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by Erica Fischer on Aug 20, 2013

Target Language From Day 1: How to Keep High Levels of TL in Your Classroom

How can you start with a lot of target language in the classroom from the very beginning?

Target Language FROM DAY ONEWe sure missed our #langchat tweeps over the summer and it showed on Thursday night! As language professionals gathered from around the world to chime in, it almost made us glad that summer is drawing to a close.

As the school year begins, the #langchat forum brainstormed ways to keep the target language in the classroom from the very first day. The result was a list of great ideas that most of us are just itching to try out on our new students.

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Language From Day 1

@jas347 said, “A colleague asked me when I start content. DAY 1! I speak French from the beginning and students leave able to say something in TL from Day 1!” Many other teachers supported the idea of creating an immersion environment from the very first day. @garnet_hillmansaid, “We start the first day as well, kids work with names and getting to know each other!”

Most teachers loved the idea of getting right into the nitty-gritty of language acquisition, but the discussion emphasized the importance of ensuring students understand rather than being immersed in confusion. @placido said, “I wonder if teachers sometimes are a little uncertain of how to make the class comprehensible for their students?” This brought up the idea of why some teachers choose to stray from the 90% target language immersion level as suggested by the ACTFL benchmarks. The reason for this broke down into 5 perceived challenges:


  • Fear of Isolation – Some teachers speculated that teachers might not want to stay in the target language because it makes them less accessible to students. @jas347 said,

I’ve heard that teachers can’t form relationships with students if they only use the target language. It’s just not true.

  • Fear of Discomfort – Others said that student comfort levels kept them from staying in the target language 100% of the time. @CatherineKU72 said, “They are overwhelmed and they don’t hear [TL] every day.” @garnet_hillman agreed, saying, “High level of TL can overwhelm students. We must make sure to keep it manageable for them.” Some #langchat participants stated that discomfort was actually an important part of the learning process and it needs to be embraced. @cyberfrida summed the thought up perfectly:

I frequently tell students to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

  • Fear of Resistance – @trescolumnae said, “Some [students] just don’t want to [stay in the target language] – they still see language as something you learn ABOUT.” A few teachers mentioned the fear of teachers to have to deal with discipline issues from a class that revolts against immersion. @meglet22 said, “I feel like it’s harder if you don’t start from the beginning. Students are resistant if they are used to the native language.”
  • Fear of Rejection – @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Some teachers think that by using native language, they are being nice to their students.” Participants agreed that this does nothing but undermine the idea of immersion learning, and can even undermine other teachers. @mweelin said,

That’s the other problem. When other teachers don’t use as much TL, kids think you are too mean or strict. We need help from our colleagues!

  • Fear of Mistakes – Many students are afraid they might make a mistake and be embarrassed, and teachers need to address this issue from the start of the year. @mweelin said, “Challenges are getting kids to believe they will understand, that it’s ok to make mistakes.” @esantacruz13 said,

I do believe they have to lose the fear of making mistakes. Let them know it is ok to make mistakes, and it is ok to correct them.

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  • Realistic Expectations – One of the best ways to help students avoid feelings of isolation and failure is by having appropriate expectations. Not everyone can handle 100% target language speaking from the get-go. @KrisClimer suggested that teachers do “…lots of listening and understanding” and have minimum language production goals at first.
  • Low-Stress Forms of Communication – By giving students choices in their form of communication, a lot of the intimidation factor is relieved. @CatherineKU72 said,

We give students other opportunities to shine: Writing, texting, drawing, demonstrating comprehension. It’s their choice.

She also went on to mention that corrections also induce stress in learners:

Correcting while students talk discourages them from their efforts. Let them babble and offer a few rephrased thoughts after.

  • Focus on Comprehension – Some teachers really felt that the focus should be taken off staying in the target language and should be more centered on language comprehension. @trescolumnae said, “COMPREHENSIBLE input is key. Better to diverge from 90% target than to have a lost or confused student.” He continued “[Teachers] need to check for understanding constantly especially with novices; adapt if they’re lost.”
  • Feel Competent – One of the best ways to help teachers stay in the target language more is by helping them feel more confident in their own language skills and teaching abilities. @CatherineKU72 explained,

Teachers need to feel and BE competent in their content area. A hesitant teacher can give the impression that it’s ok to slip.

  • Create a Safe Environment – Having a safe place to make mistakes is possibly the most valuable skill in helping students stay in the target language. @KrisClimer said, “Once they trust the teacher and trust each other, open correction is possible.” @mweelin said,

My take away is that trust and a safe environment are key to staying in the target language.

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How Comfortable Should They Be?

How comfortable is comfortable enough in the high-TL classroom?

How comfortable is comfortable enough in the high-TL classroom?

