LANGUAGES WITHOUT LIMITS
Learners who are struggling in the foreign language class often say they don't know what's going on, that the teacher speaks in the foreign language all the time and that since they don't understand it they don't know what to do to be successful. Rather than lose face some learners will play up, or say they're not interested in learning the language anyway. How can teachers meet the needs of these learners as well as complying with guidelines on target language use?
(If you haven't already done so, read about the 5-Stage Cycle
For the schools that use it, one of the most useful aspects of the 5-stage model is the clear distinction it makes between practising language and using language for real purposes (hearing, watching, reading, speaking and writing the language). In effect, this creates two phases: Stages 1, 2 and 3 (Phase 1); and Stages 4 & 5 (Phase 2).
The distinction has been useful for learners as well as teachers. It makes learners aware of the importance of engaging with the presentation, practice and consolidation activities in Phase 1 if they are to be able to cope confidently with the 'real' language in Phase 2. And it prompts teachers to check that learners are sufficiently familiar with new elements of language to be ready for the challenge of using the language in real contexts.
As far as using the target language in for classroom interaction is concerned, however, the division into two phases is less clear cut. While the distinction between 'practice' and 'real' is still useful, in that it provides some justification for using the mother tongue in Phase 1 and for insisting on target language use in Phase 2, it would clearly be wrong to exclude use of the target language from Phase 1. Indeed, if learners are to be able to use the language interactively, confidently and consistently, at Stage 4, preparation must begin from Stage 1 in the same way as preparation for other linguistic skills and competencies: knowing what is expected, and why; systematic introduction and modelling of new linguistic items; opportunities for consolidation and revision, etc. In other words, a progressive programme of preparation.
The precise nature of that programme will be determined by the foreign languages department with input from individual teachers and – increasingly – learners. (Useful suggestions can be found amongst the downloads and links below.) It will certainly include a gradually expanding corpus of communicative elements that can be introduced, practised and used every day: greetings, responding to instructions; asking for help or permission, etc. and building over time to the capacity, confidence and willingness to interact exclusively in the foreign language after the Stage 3/4 watershed.
Reaching such a level of competence will, of course, take time. In the interim, some mother tongue use, even at Stage 4, is inevitable. Quite early on, learners can be encouraged to treat difficulties as opportunities for learning what to say when they find themselves faced with just such a difficulty in a real-life context. These are genuine occasions for using coping strategies and should be treated (and prepared for) as such – no need to abandon the target language, except momentarily, perhaps, in the course of receiving help. If larger gaps are discovered they can be flagged up at the debriefing stage and dealt with systematically in the early stages of the next lesson or unit of work.
[14.1.11] NEWS UPDATE
What the OFSTED report had to say about use of target languages
... the report ... highlights important weaknesses and the barriers preventing good language learning, including insufficient use of the target language in secondary schools. [Page 1]
… students had enjoyed purposeful experiences in Key Stage 3. These included being able to say what they wanted to say and opportunities to talk to or work with native speakers. [Page 4]
The key barriers observed to further improvement in Key Stages 3 and 4 were teachers’ lack of use of the target language to support their students’ routine use of the language in lessons, as well as providing opportunities for them to talk spontaneously… [Page 5]
In many of the secondary schools visited, opportunities for students to listen to and communicate in the target language were often limited by many teachers’ unpreparedness to use it. Too often, students were not taught how to respond to everyday requests and thus routine work in the target language and opportunities to use it spontaneously were too few. [Page 6]
Secondary schools should... put much greater emphasis on regular use of the target language in all lessons. [Recommendations, page 8]
A few of the teachers seen were not able to sustain the target language during the lesson, so that the only language they spoke was the few items of vocabulary they were teaching... occasionally, despite the many strengths in teaching, the use of the target language was too limited, so that the pupils heard less than they might have, and did not practise the language sufficiently. [Pages 12 & 13]
Opportunities for students to listen to teachers' requests and instructions in the target languages and to listen to and respond to other students were limited...the least academically able students were often not given enough support to make sense of what they were hearing.... Even in the strongest departments, students had too few opportunities to use their languages to communicate in a realistic manner. [Page 23]
Good or outstanding progress was characterised by clear links between the teachers' demands and opportunities for the students to speak in meaningful situations. Cues and information gap activities prompted creative speech, gradually moving students towards spontaneity: that is, being able to say what one wants to say. [Pages 23 & 24]
... teachers consistently used the target language for managing lessons and because the students had well-developed linguistic skills deriving from their bilingualism, they made excellent progress in listening and were confident speakers with good pronunciation, They routinely used the target language for communication... [Page 24]
Teachers presented very good role models for peaking as they used the target languages consistently, using English only when appropriate to do so.. They also ensured that students had the building blocks of grammatical knowledge so that they could say what they wanted to say. [Page 28]
In a small group of Year 7 students who had special educational needs, the teacher used Spanish at all times for managing the lesson and resorted to English only after other strategies to help the students to understand, such as mime and demonstration, had been tried. As a result, the students, who were still in the very early stages of learning the language, were at ease with hearing Spanish and were developing excellent accents and very good intonation. [Page 29]
In the best lessons seen, teachers taught using the target language and this extended opportunities for the students... [Page 29]
Extracts from Modern Languages: Achievement and challenge 2007-2010
Where to look for resources and ideas
Speak Up! Using the target language in class Peter Satchwell & June de Silva. CILT 2009. http://www.primarylanguages.org.uk/shop/product.aspx?id=64
[Jan 2015] Miss, can I go to the toilet?
Using the 5-stage framework to plan a unit of work Example
Using a mind map to support a speaking task Example: Talking about yourself
[Links checked 3.2.15 unless otherwise indicated]
Increasing Use of the Target Language in Classroom Interactions An excellent and helpful article by Constance K Knop from a Canadian website. Full of sensible advice and practical suggestions. http://www.oomroom.ca/resources/knop_article.PDF
Using the target language Notes for trainee teachers at the University of Alberta, Canada. http://www2.education.ualberta.ca/staff/olenka.bilash/Best%20of%20Bilash/targetlanguage.html
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
Improving the quality of language learning in schools: Approaches to teaching and learning
Teaching in the target language
Links into Languages: Talking to Learn project
Speaking and Spontaneous Talk in the Languages Classroom
Hampshire Languages - Phonics
As others see us
Rejoinders and common expressions to keep the conversation going
Using the target language to discipline students
Talk so that pupils listen and listen so that pupils talk
The quiet revolution: transformational languages research by teaching school alliances
Interact! Learning through spontaneous speaking in Modern Languages