World Language: Going from Learning About to Communicating With People

A previous blog , briefly described three levels of culture.  This blog expands on the critical difference between the first two levels.

The first level, learning about another country/culture, most often involves learning the facts about the country such as its currency, location, famous landmarks, etc. According to the Iceberg concept of culture, this level contains the mostly easily recognized things in the culture. This level can be devoid of seeing people of the country; the pictures usually focus more on famous monuments, mountain ranges, etc. Also, this level contains a very low emotional response. Students do not end up feeling more positive about the country/culture after learning the facts about the country such the population, the name of the capital, etc. Furthermore, the country view usually comes from an outsider’s view of the country. Often, the teacher or a web-site of someone who visited the country provides the information. Equally important, culture is seen as isolated pieces of information such as learning about the flag, then the currency, etc.

The second level of communicating with a person or persons from the country changes many aspects. Students actually interact with a person or people from the culture. Although students can do email and tweet exchanges, the most common form of communicating is a video chat. The students see what the people of another country look like, what they wear, what they drink,  where they study, etc. The students move from media stereotypes to contact with actual people of that culture. This level helps students to feel more positive about the people of the other culture. For example, when students do a “My Class/ Your Class” video conference, the students see many similarities between the two countries. Likewise, the students hear information from people who realistically know about the culture; the people from that country have an insider’s view. Students from another country can tell their  Saturday activities. In addition, the native speakers integrate aspects of culture; for example, they combine foods with family traditions.

At what level of culture are your students?

There are many cultural activities in the eboook 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities. For cultural activities that actively involve world language students go to and look under culture.

World Language Teachers Still Ingrained in Grammar Translation

Burke’s “Rituals and Beliefs Ingrained in World Language Pedagogoy: Defining Deep Structure and Conventional Wisdom” explains how grammar-translation is part of the deep structure and conventional wisdom of modern day world language teachers (2011,

Grammar-translation teachers divided language into listening, speaking, reading, and writing; they do not see language as integrated. Culture, if included, is an add-on. Furthermore, English is the predominant language of instruction. The purpose of language instruction is the learning of vocabulary and grammar.

1. Translation

– When teachers introduce a new unit, they distribute word lists or refer students to a textbook page with the words translated.

– Teachers review vocabulary through drill practices and games. The games focus on the discrete meaning of the words. The only context is that they are from the same list.

– Students are to learn a set number of words each unit, Their teachers have the students pratice with the words so that the students can cover the unit, not so the students will be able to communicate with the words.

2. Grammar Practice

– Most teacher assign activities out of textbook or make up grammar activities.

– Teachers ask questions to see if the students know the correct forms; they correct the students.

– Students study the language through translation and verb conjugations.

– Teachers emphasize a sentence-level structure with explicit attention to forms.

– The grammar activities have no personal meaning to the students.

– Attempts to produce communication are absent

3. Non-contextual explicit grammar teaching

– Teachers give explicit instruction on forms and the teacher frequently test the forms through quizzes, online and paper exercises, and tests.

– Teachers usually use English during grammar lessons and students usually ask questions in English.

– Numerous explanations of grammar rules with many exceptions and irregularities are explained in grammatical terms. Students learn many different tenses.

– Teachers have the goal of grammatical mastery for their students. One of the teachers’ primary goals is for the students to use grammar correctly

– Comparisons are made to the structure of English sentences.

Are you a grammar-translation teacher? Or a communicative teacher?  contains many communication activities for beginning to advanced students; they have high structure to help students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

The Search for Meaning as the Goal of the World Language Class

Viktor Frankl’s logotheraphy asserts that the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans ( A Times Article reports a study in which 50% of the workers lacked meaning in their work. Of those who found meaning they were three times more likely to stay in that job, had 1.7 times more job satisfaction, and 1.4 times more engaged than others ( Likewise, Van Patten (1996) asserts that learners process input for meaning before form; they process the “what” before the “how said” ( ACTFL in its 2015 World Readiness Standards for Modern Languages for Interpersonal Communication states “Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions” (

How do we help our students focus on meaning in the world language classroom? Do our students share personal information? Can they tell about their relationship with others? Can they react when other students or the teacher share personal information? Can our students express their feelings and opinions about a situation? Can they supply reasons for their opinions? Can they express their future aspirations?

This search for meaning runs contrary to the students reading about some fictional Bob and Jane characters in their textbook or in an oral story. Students search for meaning in their own lives. Students want to find meaning about who they are, how they fit into their lives, and what they want to do. The more we help them talk about their their own lives, families, preferences, and situations, the more they can establish their own meaning in life.

Since logotheraphy emphasizes the drive for personal meaning, how do world language teachers provide situations to help their students find meaning?

There are many pair language activities at for beginning to advanced students to express their opinons and preferences. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

World Language and Mobile Learning Apps (Technology)

Do world language students use technology? Do teachers have their students use technology just for drill and practice for vocabulary and grammar?

