Final Modern Language Exams – What real speaking goal?

After I gave a  recent presentation, a teacher talked to me about her June final which the department chair made up.  This teacher stressed that she believes in communication and she wants to prepare her students to communicate with people from the target language.

However, the department final  has a speaking component in which students wrote out a conversation, memorized the conversation, and said the memorized lines. She remembers that last year during the final speaking her students made comments to their partners such as “I can’t remember what we wrote,”  “Say your lines,” and “What comes next?”  All those comments reinforced that the final was not a speaking final but a recital or saying of memorized lines. It had nothing to do with the give and take of a real life conversation.

She remembers that no student displayed any emotion  while speaking except for stress and frustration during the conversation even though they said happy lines (I really like to …) and sad lines (I am sorry). They mechanically delivered their memorized conversation.

She said that the speaking final was so different than the real life conversations her students had in her beginning level class. Often when her students talked about a situation, the students would laugh or smile (That’s my favorite show, too); they would ask more in-depth questions as they heard an answer that interested them (Why do you like the show?)

One of many possibilities is to move to final like a  modified OPI in which someone asks students some general questions and some probing questions.  Another possibility is for two students to spontaneously talk about a previously unknown topic or situation.

What does your speaking final show about your real goals for your students speaking in a world language? has many activities that allow students to interact in the language.

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

Fluency = Overall World Language Proficiency according to a study

Baker-Smemoe, Dewey, Brown, and Martinsen’s article “Does Measuring L2 Utterance Fluency Equal Measuring Overall L2 Proficiency?  Evidence From Five Languages” in Foreign Language Annals 47-7 (Winter 2014), 707-728  reports on a study done in five languages. They measured elements of fluency using excerpts from ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPI) spoken by 86 participants.  Forty participants provided pre- and post OPI speech samples.  All the participants were native English speakers who spoke other languages.

Some of their findings:
– Speech rate seems to be the strongest fluency indicator of L2 proficiency”
– L2 utterance  fluency does not help distinguish among groups at lower L2 levels such as the Novice
– L2  fluency of the number of hesitations and false starts varies not by level nor language but by the  individual speaker.
– Fluency varies by language. Reaching L2 proficiency level in German takes longer than reaching the same L2 level in French for native English speakers.
– Incrememental improvements in L2 proficiency did occurr with concomitant changes in L2 utterance fluency for two of the measures (faster speech rate and longer run length). These two measures also predicted L2 proficiency in general.

If speech rate and longer run length help predict proficiency, how do you help you students develop these in their world language communication in your class? has many fluency activities with fluency boxes for students to record how many sentences they say in a specific time.  Go to top menu – More.

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

Highly Effective World Language Communication Activities

Each student speaks in pairs so that everyone in the class can increase their amount of speaking.

Each student responds without looking at their notes, the handout, the textbook, the classwebsite, or the PowerPoint. They speak spontaneously.

Each student answers real situational or topical questions, not questions designed to illict a specific grammar point.

Each student answers many questions for the same topic so they go in-depth with a topic.

Each student answers many different questions. Often in class, students only get called on a few times.

Each student who answers a question or makes a response can receive formative feedback from the partner who can see a sample answer.

Each student has low emotional stress since the student is asked a question by another student and not the teacher. At the same time, often partners compete against each other to see who can answer the most questions or say the most sentences.

Each student can use the scaffolding of the asked question, the visual, etc. to help become successful in responding.

Modern Language Communication and Culture contains over 40+ communication activities that are ready to use for the classroom. To help you to find an appropriate activity, the activities have been subdivided into Modern Language (visual stories for all languages), Spanish, Can-Do, Groupings, Topics, Culture and Grammar.

Modern Language Communication and Culture Activities

Modern Language Communication and Culture Activities

Which of your activities are highly effective world language communication activities?

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,

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 Mobile Activities for Pair or Small Groups

Many modern language teachers do not use mobile learning in their class because they worry that not every student has a mobile device. However, the modern language classroom is a cooperative environment. As long as at least half of the students have a mobile device (and they do according to Pew 2012),  then students can work in pairs. Even if only a third of the students have mobile devices, then students can work in small groups of three.

For example, in pairs or triads, the modern language student who has a mobile device finds a picture of a family member or friend on the mobile device. The other people in his/her group ask questions in the target language about the person in the photo.  When the partner has a turn, that partner looks at a different picture of a person and tells information about the person.The person with the photo confirms or negates the information.

In pairs or traids, world language students can take a series of five pictures that tell a story by using one student’s mobile device.Then, they combine with another group. The other group narrates the first group’s story and the first group adds any other information to the story. Then they switch roles.

