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.

Polyglot Benny Lewis’ advice on learning languages

Bennie Lewis, the Irish polygot,  speaks over 12 languages. He did not start his language learning until he was 21.

When he was in Spain, he took a language courese and it did not work. He tried Spansih language books and that did not work;he  tried software and DVDs and that did not work; he tried to read a book in Spanish and that did not work. After 6 months living in Spain, he could not speak Spanish. He began to speak it and use it all the time and he became fluent.

He states several reasons for not learning a language and why these are not true

—  Don’t have the words- if learning a Romance language, then 10,000 words from English are similar; figure out how to say things. Think of a word that has a cognate: country to nation (nación) and come in to enter (entrar in Spanish). Use Cognates.  Even in a non Romance language use brand name or technology – coca cola,  ipad.

— Can’t learn the vocabulary. Learn  vocabularythrough association- make it more fun – playa = beach in Spanish ( think of a player walking down a beach).

— Don’t know the grammar. Most of language learning in school is grammar, Grammar is a list of rules, it is not language, Language is a means of communication,  More effective is to embrace speaking and speaking wrongly. Speak with many mistakes a day, 100. Start with Tarzan like speak.People will understand you in broken language. After you can speak, then go back and learn the grammar.

— Will make mistakes. People feel like they’re not allowed to use the language, to speak it, unless every conjugation is perfect, every pronunciation is right, they know a thousand words, or whatever it is. They feel they need to know it perfect, and that is a mistake because a language is not like geography or history, a list of facts that you need to cram into your brain. It’s a means of communication, so you can’t study it for five years and then suddenly be able to speak it. You have to be speaking it throughout the entire process. It is a mistake to not be okay with making mistakes.

— Will frustrate the listener. It does not work like that. Frustration over not speaking language is the greater frustration. All over the world people are over joyed that you are speaking their language, they encourage you even though your grammar is bad.

Live the language, it is not locking yourself away with a dusty old grammar book, It is about getting out there and using the language..

Summarized from the following sites:

TEDxSanAntonio – Benny Lewis – Fluent in Three Months – Rapid Language Hacking

Benny encouraging language learners on RTE’s The Saturday Night Show


Benny Lewis’website

How does your class encourage language learners to communicate in their world language?

Many activities to get your students actively using the language in beginning levels at and a list of mobile speaking activities at

Unrealistic Expectation for Students’ Grammatical Perfection in Modern Language

In addition to teaching college Spanish, I also teach a college English course, Writing Essays Through Literature.  My literature is all Hispanic-translated literature. My English students are native USA citizens.  They have lived in an English-speaking environment all their lives.  They have gone through twelve years of school in which all their classes were conducted in English. They have had twelve years of English classes. My students are at least 18 years old.  However, they still make many English grammar mistakes in their writing such  as subject -verb agreement,  sentences without verbs, incorrect past tense forms, pronoun errors, etc.

Based on my English teaching experience with native English speakers and their mistakes in their native language, I realize that  we modern language teachers cannot expect our students in the modern language to be grammatically perfect no matter what their level.  Even four years of a language course is not equivalent to eighteen years in the native language!

We can change our focus from grammar perfection to communicating various language functions. Knowing how much something costs is much more important to daily communication  than knowing the present progressive irregulars verbs. Being able to ask directions is more essential language skill than knowing each stem changing verb. Let’s ask ourselves “What are the most critical language communication functions to survive and communicate in the language?” and then change our class time from a major focus on grammar  perfection to a major focus on  language functions as indicated in the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements

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 for students to don on their smartphone or tablet,


Communicative or Grammar Textbook Focus: Look at the Grammar

A test of a modern language textbook’s communicative ability is to look at what the book has students do with the grammar after the textbook presentation of the grammar point. For example a Spanish textbook may supply the forms of the verb ser and then give the rules for using ser. The book may give one or two examples of origin such as “I am from Argentina.” Or they make have a sentence or two example to show that ser is used with occupations such as “Sr. Ríos es dentista”. The book may explain ser being used for identification with a sentence such as “It is a backpack.

