You Gotta See This Resource From Post-Primary Languages Initiative

I found a wonderful staying in the target language resource, thanks to @MrGWallCymraeg.

It’s SO well done and full of SUCH great tips that it deserves more than a retweet. So here’s a short blog post to tell you what I liked about it.


Post-Primary Languages Initiative ( recently put out an online tutorial for teachers who are interested in increasing their use of L2. (Click here to access the tutorial.)

  • It’s interactive. (You get to push buttons and see results of self-evaluations!)
  • It has great, short video clips of teachers modeling strategies in their own classrooms.
  • It’s thorough/comprehensive and has lots of implementable tips.
  • It has self-reflection exercises and let’s teachers to print out results for future reference.
  • It includes a wonderful quote from Dr. Helena Curtain, which provides a great rationale for staying in the target language.
  • and more!

Finally, if you don’t have time to complete the module at one time, you can access it at your own pace. It’s a wonderful, attractive, professionally-done resource that’s definitely worth using and sharing.

Thank you @languages_ie!

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

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

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).

What I Learned About Comprehensible Input From My Crawling Infants

One of the biggest things that has influenced the way I teach a foreign language has been being a dad and helping my daughters move from L-ZERO to L1.

Being a dad has shaped the way I teach L2 and my views on comprehensible input.

Being a dad has shaped the way I teach L2 and my views on comprehensible input.

tuesday's tips for staying in the target language

I love creating moments when language input is comprehensible to them.

The other day a teacher emailed me and asked how I started teaching they way I do.
Here’s what she wrote:
I was wondering how you got so involved in your teaching style? I used to be a high school teacher, and I would have LOVED to know more about how to teach the way that you do! Were you introduced to it in your undergrad, graduate, or just through practice? I’m thinking some workshops/books/websites to suggest to fellow teachers would be great! I’ve already shared your site with many of them.

At first I didn’t know how to answer.  But as I started writing back to her…I realized some of the major things that have influenced the way I teach.  …and I want to share them with you.
Here was my answer to her question:

