Use of the Target Language

ACTFL has position statements on various issues, one of which is use of the target language in the classroom.  The position statement recommends that the teacher and students use the target language as much as possible, which they define as at least 90% of the time.  The position statement also suggests strategies to help teachers and learners stay in the target language.

At the beginning of each school year I vow that I will meet this 90% goal.  I have no problem at all staying in the target language in Spanish IV, except when I am very tired or haven’t really planned a good lesson.  I’m also good at staying in the target language in level II.  Again, when I’m tired I don’t speak as much Spanish with them, either.  When I use the target language in a level II lesson, I’d say I use it 70-80% of the time.  These are just rough estimates, and I am trying to keep in mind something I read that said teachers tend to overestimate how much of the target language they actually use in class.

Spanish I is another story.  Quite frankly, I stink.  I speak English A LOT.  I am so very disappointed in myself.  I really think the problem is that I’m sticking with the textbook scope and sequence for a couple of reasons, and the layout of the book is just not communication-based.  Taking grammar paradigms and wrapping a theme around them just does not lead to natural communication as far as I’ve been able to figure out.   I am also starting to question the themes that are common in textbooks.  For example, in my level 1 class, the current theme is school.  I am struggling to create meaningful activities that would be engaging for students on that topic, and to create a performance assessment that somehow simulates a real-world task.  What do I really want them to say?  Tell their class schedule, how they feel about their classes, what they do in their classes, what school supplies they use in their classes?  Are these things that teens want to talk about?

I’ve heard some teachers say that students get lost if they teach entirely in the TL in lower levels.  I think that is because the teachers are not using comprehensible input.  I believe tailoring language to lower levels is a skill that takes practice.  I have also heard the excuse that speaking entirely in the target language intimidates students so they do not want to take the class, and then foreign language enrollment goes down.  Again, if the students are scared away, it is because the teacher is not making him- or herself comprehensible to the students.

While I think I have made strides in my teaching to move to a more communication-based view of teaching language, I still have a long way to go with comprehensible input in level 1.  Since I can’t seem to be able to keep myself in the target language, I haven’t even gotten to making the students stay in the TL.  I’ll just have to keep trying and use the resources I’ve bookmarked on my wiki:

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One Response to Use of the Target Language

  1. Cristina Zimmerman says:

    I feel exactly the same! Maybe we can figure out a way to teach through culture and language in level I and put less emphasis on grammar teaching. Do you work in a department where you all have to be doing the same thing?

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