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.


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,

What type of reading should be on a modern language test?

For me, the purpose of a modern language course  is to teach the modern language so students can use it. Therefore, I become confused when I see a test in which students read a modern language passage  and then have to answer questions about it  in English. I used that type of testing when I took Latin over 50 years ago. I hope that modern language methodology has changed since then. That  type of testing is a translation testing. That type of testing raises some questions:
– Why is it more important for the students to translate than for them to use the modern language?
– Cannot we teach them  reading techniques to be able to read and answer in the modern language?
– Why are we giving them a reading exercise that is harder than reading in the modern language?  If they are answering questions in the modern language, they can look for the same or similar words in the passage to find the answer.  If they are working in English, they have to translate the words into Spanish to find the answer.

I teach my students three simple techniques that allow them to successfully read in the modern language:
1) Answer the question word. If the question word asks “How many…?, they look for a number.
2)  Look for the answers in the passage in order.  First find the answer to question one, then look for the answer to question, etc.  If students know that the answer to question four follows the answer to question three, they can logically find the answer.
3) Look for the same words or similar words  in the question and in the passage.  The writer may use a synonym such as  boy for youth. If the question asks, “When did he eat the hamburger?”, the reader can look for these words in the passage and, probably, if there are two or more of those words, find  the answer.

With these techniques, they can answer literal or factual questions very successfully. With more practice, they can answer higher level reading such as inference and interpretation with the language.

Let’s move to in-language  reading testing instead of  translation reading. Let’s show our students that we believe they can read and understand in the modern language.

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (25+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: I have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at