“so…how did I get so involved in my teaching style?  …hmmm.  good question.
A huge influence is actually something that you’d probably never think would affect my professional life…but it has!  BEING A DAD has significantly influenced the way I teach a foreign language!
Why/How has being a dad influenced the way you teach a foreign language?
I’ve loved helping my daughters learn their first language.  Talk about a great opportunity for ‘staying-in-the-target-language’!  When a baby is learning his/her first language (mostly from family members in a home environment):
  • there is no option BUT to stay in the target language.
  • There’s no language besides the target language!
  • There’s no way of using L1 to explain L2.  There’s only helping a baby move from L-ZERO to L1.  🙂
  • It’s language learning at it’s best: the most natural way, the least work-intensive way, the most meaningful way…and it all happens pretty much by accident.
  • The L1 teacher (parent) and the L1 learner (baby) hardly even notice that L1 acquisition is happening.
  • No L1 wordsearches for baby.
  • No extensive/overwhelming L1 grammar explanations for baby.
  • No flashcards to make and memorize.
  • Baby doesn’t even have to try.
  • As long as baby is watching, and living and breathing…L1 acquisition happens!
I loved (and still love) creating moments where incomprehensible language is PAIRED with comprehensible extralinguistic input.
One day my daughter was crawling around on the floor while we were with our extended family in the living room.  She was at that age where she was just starting to be mobile and loved her independence and ability to explore new things.  During this same stage her mom and I had to keep our eyes glued on her because she didn’t know which of her exploration items were dangerous or not.  We loved letting her explore, but it was exhausting to constantly spend energy keeping her from exploring electrical sockets, stair cases and fragile decorations.
On this night I didn’t want to supervise my exploring daughter.  I wanted to stay in the living room talking with the other adults.  So I decided to try to tell my infant/crawler to stay in the living room and NOT CRAWL INTO THE KITCHEN.
I realized that she would’ve never understood my language if I said something like:
“Ava, there are some dangerous things in the kitchen.  Furthermore your father and mother are not in there to supervise you.  Therefore our desire is for you to stay in the living room with us.”
But she WOULD understand my language if I said/did something like this:
I took my daughter to the threshold between the kitchen and living room.  I knelt down at her level.  I pointed to the kitchen side of the threshold and (with serious looking eyes) said, “NO, NO, NO.”  I pointed to the living room side of the threshold and (with smiling looking eyes) said, “YES, YES, YES.”  I took the extra time to repeat these statements 3 or 4 times.  She was able to understand because I used fewer words and I made their meaning obvious.  If I would’ve used 4 sentences with complex ‘native speaker level words’ my daughter wouldn’t have even listened or looked at me.
Through situations like this, I realized that my daughters don’t learn L1 by only hearing L1.  They acquire L1 a piece at a time (or one baby sized step at time) whenever they experience a moment where L1 is made comprehensible for them.  They don’t just need to hear L1.  They need to hear L1 in a meaning-filled context.  They need to hear L1 in reference to noticeable, tangible objects.  They need to hear L1 as a corresponding gesture is being made.  Etc.
Teaching them their first language has helped me make a philosophical distinction between language immersion and COMPREHENSIBLE language immersion.
I guess I used to think that staying in the target language meant just talking to my students in L2 instead of L1.  I thought it was saying everything that you say in L1 but switching to L2 and holding up an occasional picture to make sure that I was checking of the “make input comprehensible” box on my foreign language teacher strategy checklist.
I’ve learned that you have to make it a goal that every student understands pretty much every thing your saying…even though you are saying it in a language they’ve never heard of before.
Now, in my classroom, I talk to my students like I talked to my 1 year old when she was learning English from us at home.  I use fewer words.  …and create scenarios where the students pretty much know exactly what I’m about to say…but instead of saying it in a language they know…I say it in a language that I want them to learn.
Here are some examples to show you what I’m talking about:
1- I eat a bite of cupcake and put on a face that says, “I really enjoy this,” …and when they are all watching (and wishing they could be enjoying what I’m enjoying) I say, “Delicioso,” or “Que rico.”  (they wouldn’t know what it means except that the scenario I created made it unmistakable that I was talking about good taste.)
2- I have something in my hand (something attention grabbing) that the students watch me drop or see me thoughtlessly set down.  Then, I pretend that I lost it…or can’t find where it dropped.  I look around, with a slight sense of urgency, like I can’t find it.  Finally, when all the students undoubtedly notice that I can’t find something, I say, “¿Dónde está?”  It creates a wonderful moment for language acquisition:
  • The item was noticeable and attention-grabbing.  So every student knows where it fell.
  • The students are bursting with a desire to tell me where I dropped it.  They are pointing and sitting on the edge of their seats wishing to be the one that tells Sr. Howard where it is.  Some even start to say something in English because they are so excited that they know where it is.
  • Then…at that climax of attention…and climax of student desire to say something…I use the two-hand method to help them say, “allí está!!!”  …and then i pretend like I still don’t say it…and we go back and for saying, “¿Dónde está?” “allí está!!!” a few times.
  • They wouldn’t know what those words mean except that the scenario I created made it unmistakable that I was talking about “where is it?”  and. “There it is!”
So every moment of my Spanish class becomes moments like those.  In a 40 minute period, the students experience hundreds of meaningful PAIRING moments.  Every moment is intentional.  Every moment is on purpose.  A lot of times the students are so focused on the meaning-filled scenarios/situations I create, that they forget they are learning another language and even functioning in an L2-immersion environment.
“When a teacher uses PAIRING to facilitate L2 acquisition, it’s like she puts a puzzle together…all but the last piece.”
To me that phrase means…I create a scenario (and then another scenario and then another and another and another) where my students unmistakably know what I’m about to say next…but instead of saying it in L1…I say it in L2.
…and then I repeat it…and repeat it…and repeat it.
Sometimes I repeat it immediately.  Sometimes I say it once but repeat it daily/weekly by including the L2 phrase in one of my routines.
Repetition is important because each piece of incomprehensible L2 input will never be acquired unless students have the opportunity to hear it repeatedly PAIRED with an equivalent form of comprehensible extralinguistic input.
The last thing I should say about that is in regards to performance objectives, curriculum and state standards.
All of what I just said sounds very impromptu and improvised.  And, to be honest,…some of it is.
But I’m a firm believer that, in a formal academic setting, a teacher should be an instructional leader.  She should set daily performance objectives and short and long term performance goals for her students.  A teacher should have a standards based curriculum.
I don’t think that teachers who use this style of teaching should believe that all learning should be spontaneous and student led.  I believe that teachers should leave some room for that…but still be intentional with using this approach to move students through all the required components of a proficiency based curriculum.
So that’s a long explanation to my first answer: “Being a dad has helped shape the way I teach language professionally.”
Another thing that has shaped how I teach has been taking advantage of good PD opportunities.
Going to ACTFL 2012 jump-started me on this staying in the target language journey.  …and a lot of what I do has snowballed from there.
It’s really fun.  It makes the classroom so much more meaningful and worthwhile because we don’t emphasize things that students have a hard time finding meaningful (like L2 skills practice or L2 vocab memorization).  Instead, we do REAL.  We do MEANINGFUL.  We do FUN.  We do “STUDENTS TAKE OWNERSHIP.”  And yes…we do worksheets.  We do assessments.  …but we do it in an L2 immersion environment that’s RICH with instances of PAIRING. We do it in a way that all the students (even the kindergartners) understand pretty much everything I’m saying even though I’m talking to them in a language they don’t know.)
If you are interested in sharing resources with fellow teachers about this way of teaching…I don’t have much to offer…cause I don’t do any research or reading myself.  But I would say…:


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

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @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 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 – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

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 – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @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).

What To Say In The Target Language On The First Day Of Class – Novice L2 Learners

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

Here’s what I said on the first day of L2 class this year.  Click this link to watch a video clip of how I started the first moments of class in the target language.

To make the L2 input meaningful, I…:

What else do you do to make incomprehensible L2 input meaningful through PAIRING?  What did you do in the target language on the first day of class?  Leave comments below.

Staying in the target language is definitely do-able!  It’s also fun!  Click here to read the story of how I started staying in the target language.

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

P.S. Here’s a good blog post from a Latin teacher (@silvius_toda) who stays in the target language.  (An approach to teaching Latin that I think is wonderful!)  The blog shares detailed strategies for how to approach the first weeks of L2 teaching.

P.S.S. Another first day of L2 class post.  This one from @MartinaBex

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 –

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