I’ve been hearing a flurry of comments, great ones, directing teachers to not get so distracted by the 90% TL goal that they forget to make sure they’re speaking comprehensibly. I’m sure you’ve seen and/or committed, as have I, one of these common unfortunate practices:
- speaking in target language and being super proud of it… except the language I’m using is too high for my students to understand, and I know it, and…
- making up for it by translating half of what I say.
Well, that’s not gonna work. It’s easy. But it’s certainly not going to work.
One of the most effective tools that helped me check my incomprehensible input was an “I don’t understand” signal. I learned it in a TPRS workshop, and it was such a helpful technique for us that I demonstrate it in every workshop I give on storytelling or staying in the target language. For those of you who have followed me recently and don’t have time to comb through years of archives (just a few of you, right?), here’s a repost of my description of my I don’t understand signal.
But first, I also want to share a couple more recent posts from esteemed colleagues offering more insight: check out Colleen’s inspiring description of how she helps her students embrace and overcome their ‘not understanding’ instead of fearing it, and speaking of fear, get inspired more by Wendy’s post about fearlessly helping her students figure out comprehensibility and when she fails, try, try again.
And now, from August ’13:
As we all go back to school and meet new students and try to push them to try something really new and maintain target language in the classroom, as you maintain it, commit to make your target language input comprehensible and make sure students know you’re committed to it. Show them this video:
This baby is talking. She know exactly what she’s saying. But you and I don’t have a clue. Why? Because she doesn’t know we don’t know and she doesn’t care.
If you only make one change this year, commit to use more target language. But we also need to be sure it’s comprehensible. So, give students a way to communicate this. Tell them, if I sound like this baby to you, show me an X. Outgoing students may stand up and do a full-body X. Shy students may cross their index fingers at chest height in a discreet “don’t point me out but I am not getting this” X. On the other hand, if they can understand you, they should give a thumbs up. If they’re somewhere in the middle, like they think they’ve got it but might need a little more clarification, they can do a sideways thumbs-out. Whatever it is, give students nonverbal ways to communicate to you quickly and en masse whether they understand.
Of course, now that they have a signal, make sure you’re checking and rechecking!