29 July 2010

5 tips for increasing (your own) target language use

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in May passed a new policy statement on the use of the target language in the classroom - 90% or above at all levels. It's about time that we as language teachers realize that 1) language education in the US doesn't work because we don't speak it to them and 2) speaking target language doesn't have to mean the students don't understand (it's how we acquired it the first time around, ¿no?).

Here are five tips to help you increase your use of the TL in the classroom.

1- Ask, ask, ask.
Get into the habit of asking short questions continually. I don't ever actually teach question words. It's in their vocab, but we spend 0 instruction or practice time on it because we just do it so much. Who are you sitting with? Who's at the door? What's in your backpack? When's lunch? Why are you leaving? What color is that? Where's your sister?

2- offer an immediate (false) answer to your question
Don't translate yourself and don't give anyone a chance to translate for someone who didn't hear or wasn't listening or never listens because the smart guy next to him always translates. Offering an immediate false answer gives students immediate context to target comprehension and increase concept ties, which are much stronger than L1-L2 ties (see my presentation here and it's worth your time to read this book chapter).
So, where did your Mom go? Walmart? Disney World? Where? Where did she go? Who's at the door? Lady Gaga? President Obama? Who? Who's there?

3- start describing drawings
I incorporate a lot of stories into my teaching and so I draw a lot. I am not an artist by any means, and that just makes it more fun. My students know I draw the worst-looking horses. Instead of just talking about something, try drawing through it. How about for an introductory activity one day, take your recent vocabulary and describe a drawing that your students have to draw. Use colors, sizes, and location words. "The sun is green and it's far away from the small blue banana." Take it for a listening comprehension grade. Drawing is my favorite version of vocab quizzing. Beats translation any day.

4- come up with an "I don't understand" sign
We often switch into English because we think our students may not understand. Another thing I took from TPRS is the "X" symbol for when students don't understand. That way, I know and can repeat, draw, act, rework my phrases to help them understand, and all the while I'm feeding them more TL. Timid students don't mind doing a little X with their index fingers. Then I've had rambunctious boys do a full-table X (my students sit 4 to a table sideways to me for communicative/scaffolding purposes) where each boy put an arm to the center and this was a "this entire table is completely lost here" X. LOL.

5- offer students a reward for "catching" you saying something in English they know in TL
Sometimes you'll find the right students motivated by the right things (chocolate) who will help you police yourself. I offered students a bean every time they caught me saying something in English that they knew in Spanish - even a word - and 2 beans earned them a Snickers Mini.

Get talking. Use strategies to continually assess comprehension and TALK TALK TALK! :)l

15 July 2010

A warm-up from @samocamila: por vs. para

A tweet from @samocamila, he's just full of fun stuff these days:
A todos los fans les mando un besote!!!, tengo mucha emoción por cantar para ustedes esta noche en premios juventud, los amo!.

Úsalo para practicar la diferencia entre por y para, y no te pierdas la oportunidad de enfocarse a los estudiantes en esa palabrita muy chévere 'besote'. :-)

13 July 2010

Camila's all on board! (well, on Twitter)

In the post just below I mentioned that the guitarist Pablo and the vocalist/pianist Mario @dragondomm are on Twitter, as well as the official Twitter feed @CamilaMX. Today @pablocamila retweeted a YouTube video that Samo put up and so I learned that he has one as well- @samocamila.

¡Síguelos todos!

10 July 2010

Getting vocabulary from a tweet

You never know what you're going to pick up from following tweets from pop culture icons like @jesseyjoy or @juanes, or from news sources like Venezuela's version of Fox News @globovision or Honduran @diariolaprensa. A great tweet came through today as an example.

One of my favorite groups, the Mexican trio Camila, tweets mainly through two accounts, @pablocamila (the guitarist) and CamilaMX, the official twitter. Mario Domm has an account @dragondomm but he doesn't tweet terribly frequently.

Today this tweet came from @pablocamila:
Quién irá a ganar este partido? Cuál fue la predicción de mi tocayo el pulpo?

In less than 140 characters, you have the vocabulary word 'tocayo' (I don't know when I acquired that word but it's a fun one to have), future for the concept of "I wonder" (extra interesting in the ir + a construction), cuál instead of qué as the question word, and the whole phenomenon of this prognosticating octopus Pulpo Pablo, which is frankly, just flat weird, but hey--by the time you watch videos and read articles about him choosing Spain to win it all (as of this writing the game is tomorrow, so we'll see if he's right), and why not throw in some video of Spain searching for their own Pulpo Paul, not to mention the wealth of hilarious stuff there is to find out there about Argentinian chefs putting octopus paella on the menu ad nauseum, your students will never forget the word for octopus and get some really funny culture mixed in their language acquisition in the process.

Every Spanish teacher should be on Twitter. Start by following me, @secottrell, and looking at my lists of language teachers and music, and follow them. From there it's a yellow brick road.