Today, I'm going to dive deeper into the topic of using the target language versus the native language in the language classroom.
So grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, get cozy, and let's explore this divisive subject together!
I'm going to focus on the importance of using more of the target language to help our students become more proficient in their language acquisition journey.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), it is suggested that at least 90% of the class should be conducted in the target language. This way, students can receive maximum comprehensible input, allowing for natural language acquisition to occur even in the artificial setting of the classroom.
Now, achieving that 90% target language goal might not happen every time, and that's okay.
It's a goal I strive for, but it's important to acknowledge that many teachers may have limited fluency in the target language. Some teachers may have studied Spanish or French as a secondary subject and may not feel completely confident in their language skills. Perhaps they are teaching multiple languages or have recently started teaching a language they are still mastering themselves.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, don't worry! You're not alone.
In class, it's important to use as much of the target language as possible, even if it's a struggle.
I embrace the experience of being a language learner alongside my students. This not only helps me empathize with their challenges but also pushes me to work harder to make my language use comprehensible.
My limited vocabulary, as I’m NOT a native speaker, can actually be an advantage in this case, as it forces me to simplify my language and be more accessible to my students. I won't overwhelm them with advanced vocabulary that they may not understand.
Each day, I strive to speak as much of the target language as possible and aim to increase my usage over time.
Let me share a personal story with you.
When I started teaching over 20 years ago, my major was in German, not Spanish.
My fluency in Spanish was far from perfect, and I hadn't lived in a foreign country to gain that native-like experience quickly.
I learned the language through use and school.
Naturally, it was challenging for me to stay in the target language for extended periods of time. I found it easier to stick with the target language in my level-one classes compared to my level-three classes. It might be because level-one conversations are less complex, making it easier to stay in the target language without overwhelming my students. I'm still working on finding effective ways to simplify complex topics in my higher-level classes while keeping them comprehensible.
Remember, the 90% target language guideline is something to strive for, but don't beat yourself up if you don't achieve it every time.
The important thing is to make a conscious effort to use the target language as much as possible and continuously work on improving your language skills.
Now, let's shift our focus to level one classes.
Many people assume that it's impossible to use the target language extensively, especially at the beginning of the course. However, in my experience, it's actually the opposite. Level one classes provide an excellent opportunity to immerse students in the target language right from day one.
In my level one class, I take a slightly different approach compared to traditional methods.
I don't spend a lot of time on classroom rules, procedures, or introductory topics like days of the week and months of the year during the first few days. Instead, I emphasize from the very beginning that my class is a language class, and we will communicate using the target language.
So, what do I do during those initial days?
Well, I dive straight into engaging activities and encourage students to start talking about themselves and their interests using the target language. I focus on meaningful and personalized content that captures their attention and makes language learning exciting from the start.
For example, on the first day, I create an activity where students introduce themselves to the class in the target language. They share their names, hobbies, favorite foods, and any other interesting information about themselves. To make it more interactive, I incorporate visuals, gestures, and simple sentence frames to support their language production. This helps students feel more comfortable using the target language and creates a positive and inclusive classroom environment.
As I progress through the first few weeks, I continue to explore engaging topics related to the students' lives, such as family, school, sports, and daily routines.
By using the target language consistently and providing ample opportunities for students to interact with it, they gradually develop their language skills and build confidence in their ability to communicate.
I understand that staying in the target language for extended periods can be challenging, especially if you’re not a native speaker or don't have native-like fluency.
However, by creating a supportive and immersive learning environment, you can empower your students to use the target language more confidently, and in turn, enhance their language acquisition journey.
I encourage you to embrace the challenge of using the target language more extensively in your language classroom.
Remember, even if you don't reach the 90% target language use every time, every effort counts.