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Teaching in the Target Language: Benefits, Challenges, Strategies. UW -Whitewater Sheila Turek, Ph.D. Associate Professor of French August 6, 2014. Benefits. Target Language use in the classroom and flossing. http://dentalhealing.com/sitebuild/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/woman-flossing1.jpg.

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teaching in the target language benefits challenges strategies

Teaching in the Target Language: Benefits, Challenges, Strategies

UW-WhitewaterSheila Turek, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of French

August 6, 2014


Target Language use in the classroom and flossing


  • “Target language input has been identified as the overarching concept that permeates all second language acquisition theory (ACTFL, 2010; Burke, 2010; Chavez, 2006; Gass, 1997; Lightbown, 2000; Lightbown & Spada, 2006; Shrum & Glisan, 2010; Wilbur, 2007).” (Ceo-DiFrancesco 1)
  • “Exposing students to significant amounts of comprehensible input has proven to be crucial to the development of student proficiency and essential for the establishment of mental linguistic representations of the language (Ceo-DiFrancesco1)
actfl position statement on use of the target language in the classroom
ACTFL Position Statement on Use of the Target Language in the Classroom
  • Research indicates that effective language instruction must provide significant levels of meaningful communication and interactive feedback in the TL in order for students to develop language and cultural proficiency.
  • The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) therefore recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom.


theory vs practice
Theory vs. Practice
  • “In the case of target language use in the world language classroom . . . [t]here is a tension between policy, research, and practice” (Ceo Di Francesco 2), and teachers have difficulty achieving the 90% goal.
Discussion Question #1

What do you see as the biggest challenges to teaching in the target language?(http://www.fotosearch.com/clip-art/talk.html#comp.asp?recid=56136866&xtra=http://www.clipartbest.com/clipart-RTG6jgLEc)


Typical concerns:

  • student comprehension
  • too difficult
  • not enough time

(Crouse, “How to Stay in the Target Language,” 23)

self reported obstacles to tl usage in the classroom
Self-Reported Obstacles to TL Usage in the Classroom
  • Obstacles Beyond Teacher Control
  • Obstacles Involving Student Factors
  • Obstacles Involving Teaching Training

(Based on a survey of 237 instructors: 11.8% university instructors, 74.3% high school, 19.4% middle school, 9.7% elementary school, representing 7 languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. Ceo-DiFrancesco, D. (2013)).

obstacles beyond teacher control
Obstacles Beyond Teacher Control*

(* Self-reported obstacles by teachers responding to a survey conducted by Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, “Instructor Target Language Use,” 5).

dangers of using english for important information the blah blah ginger syndrome
Dangers of using English for “important” information: the “blah blah Ginger” syndrome

(Gary Larson, The Far Side)


Discussion Question #2

What strategies do you use to get students speaking the target language? Discuss in groups of three.(http://www.fotosearch.com/clip-art/talk.html#comp.asp?recid=56136866&xtra=http://www.clipartbest.com/clipart-RTG6jgLEc)

strategies suggested by actfl to facilitate comprehension 1
Strategies Suggested by ACTFL to Facilitate Comprehension (1)
  • provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals;
  • make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support;
  • conduct comprehension checks to ensure understanding;
  • negotiate meaning with students and encourage negotiation among students;


strategies suggested by actfl to facilitate comprehension 2
Strategies Suggested by ACTFL to Facilitate Comprehension (2)
  • elicit talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time;
  • encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language;
  • teach students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when faced with comprehension difficulties; and
  • offer feedback to assist and improve students’ ability to interact orally in the target language.


other strategies
Other strategies**
  • Explain importance of staying in TL to class at the beginning of the year; follow up with motivational chats and reward students when they use the TL;
  • Plan lessons so as to eliminate idle time, which can lead students to chat in English;
  • Change seating often so students pair with different classmates

(**Culled from blogs, online discussion lists, and previous issues of Language Educator : Crouse 27)

other strategies1
Other strategies
  • Design info gap activities in a way that students must use the TL to obtain missing information;
  • Post high-frequency phrases around the class that students can use if they get stuck;
  • When students speak to you in English, give a quizzical look and say you don’t understand.

(Crouse 27)

other strategies2
Other strategies
  • Use activities such as inside-outside circles that allow students to practice common expressions and structures in rapid sequence.


  • Try a reward system in which students can earn points for maintaining the TL.
  • Encourage students to come up with silly stories as part of a survey or TPRS activities.

(Crouse 27)

making input comprehensible
Making Input Comprehensible

Fortune, Tara. ACTFL Webinar 2012, cited in Terrill, L.

using visuals for grammar explanations a mini example
Using visuals for grammar explanations: a mini-example

Les adjectifs

S’accordent en genre : masculin ou féminin

et en nombre : (singulier/pluriel) avec les noms :

  • Les étudiantes intelligentes. (féminin, pluriel)
  • L’étudiant intelligent. (masculin, singulier)

(follow up withexercises, examples, group activity)

Discussion Question #3

What specific assignments or activities do you use/plan to use in your own classroom to achieve the 90% goal? (http://www.fotosearch.com/clip-art/talk.html#comp.asp?recid=56136866&xtra=http://www.clipartbest.com/clipart-RTG6jgLEc)

  • ACTFL. (2014). Position Statement: Use of the Target Language in the Classroom. Accessed on 20th July Web. 20 July 2014.
  • Ceo-DiFrancesco, D. (2013). Instructor Target Language Use in Today’s World Language Classrooms. MultiTasks, MultiSkills, MultiConnections: CSCTFL Reports, 1-19.
  • Chambers, G.N. (2013). The Target Language Revisited. Teaching and Teacher Education 36: 44-54.
  • Crouse, D. (2012). Going for 90% Plus: How to Stay in the Target Language. The Language Educator 7, 22-25.
  • Dickson, P. (1996). Using the Target Language: A View From the Classroom. Slough: NFER.
  • Glisan, E. (2013). On Keeping the Target Language in Language Teaching: A Bottom-up Effort to Protect the Public and Students. The Modem Language Joumal 97:2, 541-44.
  • Granville, P. (2008). Entering an English Free Zone. Learning Languages 8:1, 9-12.
  • Terrill, Laura.Maintaining Target Language in the Classroom. lauraterrill.wikispaces.com/Presentations. Accessed on 30 July 2014.
  • Viakinnou-Brinson, L., Herron, C., Cole, S.P., and Haight, C. (2012). The Effect of Target Language and Code-Switching on the Grammatical Performance and Perceptions of Elementary-Level College French Students.” Foreign Language Annals 45:1, 72-91.