Stay in the target language 90% of the time...or more!

Stay in the target language 90% of the time...or more!

March 01, 2019

One of ACTFL’s Core Practices is staying in the Target Language 90% of the time:  The more input our kids hear, the more output they will produce. Our language is the means by which they will hear the majority of their language, in most cases where the target language is considered a 'foreign' language.

Converting to a non-English Spanish teacher can be challenging, especially when your students don’t understand something you've said, when you teach the novice level, so they don’t understand A TON, or when you are tired, stressed and busy ← the hallmarks of a teacher.

But it’s crucial.

There is extensive research that paints the picture of the student who, if they expect that we will follow up our instructions with a recap in English, know that they don’t have to pay attention in Spanish. They don’t have to negotiate meaning. They don’t have to connect our visual aid, our miming, our carefully crafted slideshow of instructions, nor our modeling.  They know that we will follow up with English, which they can understand while texting and thinking about their homecoming dress. In fact, students have told us that their teacher “translates everything to English at the end, so [they] don’t even listen to her Spanish”. We do them such a disservice if we don't give them that opportunity.

So, if you don’t commit to a (mostly) Spanish only classroom, there is no way you can expect your students to. I made the commitment to myself -- which was an unspoken commitment to my students -- that I was not going to speak English anymore.  For me, it was easier to just rip off the band-aid, cold turkey, cut English out like I was quitting a bad habit. I went for 100% Spanish from the get go. That way, if I have a day when I’m at 60%, it doesn’t matter.  Think of it cumulatively, not for each day.

For some, easing into it is much more realistic.  Try starting with one day. Monday. You’re fresh, just came off the weekend, so, use the daily plan with your thematic unit, or plan your day with visuals, some presentational slides, a front loader of vocabulary, whatever it is that you think you’ll need for support.  Plan a few cool commercials or videos, so part of that 90% is someone else talking...not you.

One single day.  No English. The next week, make it two days, and so on.  

Here’s what to prepare yourself for:

You will get frustrated.  It’s ok. Smile and keep going.  

They will get frustrated.  Use a few of your minutes in English to tell them how proud you are of them, and that you KNOW it’s frustrating, but that you are so glad they get to have that feeling now, where they are safe, so they are prepared when they are trying to find the metro in a non-L1 country, and they will already have had that feeling.  That is such valuable learning.

It’s hard.  It’s exhausting.  But you can do it.  


Some other thoughts on 90%:

Be sure your input is comprehensible: It's so important that you'll find a number of posts under that same keyword:) To be comprehensible, you’ll need to do a ton of depicting with gestures, pictures, drawings and showing meaning.  

Be confident:  If you are concerned about your level of language skill, there are SO MANY things that you can do to improve your proficiency. There are some obvious ones, like another degree, a study abroad, etc, or some really simple, do-now things, such as...everything you ask your students to do, but scaled up. Read more. Write more. Listen more. Watch shows on Netflix. Find a Youtuber to follow. Look for people on Instagram that are Spanish language contributors in your interest areas. Change your phone to Spanish. Find a conversation meet-up in your area. Obsess over Radio Ambulante, like I do.  Live it regularly so you can live it more confidently in class.

Some colleagues have expressed that they fear that they won’t know a word and they will feel self conscious. However, if you never speak English and you suddenly don’t know a word that a student asks, they don’t think twice.  But if you speak more English than Spanish and you don’t know a word, well...I’m sure you can assume what a sassy student would think.

You've got this...we're sure of it!

Want to them your students in the target language? This post is a great way to do it, but this one might be my favorite. 



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