Although the #langchat participants agreed that they wanted students to feel safe in making mistakes, they didn’t agree on whether students should feel comfortable in the learning process. @esantacruz13 said,

Make students feel comfortable in the Language Classroom, that’s the key for a great year. How comfortable though?

Some teachers mentioned that mistakes and confusion make students feel uncomfortable, and that is a natural motivation to get better at the language. @RobuPrice said,

I think that students need to know that it’s normal to NOT understand; that a part of language learning is being confused.

Other teachers took another perspective. @placido said,

I think it is MY job to make sure they are not confused. That needn’t be a part of a class. If they are not understanding, they are not acquiring.

@KrisClimer responded, “But confusion is OK if it is met with love.”

@msfrenchteach said, “My take-away would be that students AND educators have to be uncomfortable in the classroom at times. I know this feeling! Ha!”

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Other Great Ideas for Increasing Target Language In Class

  • Add Some Cultural Music – @garnet_hillman said, “I love to use music to encourage TL usage, already had some kids singing in level 1 on the 2nd day of class.”
  • Get Them to Compete – @CatherineKU72 said, “Engage from Day 1 in TL, offer challenges and competitions, but also time for any student to shine. Use every idea possible.”
  • Have Them Record It – @KreinerNation said, “When I have the kids record themselves, they tend to stay in TL more than when I don’t have them record.”
  • Phrase of the Week – @meglet22 said, “Useful ‘phrase of the week’ competitions increased TL use last year. Every time they used one correctly they got a ticket. Then we drew for prize on Fridays.”
  • Dancing and Movement – @CatherineKU72 said, “…music, nursery rhymes, movement, etc. They are up and on their feet.”
  • Provide “Down Time” from the Target Language – @jas347 said, “While I’m setting up new activities, I turn on Francophone music. They get to dance for 90 seconds, then reset.”
  • Modeling Behavior – @trescolumnae said, “Important to teach and model the procedures they’ll be using; don’t assume they know!”
  • Mystery Puzzles – @CatherineKU72 said, “@RobuPrice #langchat Mystery puzzles w/chunks of information that they have to put together to discover answer. Mystery zoo & family = Fun.”
  • Cheater Phrases – @SraHertel, @garnet_hillman and @placido suggested the use of phrases that students could read when they got lost for words. Whether on the backs of chairs or on the walls, this is a great tool to keep them in the target language.
  • TPRS Activities – @edwardstanko and @meglet22 both talked about using TPRS stories this year to help them stay in the target language with their students.
  • Greetings and Names on Day 1 – @RhulsHuls said, “We did inside-outside circle in TL with greetings and names on Day 1.” @esantacruz13 said, “I did a Human Bingo activity where they had to talk to their classmates. They first have to get comfortable speaking the language.”

Thank You!

We’d like to give a big thanks to our moderators, @msfrenchteach, @secottrell, and @diegoojeda66 for co-moderating this joyous post-summer reunion! If you’d like to see all the great ideas that didn’t make it into the summary, check out the complete transcript in our online archive.

Thank you so much for joining us in the #langchat community. If you have a great idea for a future topic for our discussion, share your ideas with us! We are excited to hear what is working for you and your world language classroom!

Additional Resources

Circling With Balls
Fresh Prince: Google Translated
The Slanted Apostrophe
LinguaFolio® Checklists
ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines
Technology resources for the World Language Classroom

Rita VideosGoyo Games

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.


  • Will West

    While I love the idea of being in the L2 from day 1, it depends… some schools (like the district I work in) has shorter days the 1st week, and have specific things that the students have to do in each period… Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to have T2 from day 1. But, adding as much as possible when possible is the key, to my mind.

  • […]  Langchat has returned after the summer break!  This is a summary from the first talk about staying in the target language and definitely worth the read.  We are […]

  • Heather Hankes

    I have often started the year in the target language and I get resistance from the parents. Parents call in and say their child is freaking out and that the teacher doesn’t ever speak English and they do not understand anything. I always have to reassure them that the student will learn from repetition, TPR and other cues.

  • This blog was a great fresher, we should have one of these chat forums dedicated to the end of the year. I feel myself getting tired and weary as I schlepp students up the mountains of language acquisition. One strategy I tried last year was awarding extra credit to students, when I spoke in English. Since I don’t believe in extra credit-they know this-it was a real motivator to me. Now, I am speaking to all my students, even my advisory students who take Chinese and French in Spanish because it is hard for me to code-switch all day. My brain goes in one language or the other. Well, I really needed this post to recommit to using the language in class and leaning on the ideas of other professionals to reboot my class and power through the home stretch. Thanks again!

    • Sara-Elizabeth Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell

      So glad to hear it was helpful! Finish strong – you can do it! 🙂

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