Focus on Using the Target Language in the World Language Classroom
Ryan Wertz, Kathy Shelton and Paula Sondej, World Language Consultants, Ohio Department of Education
A new school year in Ohio brings with it a renewed focus on fostering communicative proficiency and intercultural competence. The importance of using the target language almost exclusively with our world language students cannot be emphasized enough! Language acquisition research clearly shows that we learn our second and third languages most efficiently in the same way we learned our first language – by being immersed in it. Therefore, it is essential that language teachers create an immersive environment for their learners. Ohio’s K-12 language learners need to be surrounded with comprehensible language, often called comprehensible input, in order to gain proficiency in an expedient manner. Research also shows that this input must be meaningful, interesting to the learner and culturally relevant.
In accordance with these findings, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) recommends that world language instructors deliver instruction using the target language a minimum of 90% of the time:
Research indicates that effective language instruction must provide significant levels of meaningful communication* and interactive feedback in the target language in order for students to develop language and cultural proficiency. ACTFL therefore recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom. In classrooms that feature maximum target-language use, instructors use a variety of strategies to facilitate comprehension and support meaning making. For example, they:
1) Provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals;
2) Make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support;
3) Conduct comprehension checks to ensure understanding;
4) Negotiate meaning with students and encourage negotiation among students;
5) Elicit talk that increases in competency, accuracy and complexity over time;
6) Encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language;
7) Teach students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when faced with difficulties; and
8) Offer feedback to assist and improve students’ ability to interact orally in the target language.
*Communication for a classical language refers to an emphasis on reading ability and for American Sign Language (ASL) to signed communicative ability.¹
Ohio’s learning standards require K-12 language educators to embrace this recommendation by using the target language as much as possible. This requires teachers to maximize the opportunities for learners to use the language as much as they are able to both during and outside the instructional period. Only through heightened use of the target language and increased use of authentic resources will learners attain the rigorous proficiency targets that ODE has researched and now recommends to programs statewide.
Ohio’s Model Curriculum for K-12 World Languages supports the implementation and use of Ohio’s learning standards. These standards aid teachers by providing instructional strategies and authentic resources necessary to conduct their classes in the target language in such a way that learners will be able to comprehend the language input they receive and use it to communicate with others in culturally appropriate ways. The Ohio Department of Education is currently rolling out this comprehensive new tool through a series of workshops around the state. If you aren’t able to attend a regional workshop, we hope to offer it again later in the fall as a webinar. Stay tuned for details! In the meantime, begin exploring the Model Curriculum on your own here!
¹ American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “Use of the Target Language in the Classroom.” July, 2012. www.actfl.org/news/position-statement.
Donato, R. and Adair-Hauk, B. “A Whole Language Approach to Focus on Form.” Paper presented at the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. San Antonio, Texas (1992).
Ohio Department of Education. “ Using Ohio’s Learning Standards for K-12 World Languages”. June, 2014. http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Ohio-s-New-Learning-Standards/Foreign-Language/World-Languages-Model-Curriculum/World-Languages-Model-Curriculum-Framework/Introduction-to-Learning-Standards