World Language Students’ Perceptions about Class

While world language teachers may have a certain perception of their courses such as that their students are learning to communicate in the language, students may have a very different perception. College students who were in a beginning level Spanish class that did about fifteen percent of each class in student-to-student conversation were asked at the end of the semester for their suggestions on how to redesign the class in any way they wanted.

Their comments reveal their perceptions of the class:
– At the start of each unit, give the students a packet of all the vocabulary and grammar.
– Instead of having students talk with partners, spend more time covering the textbook information.
– Go over the Spanish words and translations at the end of each class.

Even though the students were in a class that devoted much time to conversations, they still perceived the class as a basic vocabulary, grammar and textbook language class. They did not seem to value conversation in the world language.

What perception do your students have about your world language class?

An activity that can help your students move toward focusing more on communicating in the language is Spanish Friend /Family Member Detailed Description – Partner Talk    Describe a person using guided supplied vocabulary . A packet of 13 beginning student Spanish activities speaking activities about family and friends



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.

Increase World Language Comprehensible Input through Gestures

World language teachers want to immerse their students in the target language. One technique to keep the class in the target language is through gestures that indicate the meaning of a word or sentence. As the teacher introduces a new word, he/she does a gesture to help the students understand the meaning of the world. A good gesture makes the meaning clear to the students and helps students to remember the word  since the gesture visualizes the meaning.  For example, one sign for “separated” as in
“My father and mother are separated” is both hands in fists with the knuckles touching, lift up the thumbs and quickly spread the hands apart ; students understand “separated” instantly.  Likewise, as a teacher tells a story and comes upon a new word, the teacher gestures the meaning of the world.  Additionally, as students talk in the language, they may not remember a world and the teacher can do the gesture to help them remember the word.  Gestures can help clarify grammar such as when the teacher does a flip of the hair to indicate a feminine ending after the student uses an incorrect masculine ending.  Gestures help the class stay in the target language.

The teacher has several options for gestures:
1) Create his/ her own gestures to convey the meaning of words or sentences.
2) Use the gestures from a program such as the  Accelerated Integatived Method (AIM)
3) Use TPR gestures
4) Use ASL (American Sign Language) signs such as from the Signing Savvy webiste.
5) Use sign gestures from the target language country by searching for “sign dictionary online” +country such as this one for Spanish teachers  from Ecuador 

How do you use gestures to help your students have more comprehensible input in the  class?

At,  I have 5 any language  picture speaking activities and 25+ ready-to-use Spanish structured speaking activities  for beginning students (including 5 Can-Do ones); and numerous students-as-investigators cultural activities(modern language culture).  At, I have two ebooks, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies and 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities (mainly speaking and culture). At, I have a book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment.

Real Life Conversations in World Language, Not Textbook Topic Conversations

World language textbooks do not have real life conversation in any meaningful order. For example, in a college textbook the food unit and the question “How much does it cost?” are in the last chapter covered in the semester. Students wait for over four months to learn the foods and how to say “How much does it cost?”  However, if a person actually went to a world language country that person would have to use food vocabulary and the question “How much does it cost?”  on the first day!  A textbook topic such as “the classroom” is not critical to a real life conversation and yet is is often a very early chapter in many tesxtbooks.  Many textbooks use  topics that do not produce real life common language conversation; these textbooks prevent students from being able to have a realistic conversation with someone outside the classroom.

Do your students learn critical vocabulary for real-life conversations or do they learn vocabulary for classroom based conversations?

At,  I have  5 any language  picture speaking activities and 25+ ready-to-use Spanish structured speaking activities (including 5 Can-Do ones) for beginning students; and numerous students-as-investigators cultural activities(modern language culture).  At, I have two ebooks, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies and 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities (mainly speaking and culture).At, I have a book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment.

World Language High Frequency Vocabulary For Student High Use

If world language teachers teach their students high-frequency (or high-use)  words, then the students will be able to communicate sooner and better.  There are lists of  the 100 most common words for any language and teachers can check what vocabulary they teach against this list. They might even look at the bigger 1,000 most common words. If the vocablary does not appear on the list, then probably it is not  worth teaching since the word has such a low level of use. Often thematic units in a textbook present vocabulary that is not high-frequency. For example, students may never use the word “chalk”  or “chalkboard” outside of the classroom but they certain will use words like class vocabulary such as “table” ,  “chair”, and  “wall”.  All of these words are used in many other settings such as “home”, “restaurant”, and  “buildings”.   When world language teachers teach high-frequency words, the students learn words that they would normally use in a conversation.  These high-frequency words are repeated often in normal conversations.

