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.


40 Minutes: How much modern language learning?

Each of us have a class period with our students each day.  How much of those forty minutes contributes to  language learning?  To make the most of the forty minutes, we need to be effective and efficient in our class.

How much time do we need to spend on any particular concept before the students learn it? If we have  taught the meanings of adjectives through showing students the colors and showing them the target language word for each, how much practice do they need before they solidify the meaning of the color?  As we say the color, they  point to anything that color in the classroom (one minute). As we point to things in the room, they say the colors (one minute).  As their partners point to things in the classroom, they say the color (one minute). As they point to things, their partner says the color word (one minute).  After those four minutes of practicing with those words, we move on to having the students communicate using those colors; they ask their partner (Do you have a red pen?  Do you have a brown backpack?  Is the door brown?  Is the wall red?) for about two minutes and their partners answer; then they answer for their partners’ questions for two minutes. We have had the students review the colors in several different ways. We have spent about eight minutes on colors in the class.

The goal is always to quickly move from pure vocabulary to using the words in meaningful sentences. The most time with any vocabulary item should be in communicating ideas. How much time do you spend in vocabulary identification/translation as opposed to the students using the vocabulary in sentences or questions?
However, we might decide to turn this into a vocabulary game. We give each student  a vocabulary card with the color written in the target language on one side and the English on the other. Each student has to go to another student and say the modern language color word for the English written  color. They do this until they have interacted with all the other  students.  By the time we give each student a card, explain what  to, have them play the game, and collect the cards we may have spent eight minutes.

As a follow up, we get students into teams, we say a color in English and they race up to the board to write the color in the modern language before the other team. We do this for eight minutes.

Let’s compare the two ways of learning colors. In the second way, the students have practiced identifying colors in one way. They have only focused on color  word translation. The activities have taken sixteen minutes. However, in the first activity, they have learned the color words in context and used the color words in questions and answers.These first activities have taken eight minutes. They take half the time of the second activities and produce meaningful communication. Which of the two  is an effective and efficient way of learning color words?  How can you double your classroom time by being effective and efficient in your class?

How do you effectively and efficiently help students learn to communicate when you teach vocabulary?

To help your beginning and more advanced students move toward spontaneous speaking, I have developed 5 Visual activities/games  for any modern language (no words) and have developed 28 Spanish activities for students.  I am developing activities based on the Can-Do Statements. Teacherspayteachers:

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at can instantly use these many communication and cultural activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

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