Unmet Students’ Expectation of World Language Class

Beginning language students come to their world language class with an expectation. The vast majority of these students believe that the purpose of the language course is to speak the language. However, they soon find out that the class really focuses on “vocabulary and verbs” as a former high school French student wrote as he thought what his college Spanish class would be based on his former language experience. Students want to be able to speak the language and, yet, many teachers spend so much time preparing them to speak by learning vocabulary and learning verbs that the students do not get to speak. Students want to communicate in the language. How do we change our world language courses so that we met the students’ expectations and their parents’ expectations?

Some activities to help you develop communication in your  Spanish classroom:

Spanish Describing School Classes Spontaneous Speaking – Pairs    Speak about class with structured choices – two levels, 49 terms

Spanish Friend /Family Member Detailed Description – Partner Talk   Say 9 sentences about a friend using 36 choices.

Spanish Tell Me About Yourself Substitution Sentences   Talk about yourself by substituting your information in given sentences.

Spanish Family Indepth Speed Interviews- Partner Talk   Do 4 Family Interviews of 10 questions each

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Promoting Conversations by Two Sentences a Day

I used to teach Spanish in a public school but, having retired, I teach it at a community college. I have three fifty minute classes a week. So far I have had nine classes.

My students have learned at least two sentences or questions each day so that they can have a conversation of at least 18 statements/questions.We started out with greetings, introductions, and added more statements or questions each day. Each day we review the whole conversation and add more to it. After we have practiced the conversation with it in a PowerPoint, I turn off the screen and have them say the conversation in pairs. After the greetings and introduction, they can ask and answer the questions in any order. It is amazing to hear them talk for over two minutes without looking at any notes or the book and ask personal questions such as How are you? What are you like (personality)? Where are you from? How old are you? Are you a romantic? What time is your English class? What is the name of your English book? How much does it cost? How is the class? How many students are in the class? Do you like the class?

I teach high frequency questions that can be easily modified. The question are slightly modified from ones that the students have identified as being important for that topic.

How much of a spontaneous conversation do your students have each day?

There are over 40 highly structured speaking activities at http://bitly/ml

Two Different Language Learning Approaches: Self or Survival

ACTFL’s Interpersonal Level Novice Can-Do statements follow a pattern of having students talking about

self  -> family / friends  ->  community / city.
Most of the Novice level focuses on socializing.  In this approach students go from what is most known or familiar  to them (themselves) outward (to others). Most modern day textbook follow this approach. This approach assumes that students in the classroom will be talking in the target language  to other students about things in their lives.

Another approach is the travel approach where students learn a  language to survive in the target language country. This approach concentrates on daily functioning in the language country. Students learn how to order a meal, ask for a hotel room, check on the price of a product, etc. Very old textbooks and travel conversation books follow this pattern. The travel approach assumes that students in the target language country will be talking in the target language to native speakers.

Although students enjoy talking in the target language to each other and learning about each other as in the ACTFL approach, I have found that they feel the geatest sense of achievement when they can do a real-life daily survival task in the language such as “I can ask the price of something.” I try to blend the two approaches.  As soon as my students learn the numbers (1-59) in the first unit , I teach them to go from telling time to asking the price of things such as  “How much does this soccer ticket cost?” Since I use cultural products in class such as a soccer ticket, the students practice asking and answering how much real things cost. In the ACTFL approach, students cannot ask the price of something until the end of Novice Mid, very near the end of the course.

What approach do you use with your students?  What survival skills do your students have even in the beginning level?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  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 investigation cultural activities.

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

 

 

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 http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  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  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, 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, http://bit.ly/tsmash

 

Enough Meaningful Modern Language Vocabulary to Communicate

Some textbooks provide the students with just a few vocabulary words so the students can practice the grammar point of the unit. For example, the textbook presents the verb “to be” and then provides five places the students can be. However, the students usually want to say a real place that they can be, not the ones that the textbook has selected for them. A textbook needs to offer students many vocabulary words so that the students can select those words that have meaning for them, that help the students to express what they want to say about the topic.  When students engage in meaningful communication, they use words that are important to them.

Students can have active vocabulary, i.e. words that can use  to communicate about themselves, family or friends and passive vocabulary, i.e. words that they can recognize when heard or read. I usually present my students with long lists of vocabulary for a topic and ask them to recognize all the words in the list but to be able to actively use at least six of the words to describe themselves, family or friends. For example, when  I present personal adjectives, they have a long list. I quickly pronounce the words and have them pronounce the words. Then, the students  scan the list to find words that actually do describe themselves, their  father/mother, brother/sister or a close friend. They “study” those words.  They prepare to describe themselves, family and friends. As they listen to other students describe themselves, family or friends, they passively hear many other adjectives.

Students can learn a handful of words that accurately describe themselves, family and friends. On the other hand, when teachers give students a list of thirty or more words for a topic and require the students to actively learn all the words, students often do poorly. Such a long list is not productive nor meaningful to the students.

