthermore, if I engaged a student with phrases from a previous unit, he or she would generally be unable to produce L2.

My students used target vocabulary in current unit activities, but had little ability to apply L2 outside of the classroom or in the future.

2- I noticed that there was a tendency towards low student self-motivation.  Spanish with Señor Howard would be boring, except that I bent over backwards to make it interesting and entertaining.  I remember telling family and friends that I felt like I was an actor in front of students.  I juggled, played the guitar, made videos, made powerpoints, used puppets…etc.  I felt like I was a good foreign language teacher for doing all of these things.  But I began to realize that I HAD to do these things or else students wouldn’t have a reason to pay attention or to care about what I was teaching.  When I used so much L1 my class was not a language learning class, it was a “List Memorizing Class”.  It was a “Play Silly Language Games Class”.  The language was not meaningful or contextualized.

My L1 approach to teaching a foreign language bred classrooms full of students with low self-motivation.

Are you a foreign language teacher recovering (or wanting to recover) from using too much L1?  What negative effects do you see in your classroom because of too much L1 use?  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