How many courses do I need before I can speak to people in the target country?

The other day in  Spanish class my students were doing a “city” map activity in which they named real places in a city and then gave directions from one place to another in the city. When two males finished the direction activity, they did a high-five since they both could do it.  One of the students asked, “How many Spanish courses do I need before I can talk with people in Mexico?”

He did not say “How many courses do I need before I can use the subjunctive?” or “How many courses do I need before I can use  double object pronouns in a sentence?” He wants to use the language, not study it.

I wonder how well our textbooks teach students to converse with other people.  How well do these books help students to survive in the target language country?  Take a moment and ask yourself,  “What  well can my students now converse with target language people? Can my students participate in an actual conversation that starts at one point and goes to another quickly?  Can my students express their travel needs in a country?”

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (29+) includes Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Speaking Mats ( Student can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas in pairs or small group), Modified Speed Dating (Students ask their  partners one question from a card-whole class), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:

At the same site, I have a series of modern language visual stories with no words (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students.  These 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