Teaching secondary modern foreign languages
Teaching secondary modern foreign languages

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Teaching secondary modern foreign languages

2.3 Challenges to using the target language

Although using the target language in MFL lessons is a way of supporting students’ use of the language, one of the challenges for MFL teachers is ensuring they limit how much talking they do in the classroom. Even though you as the teacher may be speaking in the target language, it is more important that the students are speaking and communicating with each other in the target language. Many courses based on communicative language teaching (CLT) insist that teacher talking time (TTT) is counterproductive and that MFL teachers should reduce TTT because it:

  • automatically limits the amount of STT (student talking time)
  • results in long stretches of time in teacher-to-class mode, which can make the pace monotonous
  • often means that the teacher is giving the students information that they could find out for themselves, thus making them less active and autonomous
  • if the teacher takes the dominant role in classroom discourse, the students’ role is only that of respondent – opportunities for developing speaking skills or spontaneous speech become limited.

Similar comments could be made where MFL teachers spend too much time at the exposition and explanation stages of the lesson rather than allowing students to practise and discover for themselves. This is particularly crucial if the students are to develop in oral confidence; it is far less intimidating to talk in the target language in a small group situation than in front of the whole class.

Over the past 10 years, there have been several projects and initiatives to encourage group talk and spontaneous student language in the classroom and the next activity will give you some ideas for promoting student dialogue and encouraging them to speak in the target language more than you as the teacher.

Activity 3

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

Watch the video clip ‘MFL – implementing the group talk initiative and other strategies’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and list the strategies that the teachers use to encourage student talk and the advantages for the students and the teacher. (Alternatively, you can read a transcript.) Complete these notes in a table like the one below (Table 2). The first row has been filled in for you as an example.

Table 2 Strategies to promote student dialogue

Strategies usedAdvantages for studentsAdvantages for teacher
Pictures of clothesFashion – engaging topicSpontaneous opinions
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You could also look for other ideas of promoting student talk on the internet. Type ‘spontaneous talk in the languages classroom’ or ‘target language in the classroom’ into a search engine and see what ideas you could use in your own context.

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