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.

Visuals Convey Meaning in World Language

Many methodologies such as Comprehensible Input, Immersion, the Total Physical Response Approach and the Direct Approach urge that teachers uses visual techniques to convey the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence ( By using these techniques teachers and students can be in the world language for 90% of the class ( In addition, instead of students going from learning an abstract world language word to an English word, they learn a world language word and see a concrete image for that word’s meaning. Dale’s Cone of Experience indicates that students remember better when they see instead of just hear (

A Sample of visuals:

1) Visuals – pictures, pictures from travels, pictures from the Internet, drawings, chalk talks, maps, timelines, projected images, graphs

2) Realia and props – clothing, food, movie ticket, game ticket, doll house

3) Actions – demonstrations, modeling, manipulatives, gestures (hand gestures, facial expressions, body language)


How often do you use these visual techniques to help your students better understand meaning in their new world language? How often do your students use visuals to help them express their ideas?

At, there are many world language visual stories for students to talk about.

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.