Students do not need to have fifty, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten apps. Technology is not about collecting apps but about improving student learning through apps. Any app should help the students to reach the higher levels of language use.

Students can use laptops and mobile devices to hear authentic language, read authentic texts, send audio and text messages to native speakers and video chat with native speakers. Technology can bring up-to-the-moment culture of the target language area directly to the students.

The language learners can use their tablet or phone to take pictures of their family, their house,or their outside events so that they can talk about their own lives in class.

Technology should promote language communication (Tuttle, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, 2013)

How do you use technology in your world language classroom?

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

Equal distribution of questions for world language students

Do world language teachers engage all students equally? Do they have an equitable distribution of questions for all students as indicated in the Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement model? The research shows that teachers consistently call on those students with higher ability more often than students of lower ability. (Teacher Expectations for Student Achievement: TESA and GESA, Those students who do not get called on as often feel inferior to the other students. Often those of lower ability need as much if not more teacher time as students of higher ability.

Teachers can assess if they do equitable distribution by using a paper or online seating chart. Each time they call on a student, the teachers record a slash for that student. At the end of the class, they can analyze if they did call on all students equally. Teachers may ask a colleague to do this observation as teachers do in the TESA model.

Teachers who want to do equitable distribution can use several techniques. In one technique, they use their seating chart. They may start on the left side from the back to front, go on to the next row from back to front, until they have called on all students. Likewise, teachers can write the students’ names on 3×5 cards, mix up the cards, and then call on students based on the card. The teachers do not call on any student a second time until they have called all students. When the teachers have gone through all the cards once, they mix up the cards and continue to ask students questions.

Teachers can vary the type of questions asked to students: yes-no (Do you eat pizza?); either or (Do you drink soda or water?); factual (When do you eat supper?); or evaluation (Why do you eat at Roberto’s?). Teachers can insure that all students can be successful in answering questions by modifying the type of question.

Although technically not equitable distribution by the teacher, simultaneous pair work ensures that all students get equal opportunities to participate.

How do you guarantee equal distribution of questions to all your world language students?

There are many pair language activities at for beginning to advanced students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

A Sentence a Day For Improved World Language Communication

Every class world language teachers can teach their students at least one different sentence or question that the students will need to carry on a meaningful conversation. The teachers move the students beyond learning vocabulary lists to learning a critical statement or question. The teachers select sentences for the meaning that they convey, not for the grammar or for the specific vocabulary. The world language teachers select sentences that have high frequency in the language. and are of high interest to the students. These sentences or questions will be ones that can be easily modified such as “Where is the restaurant?”; students can easily substitute any location word for the word “restaurant”. If the teachers teach a question, then they will also teach at least one typical answer such as “The restaurant is on Main Street.”

The critical sentence may or may not be in the present textbook unit. For example, during a food unit, teachers may teach the statement of “I like hamburgers.” or the question of “What do you want to eat?” and a typical response of “I want to eat pizza.” Even if the food unit does not involve prices, the teachers may include “How much does the sandwich cost?” since it is a common question associated with eating out. Likewise, the teachers may teach “Do you cook much?” and “Yes, I do cook much.”

Over the school year, their students will have learned one hundred and eighty critical different sentences or questions. Their students can have an in-depth conversation about many topics with another person.

Do your students learn at least one new and different sentence or question each day? has many activities that allow beginning and advanced students to say sentences and ask questions. There are activities for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

Final Modern Language Exams – What real speaking goal?

After I gave a  recent presentation, a teacher talked to me about her June final which the department chair made up.  This teacher stressed that she believes in communication and she wants to prepare her students to communicate with people from the target language.

However, the department final  has a speaking component in which students wrote out a conversation, memorized the conversation, and said the memorized lines. She remembers that last year during the final speaking her students made comments to their partners such as “I can’t remember what we wrote,”  “Say your lines,” and “What comes next?”  All those comments reinforced that the final was not a speaking final but a recital or saying of memorized lines. It had nothing to do with the give and take of a real life conversation.

She remembers that no student displayed any emotion  while speaking except for stress and frustration during the conversation even though they said happy lines (I really like to …) and sad lines (I am sorry). They mechanically delivered their memorized conversation.

She said that the speaking final was so different than the real life conversations her students had in her beginning level class. Often when her students talked about a situation, the students would laugh or smile (That’s my favorite show, too); they would ask more in-depth questions as they heard an answer that interested them (Why do you like the show?)

One of many possibilities is to move to final like a  modified OPI in which someone asks students some general questions and some probing questions.  Another possibility is for two students to spontaneously talk about a previously unknown topic or situation.

What does your speaking final show about your real goals for your students speaking in a world language? has many activities that allow students to interact in the language.

At, I have a book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment.