We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on Jan 19, 2015

Strategies for Using More Target Language in the Classroom

Last Thursday night, #langchat was a flurry of activity! As @KrisClimer remarked, “The #langchat is a buzz with familiar faces and some new additions!” Participants met to reflect on how to increase target language usage in the language classroom. They discussed when and where instructors should increase target language use, brainstormed activities that encourage students and their instructor to stay in the target language, reflected on how to avoid their own temptation to slip out of the target language when teaching, and talked about strategies that create buy-in for learners to increase target language use. Finally, Langchatters thought about the legitimate place and time for non-target language instruction.

Thank you to everyone who joined us last week, and thank you to our moderators, Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Laura (@SraSpanglish). One moderator wrote, “As usual, I can barely keep up reading (much less moderating) because I’m favoriting so much! Love the #langchat hour!” In case you missed a beat, your #langchat summary is here!

Question 1: Where and when should instructors implement increased target language use?

The majority of participants favored implementing increased target language use as soon as possible. Moderator @KrisClimer noted, “[It] sounds like lots of folks [are] on [the] same page. Historically some [teachers] waited.” Although Langchatters recognized that increasing target language use could be challenging, they encouraged instructors to act sooner rather than later. @MmeFarab wrote, “[Increase it] RIGHT NOW. If not, you’ll be like me and put it off again and again.” @SenoraDiamond55 prompted instructors to consider discussing their motivation with students: “If 90%+ [instruction in the target language] is a BIG change for you, I think it’s good to talk to [students] about it so they’re prepared, and understand why.”

Question 2: What activities minimize the need for the teacher and students to go back to their L1?

If you are in search of activities that help students and instructors to avoid temptation and remain in the target language, you are not alone! @MmeFarab said, “Don’t mind me, I’ll be favoriting almost every answer to [question 2] as this is where I struggle!” Before discussing activities, participants agreed that lowering students’ affective filter is key. @IndwellingLang suggested reassuring students that target language instruction will be made comprehensible, writing, “I tell [students] on day 1: I’m going to be speaking LOTS of Latin, and you’ll understand ALL of it [because] I’m going to give you the tools!” @cadamsf1 added that, in addition to scaffolding and providing comprehensible input, teacher-student rapport can lower students’ affective filter. In terms of activities, Langchatters favored anything with comprehensible input. @SraSpanglish noted that this might mean use of “[repetition], visuals, gesturing, background knowledge activation and cognates.” Participants also suggested using pictures with lots of contextual cues as a focus for discussion. Additionally, as always, they emphasized the value of activities that are personally meaningful for students and have real-world applications. @cadamsf1 said, “I like to use activities that are related to their world as well as current items. Background knowledge and cognates help them.” @SraSpanglish added, “EVERYBODY loves something that relates to outside lives, something they can keep applying when they leave!” Finally, @SenoraDiamond55 highlighted the importance of teaching students the value of circumlocution as a tool to remain in the target language: “As I ‘ramp up’ [with eighth graders,] we worked on a circumlocution activity this [week]. [We talked] about what it is, why to do it.”

Question 3: How do we avoid our own temptation to go back to our L1?

Next, Langchatters reflected on their own temptation to slip out of the target language and provided lots of suggestions on how to resist. To begin with, participants noted that instructors could make a visual statement signaling their motivation to remain in the target language. @dpilla said, “You can make your own button to say YO HABLO ESPANOL to promote [target language] usage.” @SrtaLibertad221 mentioned another visible statement for moments of weakness: “I put myself in time out!” Other instructors shared that they feel more comfortable in the target language if they come to class with a clear plan, take a breath, take their time, and rest up as much as possible. Still others remind themselves that they may be their students’ only source of exposure to the target language each week. As @JessieOelke wrote, “[I think to myself,] ‘I am the only Spanish speaker they hear for only 45 [minutes] of their day’.” @jklopp added that teachers can serve as a model for students in speaking the target language as much as possible. Finally, participants noted that simplifying speech makes it easier to stay in the target language. @ProfeCochran wrote, “If you feel the need [to] say it in [your] L1, then it is probably not going to be [comprehensible in the target language]. Go back to the drawing board on your lesson.” @nathanlutz added, “[Spending] a lot of time with early [education] kids over the years has helped me learn how to explain things in the simplest way.”

Question 4: What strategies create buy-in for learners to increase target language use?

Instructors thought up ways to help sell increased target language use to students. @CoLeeSensei suggested ‘tricking’ them into using it for extended periods with level appropriate tasks: “[Try] do-able interactive tasks – where [students] don’t realize they are in [target language] for how long they are!” Again, Langchatters wrote that interesting content helps promote student buy-in. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “Keep content current, fresh, topical. Learn what makes [students] tick, and figure out how to work with that in [target language].” @MmeLohse added, “[Make] the activity or conversation so interesting that they WANT to be a part of it; they WANT to know what’s going on.” Content aside, many participants stressed the positive influence of praise and increased student confidence on student buy-in. @profepj3 recognized the value of profusely praising “kids when they comprehend, especially the lower levels.” With regard to confidence, @SraSpanglish said, “[My] kids will go along with a lot of things if they feel confident. Build up confidence [by] really hitting [the] essentials hard.” @SenoraDiamond55 agreed, noting, “Confidence is KEY. Emphasize [the] process of learning over correctness! We learn by doing, and mistakes come with that.” Finally, @CoLeeSensei encouraged “building a community in the class where it’s safe to risk, get help and support each other!”

Question 5: If you are at 90% target language use, what is a legitimate place and time for the remaining 10% in the L1?

Langchatters overwhelmingly favored reserving L1 use for moments of confusion or clarification on assignments. @JessieOelke slips into the L1 during “[one-on-one conversations] with the [student] who is completely lost,” and @MlleSulewski saves the L1 for moments of “[true], widespread confusion.” Like many others, @profepj3 uses L1 time to give instructions: “I strive to leave 10% in [the] L1 for giving instructions. I’d rather the kids complete the assignment in [the target language] knowing what to do.” Alternatively, @espanolsrs suggested using the L1 as a way to get to know students a few minutes each day and build rapport: “I’m [going to] go out on limb [and] say [that the L1 could be used at the] end of class to have ‘deeper’ [conversations with students] to get to know them better.” As a final point, @KrisClimer suggested that instructors could “[ask] colleagues [or administrators] to film [or] record [them] so [they] can see what [percentage of the target language they] actually use.”


If you’re looking to increase target language use in your classroom, Langchatters had lots of advice. They encouraged making the change as soon as possible, brainstormed activities that promote target language use, discussed how to avoid the temptation of reverting back to the L1, thought up ways to increase learner buy-in, and reflected on the legitimate place for the L1 in the classroom.

Thank You!

Thank you to all of our participants for helping #langchat start the year with a good dose of positive energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement! You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat. *Reminder*: In case you can’t join us at that time, now you can also #langchat on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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.

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