So far in my first Spanish unit, I have covered 35 of the top 100 words. I am replanning my second unit to incoporate more of the top 100 and some of the top 200 words so that my students can communicate in the world language with essential words. I want students to spend their time in learning critical vocabulary.

How high-frequency are the world language vocabulary you teach?

At,  I have  5 any language  picture speaking activities and 25+ ready-to-use Spanish structured speaking activities (including 5 Can-Do ones) for beginning students; and numerous students-as-investigators cultural activities(modern language culture).   At, I have two ebooks, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies and 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities (mainly speaking and culture).At, I have a book,  Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment.


World Language Fantastic 40 Minutes: From Translation to Communication

Students are in a world  language class for forty minutes five times a week or  40 minutes x 5 days = 200 minutes; 200 minutes/ 60 minutes in an hour  = 3.33 hours a school week.  These fantastic forty minutes are the only time that the world  language students can listen to their teachers speak the target language and react to the teachers and the only time the students can communicate in the target language and have other students react. During a five day school week of 120 hours (5 day x 24 hours), the students spend only 2.75% of their time in world language class. That extremely small number means that world language teachers have to maximize communication time in the classroom.

How much target language do your students hear during the Fantastic 40?  How much target language do your students speak during the Fantastic 40?  Could someone mistake your modern language class for an English class due to the large amount of English being spoken?

When world language teachers move from translation activities to communication activities, they move closer to the language goal of producing students who can communicate. Instead of having students play a translation game (one students holds up a card with English on one side and Spanish on the other while the partner says the Spanish for the English),  students can say basic sentences. For colors, the students can say the colors of the objects in the class such as “The door is brown.” or they can change it into a question activity such as “The door is brown, right?” or “Is the door brown?”  The teacher provides the sentence structure and then the students create the sentences that their partner answers/responds to. The students use the colors to describe or ask about their class; they communicate basic information. They use the colors for communication instead of for translation games.

How much world language do you use during the Fantastic 40 in you class?  How much do the students use? Do they use words for communication instead of translation?

At,  I have  5 any language  picture speaking activities; 25+ ready-to-use Spanish structured speaking activities (including 5 Can-Do ones) for beginning students; and numerous Spanish students-as-investigators cultural activities.

At, I have two ebooks, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies and 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities (mainly speaking and culture).,

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


Increase Modern Language Learning Time: Move beyond Translation

Translation. Teachers may spend class time in having students “learn” vocabulary by doing translation activities such as saying flashcards in pairs, running up to the board to write the modern language word for the said English word, playing flyswatter to say the modern language word for an English word card before the other students in their group, etc. Often these games take ten minutes or more.

Language Use. When teachers move from translation to language use, students quickly solidify their learning in the target language. A teacher may introduce classroom vocabulary by showing a picture of the word and the modern language word under it. (see a picture of a chair, see the modern language word for chair, and hear and say the modern language word for chair). After the introduction to the words, the teacher moves to asking target language questions that incorporate the learned vocabulary by either using different pictures or real objects. “Is this a chair?” as the teacher points to a classroom chair, “Is the chalkboard red?”, and “Does John have two notebooks?” as the teacher holds up John’s notebook. The teacher watches as students signal thumbs up for “yes” or thumbs down for “no”. Then the teacher has the students say their own sentences to a partner such as “The door is brown”, “There are three windows”and “Ana has a pink backpack.” The teacher can provide a sample sentence to help students with each of the sentence structures if they need the scaffolding. Students can make up some true statements and some false statements and their partners tell if each  statement is true or false.

In the translation exercise, students spend ten minutes in going from English to the modern language words. They never move beyond vocabulary translation. In the second language use exercise in the same ten minutes, the students did not translate. They heard the new vocabulary in meaningful statements in a realistic situation. They actually said basic sentences with the new vocabulary. The second teacher has gained much time in the classroom since students use the new vocabulary to communicate.

At,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking for beginning students. Students work in pairs to communicate and they usually assess each other in a formative assessment manner.

My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities,