We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on May 18, 2012

Maximizing Target Language Use in the Classroom

Welcome back! On May 17th, our participants were asked, “How do we maximize use of the target language in our classes?” Everyone shared a wealth of great ideas for keeping both their students and themselves on task and engaged in the target language.

Target Language from Day 1?

Staying in the target language can be a challenge for both teachers and students in beginning language classes. Our participants weighed in on how they maximize target language input and output, starting on the first day of class:

  • @BridgetCroyle acknowledged that the first day of class is the hardest. She uses English on that first day to explain set-up of class, but Day 2 is “go-time” – all target language!
  • To stay in the target language, @BridgetCroyle suggests using lots of gestures and repetition.
  • Of course, for languages that use a different writing system, total target language immersion from Day 1 is not always possible. For example, @CoLeeSensei shared that because students of Japanese must learn three different writing systems, they are not able to communicate exclusively in the target language until level 3 or 4. In her case, she aims for quality of target language expression, rather than quantity.

Of course, in certain situations, L1 use may be necessary. As @grantboulanger reminded us, some acceptable uses of L1 might me reminding students of class rule and talking about issues of safety. @BridgetCroyle suggested using L1, but only when standing in the hallway, to reinforce the idea that the classroom is a place where only L2 is spoken.

Tools and Tips for Staying in L2, Avoiding L1

To avoid use of L1 as much as possible from the very beginning, participants emphasized the need to use non-verbal forms of communication with their students. Students can better understand directions and stories in the target language when they are accompanied by gestures. Some teachers even incorporate basic sign language into their teaching of L2 so that they can avoid L1. @grantboulanger suggested giving students a signal to use when they don’t understand something – that way they don’t have to use L1 to say so.

Many participants recommended Accelerated Integrated Methodology (AIM), a program based on pared-down language and use of gestures to allow target language use almost 100% of the time. @AudreyMisiano shared this AIM info doc that provides more information:

Many participants cited the “90% rule” as a goal for their classrooms. Teachers aim for 90% L2 instruction, reserving 10% of class time for L1 (should they need it). @grantboulanger found that a good way to accomplish this goal was by designating one student as a timekeeper; this student is given a stopwatch to count how long the class as a whole avoids L1 and stays in the target language. He suggested coming up for some sort of reward for the class if the 90% goal is reached.

Participants found that the use of visual aids made it easier to avoid using L1 when teaching. @tiesamgraf uses clip art and photographs, both in hardcopy and digital forms, and tries to have a collection of images ready for each day of class. @dr_dmd uses Pinterest to project a set of images on the wall to help his class practice using L2.

Activities to Encourage L2 Use in the Classroom

Simple in-class activities, like games, can reinforce L2 instruction and help increase student output.

  • @oleen23 suggested a version of the classic game show $50,000 Pyramid to get the entire class talking and involved. Students are paired, with one partner facing the board and describing a vocab word using circumlocution; it’s up to the other partner to guess the word.
  • @sonrisadelcampo seeks out outrageous newspaper articles and tells the story to her class in the target language. Students ask for more details, using the target language She suggests looking for stories on Yahoo, and for Spanish language stories, @ZJonesSpanish suggested

For early creative writing activities in the target language, participants had lots of ideas, too! @dr_dmd suggested dividing the class up into small groups, and having one groups write the beginning of a short story before passing it on to the next, thus building a plot as a class. @ZJonesSpanish and @CoLeeSensei suggested using comic strips and manga as creative writing prompts, or having students fill in blank speech bubbles.

Short videos and clips can serve as springboard to both oral and written target language use.

  • @BridgetCroyle recommends showing students a funny video, discussing it as a class, and then having students write a brief synopsis.
  • @sonrisadelcampo uses short videos – 5 minutes or less – and pauses frequently to discuss and have her students make predictions about what will happen next.
  • @BridgetCroyle recommends short films from Pixar – they never have any dialogue, so there is no concern about bringing L1 into the classroom.

With computers and internet access, participants had even more suggestions for increasing target language use in the classroom. Participants found that using technology was particularly useful in helping shyer students build confidence expressing themselves in the target language until they were ready to speak to the rest of the class.

  • @dr_dmd collects online activities and videos on a wiki page that his students can explore at will with netbooks in class.
  • @dr_dmd also recommended TodaysMeet, a closed room chat that allows students to write tweets to the rest of the class.
  • @tiesamgraf shared this article about other online tools that help foster target language use:
  • To keep students speaking the target language, even after the end of the school day, @profesorM suggests having students use Vocaroo to answer homework questions.

Participants were less enthusiastic about traditional classroom activities, like oral presentations. As @jas347 said, individual presentations don’t really give other students a reason to listen or engage. @CoLeeSensei suggested that presentations in small groups, instead of the whole class, might be more effective in encouraging discussion among students. @cadamsf1 advocated a round table set-up, where students present to the rest of the class in small groups. To further encourage discussion, @sonrisadelcampo suggested moving desks to the perimeter of the classroom, leaving only a circle of chairs in the middle.

Evaluation and Assessment of Target Language Use

Evaluations and assessments play a powerful role in the classroom. Much as we wish it could be different, grades are still a powerful motivator for students, and grading on oral participation can certainly encourage more target language use. That being said, when students feel that every word they speak is being graded, it discourages participation altogether. As @ZJonesSpanish put it, excessive attention to accuracy can hinder target-language production. @tiesamgraf recommends focusing less on errors and more on successful communication of message: the “bigger picture.”

Self-assessment, however, can be an even more powerful tool, getting students more engaged in their own learning process. @SraCasey has developed a form that she has her students use everyday to enter interesting new vocabulary and self-assessments. @CoLeeSensei includes students’ self-assessments in her grading of their oral participation. She reserves the right to dispute the students’ honesty in self-assessments, but she rarely has to.

For more ideas, participants recommended the ACTFL’s eight strategies to help with target language use : Similarly, @tiesamgraf shared some tips from the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) for avoiding L1 in the classroom:

Thank you to all our participants for another exciting #LangChat! Keep suggesting new topics for future #LangChats, and don’t forget to join us this Thursday 8pmEST/5pmPST for another dynamic discussion!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy