Looking back it seems somewhat silly to not use the TL for instruction in a World Language classroom. What is the language classroom for, if not for immersing students in a language-rich environment that mimics the real world? Thinking back to my own study abroad experience, I remember the first few weeks as terrifying - I couldn't understand or respond to anyone! Is that what I really wanted for my students? TL usage had to change in my classroom.
Moving from 90% English to 90% TL, however, was not just about me, the teacher, but also the curriculum, the approach, and, of course, the students. Here are some quick and easy ways to make TL use the norm rather than the exception:
- Check your language. One of the most difficult parts of moving to a 90% classroom is having the personal language skills to do so. We all know that when you don't use it, you lose it. Before you make the leap, take some time to hone your own language skills so you feel confident in front of your students. Find a neighborhood in your area with TL speakers, watch some dubbed Disney movies, or use an app to help you get back into the groove.
- Take risks and make mistakes. Make it ok to make language mistakes; that's how we all learn. We may be the teachers, but none of us are perfect! When it is ok for us to make a mistake, it is also ok for our students. Think aloud about your mistake and walk the students through to the correct answer. If they see you doing it, they are more likely to do it themselves. No only will they feel comfortable with taking the risk, but the students will also begin to work through their own mistakes to self-correct and help their classmates as well.
- Make it visual. The easiest way to help your students understand is to show them. Many of the directions we give in class can easily be pantomimed along with our speaking. Students learn to read the visual cues along with the words, and as the year progresses, the visual cues become less and less important. When teaching new vocabulary, have students associate pictures and movements with the words as much as possible so they activate different parts of their brains. The more involved they become with the language, the more acquisition that occurs. It is also important to keep key phrases posted around the room. You may post big signs on the wall or keep papers on the tables. When students have the key phrases in front of them, they are more likely to use them. Don't be afraid to make them use those phrases, too! Eventually, it becomes second nature.
- Make your curriculum work for you. Curriculum design can have a lot to do with the ability to use the TL in class. Activities that focus on sharing information and back and forth work much better than kill and drill. If you want your students to use the TL more, you have to give them more opportunities to do so. Center your activities around questions and answers to give students a structured opportunity to use the TL.. Even simple and familiar games can get students using the TL.
- Keep it structured. When students participate in structured activities, they are more likely to use the TL in class. When working on projects or activities that require less structure, they tend to speak English, as they don't have the vocabulary for chatting in the TL. When working on projects in class, have students focus on the language piece whenever possible and save the art piece for home.