Additionally, in their pair or triad, they look at an Internet image search of a city or town in the target language area.They say a sentence in the target language for the first fifteen different pictures. Each sentence proves unique information. Beginning students can say basic sentences  such as “It is tall.”

How do you use mobile devices in your class to promote student speaking?

I have 30+ activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking at
The following ebooks are available at

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle



Modern Language Proficiencies: Can-Do Strategies

Modern Language Proficiencies: Can-Do Strategies

Reflection on Students’ Modern Language Success Using Can-Do Statements

Although I try to reflect during the semester/ year on what I can do to improve my students’ modern language  success, I find that the end of the semester/year allows me a bigger picture of their success. This semester I gave  the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements to my college beginning Spanish students at the start of the semester. I used a reformatted form which had the Novice Level on one side and the Intermediate on the other. Students checked off what they felt they could do.

During the course, I extended the textbook material  to cover the Can-Do Statements. I modified the tests to include more assessment of these Statements. I gave them the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements at mid-point for their self-assessment.  Many students, especially students who had never taken a language before, were amazed at their progress. They realized that they still had much to learn before they could function in many world situations.

At the end of the semester, I gave out the Can-Do Statements for self-assessment again.  I asked the students to comment on their ending results. All students had mastered at least 85% of the Novice level. They could not do the statements that requirement different tenses since we only cover the present tense in beginning Spanish.  Many could do numerous statements on the Intermediate Level. They were very aware of their language growth in the course. I gave a supplementary speaking final to assess how well their self-assessment was realistic. 95% of the students exceeded my expectations.

The Can-Do Statements provide built-in reflection as to the students’ progress. I have a plan for how to help the students do an even better job of meeting the very real-world Can-Do  Statements. The following ebooks are available at

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

Modern Language Proficiencies: Can-Do Strategies

Modern Language Proficiencies: Can-Do Strategies

NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements: Recording Language Proficiency Progress

Frequently, a modern language teacher and  his/her students measure their progress in a course in terms of the chapters covered in the textbook. For example, a teacher might say, “We have just finished Chapter 3.”  However, textbook coverage implies nothing about actual student language proficiency. Likewise, to say that a course covers chapters one through eight of the textbook has no proficiency meaning. However, to say that by the end of the course, the  students have met the Interpersonal Communication Novice Mid level indicates a specific proficiency.

A language proficiency model focuses on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements.  A teacher states, “By the end of  this unit, in Novice Mid you ‘can ask some simple questions'”. The teacher provides basic instruction and many opportunities for the students to ask and answer questions.

After the students have demonstrated  several times that they can do the  Interpersonal Communication Novice Mid “ask some simple questions”, they place a huge checkmark in front of that Can-Do statement on their Can-Do listing for Interpersonal Communication. They see their language progress in this unit. They have proof  that they have learned new language proficiencies each chapter.

Each new unit teachers can focus on additional Can-Do statements and scaffold their class so that students can demonstrate their new proficiencies. The students continue to show their progress by checking off more and more Can-Do statements.They reach a point where they have checked off  a whole subsection and, eventually, all of the sublevels for a whole level such as Novice Mid. These Can-Do statements serve as their learning progress chart.

How do assess your students’ language proficiency in each unit?

By early May, my ebook tentatively titled Modern Language Proficiencies: Can -Do Strategies  will be available at Smashwords. This ebook covers Can-Do statements and strategies for speaking, listening, reading, and writing plus it has sections on the role of  vocabulary, grammar, culture, textbooks and mobile devices in the development of  these proficiencies. The major emphasis is on speaking.

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 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

Assessing Modern Language Variety of Speaking With Questions in Spontaneous Speaking

This semester before the official final, I had the students, in pairs, have a question and answer conversation about a common topic.  They saw a previously unseen picture based on one of the common topics in our class such as family, school, sports or activities, and restaurant/ eating. Immediately, without any preparation, they began to ask and answer questions about the picture for three minutes. Each pair had a different picture. I used a scoring sheet which had the different question words on it.  I marked down which question words each student used and counted each question and each answer.

The average for my students was 10.5 sentences with 6.3 different question words in three minutes for a previously unseen picture. The two students did twenty one sentences (answers and questions) in that time.  For example, one pair ask six different Spanish question words (How many?  When?  How?  Which?  What? and Where?)  However, this score does not really represent the variety of questions since that group had three different How (¿Cómo?) questions (What is the person like? How is the person’s health? What is his/her name). My students showed that they can ask a variety of questions and answer those questions in spontaneous speaking about a previously unseen picture.

What speaking variety do your students show?

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at 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:

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