Every now and again on Facebook groups such as Global Innovative Language Teachers, Secondary MFL Matters and Secondary MFL in Wales, a discussion will arise surrounding the use of target language. Almost all responses advocate regular use of the target language. My first Head of Department would emphasise how target language use needed to be “judicious”. By that he meant appropriate to the group and well-thought out by the teacher. A brief search of the aforementioned Facebook groups suggests anything in the region of 70-80% of teacher talk should be in the target language. Some teachers also make the point that any target language in class needs to be comprehensible to the majority of students. This is illustrated most clearly by a story Rachel Hawkes tells of how a student developed the misconception that everything had to be done in ten days. The teacher in her story was checking her class had understood tasks by using the Spanish phrase: “entendéis.”
Almost every MFL blog out there has a post on target language so here is a small selection for your perusal.
You may well ask why I’m writing a post on target language use if it has been done already. I wondered that for a while too! This post is very much about developing teacher target language use. This post is primarily for three types of people.
- PGCE trainees and NQTs getting to grips with using the TL in the classroom.
- Experienced teachers teaching another language, with which they are less familiar.
- Teachers who wish to increase their TL use.
This post draws on some experiences that I have had over the years. I was once a PGCE trainee and an NQT. I have had to teach a third language. There have also been times where the amount of target language has dropped with a particular group and I have needed to raise it. Here are some ways to get started:
Script the lesson
On my PGCE, I remember filling out 2-3 page lesson plans detailing all the things I was going to do. Thankfully, my plans are shorter now.
Scripting interactions that I intend to have with a class can bring about some real improvements in TL use. For a while I had to teach my weakest language (French). To ensure that the students were getting a decent diet of TL, some scripting was necessary. By scripting the various aspects of the lesson: welcoming, admin (books out etc), instructions for activities, vocabulary to use during activities and finishing the lesson, I was able to give them that.
This approach does mean more work and is not always practical to do every lesson. However, I think it pays off. Over time the students grow accustomed to it and it becomes habitual for you. It can have a beneficial effect in your strongest language too. You may find that you can condense instructions, deliver more comprehensible input and also better integrate the language that students have learnt recently into your teaching.
I was told by my previous Head of Department that a teacher he worked with had a yellow box painted on the floor of their classroom. When in the yellow box, she would only speak TL . Students realised that they needed to listen carefully when the teacher was in that position in the room as that is where instructions came from. My former Head of Department said that teacher was one of the best at using the TL in a classroom that he had ever seen. Your site team, SLT, caretaker or cleaner may have issues with this approach, masking tape may suffice!
Count the instances.
This is exactly what it says. Count the instances where you use target language and when you use English. If the emerging picture is more favourable towards target language then great, aim to build on it! If not, then there is work to do! If you are a PGCE trainee or NQT, a mentor could do this for you. They could also look at the times English was used and suggest some changes to make.
Ask for help.
When teaching French, I was fortunate to have two very supportive colleagues who would occasionally help me out with pronunciation, words I was unfamiliar with or aspects of French culture. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, after all it means the students benefit! Another way to develop is a non-judgemental peer-observation Could an experienced colleague watch part of your lesson and offer some feedback on your pronunciation or TL phrases you could use?
Have a list
For a while I had a list of TL phrases in my weakest language stuck by my desk. The textbook also had a great list in the back of the book! Pick a new phrase or two you would like to use. Try and get it into every lesson over a two or three week period. You could put them at the top of a planner page for a week or so and try to use them.
Listening activities traditionally come from textbooks but there is nothing to stop you devising your own. It increases the amount of TL the pupils hear from you. It is great pronunciation practice if you’re teaching a language you are less familiar with. You can then pitch the listening at an appropriate pace. You are free to remove the asinine additions where the people on the recording share a normally unfunny joke and your class are wondering: “what just happened?!”
Like any aspect of teaching, target language use can be improved. Forming habits is tough (as anyone who has started using a gym will know). It takes time. Jason Selk from Forbes makes the point that Serena Williams did not stop practising her serve after 21 days, assuming she had it cracked. She kept going and still does. It is the same with us. Teaching is a craft and to be a master of that craft takes time and deliberate practice. Hopefully the ideas above play a small part in helping you develop, refine and improve your teaching.