Do you supply your students with sufficient vocabulary that they can communicate what they want to about the topic, not what the textbook wants them to talk about?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  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  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, 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, http://bit.ly/tsmash

 

Modern Language Communication vs Grammar Focus: What is Your Focus?

Imagine walking up to a target language  speaker and saying “I talk, you talk, he/she/it talks, we talk, they talk”.  The native speaker would look at you weirdly since you are not communicating. You are reciting grammar.

Furthermore, imagine a native speaker listening to a  person who says , “Yesterday I to buy in store”.  The native speaker would hesitate a little but still understand the person.  However, if the person said, “Yesterday I swam in the store”, the native speaker would have no idea of what the person was trying to say even though the sentence is grammatically correct.

How do you know if you are focusing on grammar instead of on the communication of ideas?

1) A grammar based class  focuses on correctness, not on communicating ideas.  “Did you buy candy yesterday?  Yes, I bought candy yesterday.” has a grammar focus if the teacher  concentrates on the correct form of the past tense of the verb. If the teacher does not want to know more about the candy, then it is probably a grammar exercise.

2) In a grammar based or vocabulary based class, students do not comment or respond to the meaning of statements made by other students.  Communication is an interactive   exchange of ideas. John says, “I like to swim  I do not like to walk.” and  his partner, Jane,  waits her turn to say her two sentences using this specific verb structure.  Jane is not responding to John. She simply waits to talk regardless of what he said. In true communication, John’s partner, Jane would respond to  “I like to swim” with something like “Me, too” or “Where do you swim?” She listens and responds directly to her partner’s statements. She inquires. She interacts with John. She does not just exchange grammar based sentences that have no personal meaning to either speaker.

3) In a grammar based class, more of the textbook pages deal with grammar than anything else. Most of the  class exercises center on grammar.  Most of the workbook or electronic exercises concentrate on grammar. The teacher spends most of the class time in  practicing the grammar.  A teacher can time him/herself during a class to see where he/she spends most of his/her time by writing down each classroom activity and how long each takes.  At the end of class, the teacher totals  the different categories of classroom activities and divides by the total minutes of class.

4) In a grammar based class, the teacher’s main corrections are grammar based, not on how to communicate better.  A grammar based  teacher spends very little time on teaching common responses such as “Me too…Me, neither,  I do not agree” and does not correct students when they do not use these expressions.  The  communicative teacher does spend much time on specifically teaching language functions such as words or phrases for elaboration, inquiry, persuasion and constantly helps students to use these expressions. The teacher’s corrections center on meaning.

5) In a grammar based class, most student responses are short one sentence responses that show the correct verb form.. Or the students say a series of unrelated sentences that use the particular verb form.  In a communicative class, students often elaborate on their responses using multiple sentences.  “Yes, I bought candy. I really like chocolate because it is so sweet. I usually buy five candy bars and I share one with my father.” Each sentence adds more information to the original personal  idea.

6) In a grammar based class, students mainly respond to a specific question or statement. Their speaking is very structured and very controlled.   In a communicative classroom, students spontaneously speak and they can go from topic to topic. Students may start to talk about school, then they talk about the school’s sport team, next they move on to a sports game on TV.  Their conversations resemble a natural conversation with all of its twists.

Is your classroom grammar or communication based?

If you would like to see some communicative activities, I have some available at TeachersPayTeachers http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle (see below).

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 http://bit.ly/90mlact.You can instantly use these many communication activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

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:  http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle

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   http://is.gd/tbook

8 Minutes of Every Student Speaking in Each Modern Language Class

I recently did a presentation on improving students’ oral communication through formative assessment and someone asked how much time I spend on having my students speak. in the target language.  My definition of  student speaking in the modern language does not include doing grammar exercises such as “Did you buy the fruit?  Yes, I bought it” where the focus is on the correct verb form. Neither do I include in the category of speaking  vocabulary exercises such as “What do you do with your pen?  I write.”  These sentences do not communicate ideas;they only practice grammar or vocabulary.

My answer to how much the students should be speaking in the modern language class is to  take the percent for the speaking part  on the final and multiple it by the number of minutes in a class. For example, if speaking on your final counts 20%,   then multiple  20%  percent x 40 minutes of class  = at least 8 minutes of speaking per student per class.  When students work in pairs during a conversation, then students can accumulate minutes easily.

If we believe that oral communication is critical and if we want our students to be speakers of the language, then we have to allocate at least eight minutes of  each class  to develop their speaking in the target language. We need to have speaking activities that allow for the exchange of reactions and ideas. When students really communicate with one another, they become very engaged.

For how many minutes do your students speak each class?

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 http://bit.ly/90mlact.You can instantly use these many communication activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

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:  http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle

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   http://is.gd/tbook