ACTFL Survival Spanish: How to Get There?

Modern language teachers want their students to get to the survival level in which the students can do everyday tasks  in the target language such as to order a meal,  find out a bus’ arrival time, and tell a doctor about a pain. These survival tasks can be categorized by their language function such as  to order, to ask about, and  to tell about.  They can also be categorized by their topic (food, transportation and medical). This level represent ACTFL’s Intermediate level.

Which survival skills do our students have after a year? Can they tell personal identification information?  According to New York State Languages Other than English Check Point A  students  should be able to give the following personal identification for these categories  (Biographical – age, nationality, address, phone number, occupation, place of birth; Physical – height, weight, body description, hair color; and Psychological – character, personality, likes and dislikes, and interests)

It is not enough that our student cover the book’s chapters with these survival topics; our goal is for the students to be able to communicate on these topics.  I  believe that short communication exercises are the key. I like to use a variation of speed dating where students form two rows facing each other. Each student receives a card with a common question about one of the survival skills. He/She asks his / her partner the question.  The asking student listens to the answer and compares it to the sample written answer on the card. The asking student can help the answering student if he/she cannot answer the question.Then the students switch the role with the other student asking a question. The process continues. The teacher indicates when the student in the left  row move up one  person so that they have a new partner. They start asking their question.

I have several of these activities for Spanish such as Spanish Leisure -Sports Modified Speed Dating Whole Class Speaking,   and Spanish AR Verbs Modified Speed Dating Whole Class Speaking and Spanish Questions Modified Speed Dating Whole Class Speaking

So how do you involve your students in developing their survival language skills?

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at can instantly use these many activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices

I have developed 5 Visual activities/games  for any modern language (no words) and have developed 27 Spanish activities for students to begin to express themselves in the modern language and to move toward spontaneous speaking Teacherspayteachers:

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at

Do We Teach Modern Language Survival Skills?

For modern language teachers, an essential question is “What would your students do if they were suddenly transported to the target language area?” This question leads to other questions: “Would they be willing to talk to native speakers?… Would they be able to communicate their basic needs for survival?…Would they be able to communicate personal things to the native speaker and ask the native speaker about personal things?”

A follow up question is “How well do we prepare our students to communicate in the target language?” Do we truly teach them survival skills? An exchange student emailed his mother that he had not learned how to say “Where is the bathroom?” so that was the first thing he looked up on his computer when he got to the target language country.  Another student commented that she wished her teacher had spent more than two minutes on “turn right.. turn left..go straight..two blocks” so that she could follow map directions.

How well can your students communicate their basic survival needs?

My e-book, 90 Mobile Learning Mobile Learning Activities, promotes language communication through fourteen different categories of easy-to-implement  mobile activities.

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (24+) includes Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Speaking Mats ( Student can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas in pairs or small group), Modified Speed Dating (Students ask their  partners one question from a card-whole class), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:

At the same site, I have a series of modern language visual stories with no words (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students.  These can be used in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at