90% Target Language in the Classroom: Yes we can!

Jean LeLoup, United States Air Force Academy & FLTEACH
Mark K. Warford, Buffalo State College
Robert Ponterio, SUNY Cortland & FLTEACH

ACTFL Convention, Denver, CO, 18 November 2011

To live and work in a global environment,
students need to develop strong target language
(TL) communication skills. Presenters will
address the issue of staying in the TL for at least
90% of class time, as recommended by ACTFL,
providing a rationale, “how-to” suggestions, and
practice for participants.


1. Introductions

Who we are, where we work, what we do...


2. What are the issues we will be addressing in the session?

a. What constitutes a 'principled' position on classroom code-switching (drawing from the latest research and standards)?

b. Promoting change at the departmental/school level - both in K-12 and higher ed.

c. Helping pre-service/inservice teachers to be knowledgeable, capable, and committed with regard to teaching in the L2 (both in course AND practicum work).

d. Confronting areas of classroom discourse that gravitate toward L1 (i.e. management, culture, grammar).


3. Research, Standards and Teaching in L2: Toward a Principled Perspective

a. Link to the PPT overview

b. bibliography

c. ACTFL President’s message

d. Comparison of teaching standards documents

e. FL Teacher Talk Survey/Inventory


4. Promoting change at the departmental/school level

a. The ACTFL position statement should server to raise consciousness about the role of the target language in our classrooms.

"...use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction..."
ACTFL's position statement can be used by FL teacher's to authoritatively support their use of the TL in class in situations where there is resistance from students, parents, administrators or colleagues.

Suggested strategies:

  1. provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals;
  2. make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support;
  3. conduct comprehension checks to ensure understanding;
  4. negotiate meaning with students and encourage negotiation among students;
  5. elicit talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time;
  6. encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language;
  7. teach students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when faced with comprehension difficulties; and
  8. offer feedback to assist and improve students’ ability to interact orally in the target language.

ACTFL Position Statement on Use of the Target Language

Copy on the ACTFL site:

b. Agreeing to a department policy while respecting those who disagree

1. Adopt a departmental statement that we as a faculty agree with & support the ACTFL position statement. It is a goal to use the TL in the classroom as much as possible, at least 90%.

2. Reassure faculty that we intend to be flexible and to respect the freedom of individual faculty to achieve the language learning goals for our students. We don't expect that simply adopting this position will change the way faculty are teaching, but we do want to encourage maximizing TL use by faculty in the classroom, and adopting this as a basic principle is a good first step. We DO believe that we are in the business of teaching students to communicate in the TL. Development of proficiency is our primary objective.

3. Concerns voiced by some faculty - These are serious challenges based on experience in real-life classroom settings. We need to acknowledge these important issues and never dismiss faculty concerns. In implementing a 90% target language policy, we should provide techniques and training that support faculty in overcoming these challenges.

1. It's too hard. My students won't understand.
2. I have to explain grammar in English.
3. I have to explain the instructions for the activities in English.
4. I have to talk about the culture in English because it is too complicated in the TL.
5. Will this be used against me when student complain or fail?
6. It's artificial to speak to English speakers in the TL.
7. I have to do classroom management in English.
8. If I give the HW in the TL, they won't do it and just say they didn't understand.
9. They aren't going to learn the language anyway.

c. Implementing change: assessing students (opi) & teachers (evaluations)

1. Pre-service teachers are now expected to meet the goal of Advanced-Low OPI score. How will we get them there? Curricular changes. More emphasis on students using the TL, assessing oral skills at advanced levels. Recognize language skill by awarding credit.

2. Course-Teacher Evaluations in our department:

old - Target language is used at an appropriate level in this course.
new - Target language is used at least 90% of the time in this course.

d. Measurement of time in TL? How do we know? How subjective is this? Should we verify? Should we require verification? (New hires, class observations and promotion or reappointment...)


5. Preparing pre-service teachers to be knowledgeable, capable and committed with regard to teaching in the L2:

a. Perpetuating the system . . . . Teachers teach how they were taught.

b. TL use: front and center in the FL methods class.

i. Where, if at all, is this addressed?
ii. How can we stress TL use as a crucial topic?

c. Not preaching to the choir

i. Convincing preservice teachers of the necessity of TL use

a. Research base
b. ACTFL Position Statement, 2010
c. L2 Advocacy Kit: Buffalo State College

ii. Providing good role models – in our colleagues and ourselves

iii. Demonstrations: Annenberg Foundation videos "Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices"

Sample French Lesson "Mapping Planet Earth" (n.b. 4:33-4:55 and 6:25-7:03 minutes): http://www.learner.org/libraries/tfl/french/appel/analyze.html

d. Addressing TL competence

i. Lack of competence and confidence in both preservice and inservice teachers

ii. What to do:

a. Inservice: Immersion opportunities, study/travel abroad in non-teaching periods, make a concerted effort to improve TL competence

b. Preservice: structured program of TL competence evaluation -> in order to reach NCATE/ACTFL mandated Advanced-Low Proficiency in speaking, at the very least

e. Example programs that monitor TL proficiency

i. Indiana University of PA (Glisan)

a. IUP 3-step process

b. IUP competencies

ii. Ashland University, OH (Schmidt-Rinehart)

a. Periodic and systematic language proficiency reviews
b. Students take OPI and WPT; need Advanced-low and they are getting it; In Ohio it is Intermediate-high for licensure.

f. Perception of TL use in the classroom

i. Always higher than reality
ii. Seek to verify what you think is happening
iii. Promoting professional cultures through the L2


6. Confronting areas of classroom discourse that gravitate toward L1:

a. FEAR Factor -> NNSs & NSs

b. Activities

1. Bonjour - starting from scratch (model, body language, props)

2. Sample textbook activity (model behavior, negotiate meaning)

a. Sample 1: Motifs activity (Jansma/Kassen, Heinle)

b. Sample 2: Motifs reading (Jansma Kassen, Heinle)

3. Working with authentic text - Reprendre c'est voler (props, negotiation of meaning, role play)
    (technical lessons: http://web.cortland.edu/flteach/mm-course/

4. Passé composé (provide visual support, strategies for requesting clarification & assistance)

5. Technology support - French weather example TF1 (visual support, comprehension checks, VLC to slow)
    (Free VLC video player with speed controls & bookmarks: http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

6. ¡Anda! Los mejores y los peores
    (model behavior, negotiate meaning, extend the conversation)

7. Classroom routines

8. Addressing grammar: with cognates, PACE model

9. “So you say” – what some colleagues do

10. Creating an "English Zone" (outside the room, English sombrero, taped off area, anglais/français sign)

11. Some teachers have an "All L2" policy for students in the classroom, but others allow students to to use English if they need to (this is natural), while encouraging a shift to L2 over time. This choice can depend on what works best in your particular setting with your particular students. But any L1 use can lead to a slippery slope, so be careful and attentive to the % of L1. We tend to overestimate how much L2 we are using.

12. Some students will automatically translate everything from L2 to L1. For them, this is natural; a monolingual may think that "understanding" L2 means translating to L1. Learning to function in L2 only takes time. Encourage them to do this under their breath if they have to "translate", but also help them see that if they "can" translate, they really don't have to do so.

13. If some students are just not getting something, let the students who do understand help them out instead of having the teacher fall back to English to translate or explain.

14. Use the 10% L1 time when an explanation is really needed for something that can't be done in the TL at the class level. Summary of a grammar rule, explanation of why we are doing an activity a particular way, higher level cultural perspective.



7. Final points / questions / experiences / comments: