The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in May passed a new policy statement on the use of the target language in the classroom – 90% or above at all levels. It’s about time that we as language teachers realize that 1) language education in the US doesn’t work because we don’t speak it to them and 2) speaking target language doesn’t have to mean the students don’t understand (it’s how we acquired it the first time around, ¿no?).
Here are five tips to help you increase your use of the TL in the classroom.
1- Ask, ask, ask.
Get into the habit of asking short questions continually. I don’t ever actually teach question words. It’s in their vocab, but we spend 0 instruction or practice time on it because we just do it so much. Who are you sitting with? Who’s at the door? What’s in your backpack? When’s lunch? Why are you leaving? What color is that? Where’s your sister?
2- offer an immediate (false) answer to your question
Don’t translate yourself and don’t give anyone a chance to translate for someone who didn’t hear or wasn’t listening or never listens because the smart guy next to him always translates. Offering an immediate false answer gives students immediate context to target comprehension and increase concept ties, which are much stronger than L1-L2 ties (see my presentation here and it’s worth your time to read this book chapter).
So, where did your Mom go? Walmart? Disney World? Where? Where did she go? Who’s at the door? Lady Gaga? President Obama? Who? Who’s there?
3- start describing drawings
I incorporate a lot of stories into my teaching and so I draw a lot. I am not an artist by any means, and that just makes it more fun. My students know I draw the worst-looking horses. Instead of just talking about something, try drawing through it. How about for an introductory activity one day, take your recent vocabulary and describe a drawing that your students have to draw. Use colors, sizes, and location words. “The sun is green and it’s far away from the small blue banana.” Take it for a listening comprehension grade. Drawing is my favorite version of vocab quizzing. Beats translation any day.
4- come up with an “I don’t understand” sign
We often switch into English because we think our students may not understand. Another thing I took from TPRS is the “X” symbol for when students don’t understand. That way, I know and can repeat, draw, act, rework my phrases to help them understand, and all the while I’m feeding them more TL. Timid students don’t mind doing a little X with their index fingers. Then I’ve had rambunctious boys do a full-table X (my students sit 4 to a table sideways to me for communicative/scaffolding purposes) where each boy put an arm to the center and this was a “this entire table is completely lost here” X. LOL.
5- offer students a reward for “catching” you saying something in English they know in TL
Sometimes you’ll find the right students motivated by the right things (chocolate) who will help you police yourself. I offered students a bean every time they caught me saying something in English that they knew in Spanish – even a word – and 2 beans earned them a Snickers Mini.
Get talking. Use strategies to continually assess comprehension and TALK TALK TALK!
Photo credit: Xosé Castro