Target language teaching can be really daunting! If you’re a world languages teacher, you probably hear a lot about teaching in the target language. Maybe you wonder how to teach in French or Spanish. Maybe you even really want to teach more in the target language, but you just aren’t sure how. You don’t have to start at 90% target language to benefit your students. Get started with these strategies.
Here are some tips to help you get started with target language teaching.
1. Let students know it’s okay to make mistakes and ask for help.
This has to be the most important thing to remember! Students are going to make mistakes. How many little kids speak their first language perfectly? None that I’ve met!
We aren’t born with an innate understanding of language rules. We learn them over time by hearing them over and over again. Students aren’t going to start in your beginning language class ready to use multiple tenses of all the common verbs. That will take time.
I’m a HUGE fan of Bradley Cooper. Maybe you are, too. But did you know that he’s a French speaker? Check out this video of him on a French tv show promoting A Star is Born. (There are subtitles if you don’t speak French.) He speaks French the entire time. It’s not perfect, but it’s comfortable and he communicates well.
What is so striking about this is his ease to speak and even make mistakes. At one point in the full interview, he even admits when he has trouble pronouncing cœur and corps. The thing is, we need to teach kids to communicate, not to communicate perfectly. Do we want them speaking correctly? Of course! But if the need for perfection makes kids worry about even trying, they won’t make progress.
2. Allow for comprehension checks in English
Yes, we want to teach in French. It’s important for them to hear it as much as possible. However, it’s also uncomfortable. Maybe you aren’t a native speaker, so it feels unnatural for you. For sure, it feels weird for the students. Since you share a common language, don’t be afraid to use it!
Although your goal might be to use only French with them, it’s really important to do frequent comprehension checks in English. Why? Because they probably will lack the vocabulary to tell you what they don’t understand. Use ready-to-go exit tickets like these FREE French exit tickets, but you can allow them to ask questions in English.
Ask frequent questions to get feedback from them. It’s so important to know what they are getting stuck on.
3. Try out TPR
Have you tried out TPR – Total Physical Response? I’m not gonna lie. This was NOT for me. I tried so hard. I can see why it is an amazing target language teaching strategy. However, I’m a kind of reserved person, and that amount of “acting” was so exhausting for me. I think it’s probably difficult for a lot of us, but my introverted self already found it really hard to be “on” in front of a room full of people all day. Adding that to it was just not possible.
So, while I didn’t rely heavily on TPR to teach all of my lesson, I integrated a LOT of it into my lessons. It’s not hard to model some verbs as students are learning new words, or to use some different props or equipment you might have on hand.
One fun thing students love is to act out the vocabulary. You can call model verbs like “manger/comer,” “écrire/escribir,” or “dormir.” Then, after a few minutes of modeling the words, you can have the class act them out. It’s a fun way to provide movement and practice new words.
4. Teach high-frequency verbs
This is a big one, in my opinion! We obviously have our set verbs we teach in a particular unit, because it just makes sense to teach students verbs in context as they apply to our units. However, I’ve noticed that in every textbook I ever had, students were introduced to the passé composé of certain verbs before they even learned them in the present tense. Does that make sense? I’ve never thought so!
Don’t wait to teach them formally! Just introduce them to the first-person conjugations so they can say things like “Je peux,” or “Je veux” early on. Students can use the target language to communicate way before they formally learn all the conjugations.
5. Focus on comprehension
They will move to production with time. By hearing and seeing French, they will move from comprehension to production. Of course they will produce basic sentences using the vocabulary you are teaching, but don’t be too worried about long, perfect sentences. That comes with time.
It can seem scary to start teaching in the target language, but you don’t have to be perfect at it. Adding a little bit at a time will get you there, and your students will really benefit from it!