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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?

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Structuring learning

Capturing language

Active and multisensory approaches

Workshop 13 Communicative principles


(If you haven't already done so, read about the 5-Stage Cycle
before continuing.)

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.

Building resourcefulness

Learning set dialogues by heart is no preparation for real conversation. Real conversation doesn't follow a predetermined route; it is often messy and proceeds in fits and starts. Learners still need support to develop the art of conversation and the confidence to cope with the difficulties that will inevitably emerge. Some of the downloads below suggest ways of helping with this, including use of three dimensional mind-maps (statements, questions and interjections); semi-scripted role-play; and the use of topic paradigms.


[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]

Indicators of good practice in use of target languages

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
OFSTED, January 2011, No. 100042

Where to look for resources and ideas

ci On Parle Franšais, Wir Sprechen Deutsch and Se Habla Espa˝ol all deal comprehensively and visually with classroom language, including coping with language difficulties, problem solving, and use of mime and gesture.
MLG Publishing:

Cartoons for Classroom Communication covers all these situations and more besides.
MLG Publishing:

Speak Up! Using the target language in class Peter Satchwell & June de Silva. CILT 2009.

[2.11.15] Classroom language
Ideas and resources to support teachers and learners who wish to improve their use of the target language as a practical medium of communication in the MFL classroom.

Please see note on copyright

Download a PDF copy of the above

More on using the target language

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

Semi-scripted conversations Example 1 Example 2

The art of conversation
Many learners lack confidence in speaking - even in their mother tongue. Showing them how they might begin to structure a conversation and then providing a progressive development of how to so this in the target language can help learners to develop a range of personal skills as well.
Developing the art of conversation


[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.

Using the target language 
Notes for trainee teachers at the University of Alberta, Canada.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
Position statement on the use of the target language in the classroom.

Improving the quality of language learning in schools: Approaches to teaching and learning

Teaching in the target language
An article by Helena Curtain, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Links into Languages: Talking to Learn project
This project seeks to foreground two aspects of learner talk in the target language: planned talk and spontaneous talk, and through the development of new task types engaging with a variety of different contexts and stimuli (for example, film, story-telling, song and pictures) improve learners’ confidence and creativity with spoken language.
Information and resources in french, german and Spanish.

Speaking and Spontaneous Talk in the Languages Classroom
Lots of ideas on Rachel Hawkes' website:

Hampshire Languages - Phonics

As others see us
An article by Hazel Crichton in the Scottish Languages Review describing a small piece of research, which was undertaken to gain pupils’ perceptions of techniques and strategies used by teachers who use the target language extensively in the modern languages classroom.

Rejoinders and common expressions to keep the conversation going
Using rejoinders:
English as a second language:
If you know of any other good links to lists of rejoinders, please let me know! - HM

Using the target language to discipline students
A TES Forum discussion on behaviour and learning in the MFL class

Talk so that pupils listen and listen so that pupils talk
An account of the project that won the Mary Glasgow Award in 2004. Why aren't we all doing this?!

The quiet revolution: transformational languages research by teaching school alliances
Theme 5: Spontaneous strategies as the gateway to attainment
Theme 6: Talk in the classroom – Understanding the barriers to speaking

Interact! Learning through spontaneous speaking in Modern Languages
By Colin Christie. This booklet describes a research evidence based approach using strategies and the classroom environment to promote spontaneous talk in the target language.

Reflexions on the Modern Languages Excellence Report of 2011: Increasing Classrooom Language as a First Step towards Communicative Competence Scottish Languages Review, Issue 30, Autumn/Winter 2015


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