Hot Topic: Staying in the Target Language

Staying in the target language (in my case, French) is such a hot topic these days, because there are so many opinions on how much we should do it, how to do it, and why or why not to do it.  The ACTFL recommends that at least 90% of a foreign language class should be conducted in the target language.  I'd say if you take all my classes and average out how much target language is spoken each day, it probably comes out to about 90%.  I want to share with you when I do and do not stay in the target language.  Now, as teaching is always a work in progress, this could change, but this is what I do right now.  I've also shared some useful resources with you as to how to stay in the target language.

When We Speak French in My Class

  • When addressing students at the beginning of class.  We always start the day with a hello, saying the day and date, and later in the year, the time and the weather.  This is a tradition passed down to me by my French teachers.
  • When introducing vocabulary.  Most of the vocabulary I teach can easily be represented by a picture or a gesture.  If it can't, students will have a sheet with English on it so at least we don't have to speak English.
  • When explaining instructions for a task.  Usually this can be accomplished with modeling using student volunteers, acting out the task, and using cognates.  It takes a little more time than just explaining it in English, but I feel it's worth it.
  • When introducing simple structures (such as masculine/feminine).  Through modeling (and yes, having a student recap in English...see below!), the students come to understand without me having to use English
  • During activities (such as games, white board review, and guided conversations between students).  I always set up these activities and model them so that students can participate in them without speaking English.  Yes, sometimes students slip, but I'm always there to remind them to keep in French!
  • When asking simple questions or making simple statements, such as permission to use the bathroom, or saying you don't understand.  Students learn these expressions at the beginning of the year.

When We Speak English in My Class
  • During drills and emergency procedures.  At these times, I feel the use of English is necessary to ensure immediate understanding of all students.
  • When explaining rules and procedures at the beginning of the year.  Having first year students, I just can't explain my procedures to students without using English.  I'd rather take a day and have my thoroughly understand everything then try to explain it in French and have students not sure about certain things.
  • When students have questions they can't express in French and/or I can't answer in French and have them understand.  Sometimes you just have to switch over for a minute!  I try not to be so stubborn that I leave students in the dark when switching to English for a minute would clear things up so well.
  • When introducing a complex concept.  I'd say there are one or two times a year when I just bite the bullet and teach something in English.  My rationale is that I'd rather spend one day in English and have them truly understand it and leave that much more time for using it in context in French.
  • When a students recaps instructions for an activity.  Once I explain the instructions for an activity in French, I gauge if students understand.  If they don't, I usually try to go back and simplify the instructions.  If that still doesn't work, I have a student summarize in English.

Whether you agree or disagree with when I do and don't use French, please share your thoughts in the comments!  There's nothing wrong with a healthy discussion, so feel free to be honest.

Here are some great resources to read about using the target language in class:

J'apprends le français parce que...

I previously shared one of my bulletin boards for National French Week back in August but I thought I'd share some more examples with you now.  I know it's a little late, since National French Week is almost over, but this is something you can do any time of year.

I give the students a template, and instruct them to express visually why they are learning French.  This is an optional assignment for my students (it's actually a contest), but you could also make this a required assignment.  Students are so creative in their drawings and collages!

These mini posters are on display for the whole school for the rest of the year, so many students and faculty get to appreciate them as they walk by.

My New Favorite Reading Strategy

Photo by US Department of Education

About a month ago I stumbled upon this blog post, an archive of a #langchat Twitter chat about using texts to teaching communicative proficiency (if you're not familiar with #langchat, go learn about it here!).  One of the contributors, @SenoraDunkin, mentioned a reading strategy that involves students crossing out words they don't know and then reading the text.  What a brilliant idea!  I have subsequently used it in class, but I put a little twist on it.  I show them a text on the SMART Board, and then I cross out the words that I won't be able to explain to them while staying in French, and we read the text together afterwards.  I'd also like to try it the original way, since it fosters more independence, but I decided to try it my way first.  I knew if students did it themselves from the get go, they would cross out all sorts of words that they might actually be able to figure out if they thought about them.

I have had great success reading short articles with my students by using this method.  They are able to see just how much they are able to get out of a text even without understanding everything (sometimes we crossed out whole paragraphs!).

I think this is an example of how powerful social media is as a professional development tool.  To be able to share ideas with people I've never met is something that was unfathomable even ten or fifteen years ago.  Imagine how we'll be sharing ten to fifteen years in the future!

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