Does the book provide the modern language students with enough vocabulary to be able to talk about themselves, family or friends using the verb? Does the textbook provide the critical questions that students might ask using that verb? For example, does it provide the students with “Where are you from?” for origin? Do it provide the question “What is this?” so students can ask the question of identifying something? Furthermore, does the book give numerous countries so students can tell what country they, their parents or grandparents are from so they can realistically answer the question? For occupations, does the book provide numerous occupations so the students can say the actual occupation of family and friends? For identification, do the students have a list of classroom objects so when someone says “What is this?” they can respond, “It is a book”? with things they do see in the classroom?

If the textbook does not supply essential questions or realistic answers for the modern language students to apply the grammar to talk about their own lives or the lives of family and friends, then the book’s focus is grammar, not communication.

Does your textbook have a communicative or grammatical focus?

At,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking through highly structured or scaffolded, speaking. Students work in pairs to communicate.

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 cultural activities,

My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at

Beginning of Year Modern Language Review for Upper Levels

Many modern language teachers start off the school year with a review for their Level 2, 3, 4 and 5 students . Usually, these teachers have the students review grammar or vocabulary. Often, the  teachers focus on the subgoal of learning vocabulary and grammar but not on the big goal of improving oral communication;  the teachers can begin the year with a review of oral communication. ACTFL Proficiencies and, particularly, the Can-Do Proficiency Statements focus on communication, not discrete grammar or vocabulary.   For example, modern language teachers can have their students work in pairs. One student in the group asks a common topic from a communication card. such as home, school, leisure time activities, food, etc. The partner answers the question and the asking student verifies that the answer is close to the written most likely answer.  When the teacher has the students review the communication cards, the students are also reviewing vocabulary and grammar but they are reviewing vocabulary and grammar in context of meaningful communication.

Another activity involves the students looking at a picture for a common topic such as home, school, leisure time activities, food, etc . The students either ask questions about the picture that their partners answer or they  role play two people in the picture.

In addition, as students who are involved in the communication activities mark down how many sentences their partner says or asks and their partners write the same thing for them. In this way the students are also reviewing their fluency to see if they’re at the same high level of fluency that they were at the end of the last year. They set their base line for improvement for this year.

Students want to find out about each other and they like to ask questions about interesting target language pictures; such communication activities allow them to do that. Students like to compete against their own fluency scores.  Students often become bored by doing  isolated non-contextual grammar or vocabulary review activities.

At, I have 30+ activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking through highly structured or scaffolded, speaking. Students work in pairs.  Also, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity at  the same location.

Two ebooks, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities and Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies, are available at

My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at


Modern Language Proficiency – What does it mean?

What does proficiency mean in the modern language classroom? Proficiencies are defined either by the state curriculum such as the NYS checkpoint A, B, or C or by the ACTFL proficiency standards / NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements.

Proficiencies do not refer to individual  activities such as  translating a word from English to the modern language nor doing a verb conjugation. A proficiency is not identifying the forms of a verb. A proficiency is not saying the names of  the family members in the modern language from a list of English words.  A proficiency is not pronouncing places. The ACTFL Can-Do statements do have a Grammar proficiency section. Grammar is integrated in meaningful ways such as Interpersonal Communication  Intermediate High- I can participate with ease and confidence in conversations on familiar various time frames.”

Proficiency refer to the student’s ability to communicate such as speaking  at the Interpersonal Communication Novice Mid level – “I can communicate basic information about myself and the people I know”  as the student says “something about the members of my family  and ask about someone’s family”. When students demonstrate this communication, they have shown a specific speaking proficiency. With the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, students can see their achievements as they accomplish more  proficiencies. Since the Can-Do statements divide up the big level of Novice into three subcategories and each subcategory has numerous proficiencies, students can see progress as they go from Novice Low to Novice Mid to Novice High.

For our students to be proficient in the modern language, we will want to quickly move them from the low subskills of vocabulary and grammar to the proficiencies of language for communication. The more we have them use the modern language for real life purposes, the more proficient they become.

What do you mean by proficiency?

By early May, my book, tentatively titled,  Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies will be published at Smashwords. It contains many strategies for developing  Can-Do proficiencies for speaking,  listening, reading and writing;it also has  sections on vocabulary, textbook and mobile; the major emphasis is on speaking. Each strategy contains a Can-Do statement and a sample activity.

To help your beginning and more advanced students move toward spontaneous speaking which students need as they climb the Can-Do statements. 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 NCSSFL-ACTFL 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