Tag Archives: Speaking

Foreign Language Modes of Communication (ACTFL)

What is the purpose of communication?  Is it to practice language?  Maybe it is to polish our verb forms and word order?  Perhaps it is to use all the vocabulary that we have learned in a language?  Hopefully, we can all agree that this sort of “communication” that has not have a clear goal is not the reason that we engage in language learning.  The reason we communicate in any language in any form is to convey or understand a message.

The Importance of Message when Communicating in a Foreign Language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com When it comes to understanding or conveying a message there are three ways of looking at the communication.  The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines put communication to these categories: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational.  Each of these modes of communication looks at the message in unique way.  A solid understanding of how a message is conveyed or understood when speaking, writing or reading is essential to using various tools needed to effectively communicate.

Presentational communication is one-way speaking or writing that does not allow for real time clarification of meaning.  This means that the speaker/writer has to be sure to “fill in the gaps” and have a solid understanding of what the listener or reader knows or needs to know to interpret the message.

Conversely, interpretive communication is one-way listening or reading that also does not allow for real time clarification of meaning.  When reading and listening in this context the reader/listener needs to fill in their own gaps in understanding.  This may require accessing personal knowledge of the topic or doing research.  The most effective tool is the use of context clues and identifying what is understood to make meaning globally.

Interpersonal communication, on the other hand, is two-way speaking that allows for clarification of the message in real time.  When communicating interpersonally all speakers and listeners are involved in creating and interpreting the message and work together to assure that there is a collective understanding.

These tables below lay out the three modes of communication.

The Importance of Message when Communicating in a Foreign Language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com The Importance of Message when Communicating in a Foreign Language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The Role of Short and Long-Term Memory in Language Learning

We’ve all been there.  Students learn a new language structure (i.e. grammar point) or vocabulary words, take a quiz, do well, and then a few days later they are unable to produce the structure or vocabulary.  What happened?  Where did it it go?

The Role of Short and Long-Term Memory in Language Learning (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.com

First, let’s look at Interlanguage.  This is the language that a learner speaks that is on a continuum between his native language (L1) and the target language (L2).  Selinker explains that Interlanguage has these characteristics:

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Bill Van Patten takes this a bit further in his work (particularly in Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen) and presents the ideas of intake and uptake along this interlanguage continuum:

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 6.36.37 AMInitially, language input becomes intake or part of the short term memory of the learner.  This is consciously attended to and learned by the learner.  When structures and vocabulary become uptake, part of the long-term memory, it is considered subconscious and acquired. The uptake is the proficiency level of the learner.

When students take a quiz on the new material and do well it is because they are being assessed on their short-term memory (intake).  When new material comes along and that older materials has not moved on to long-term memory (uptake) it is replaced by the newer material.  That’s why the grammar structure they knew so well for the quiz is not as easily produced a few days later….and the reason we need to spend so much time reviewing for final exams at the end of the school year.

So, this begs the question, “How can we help students acquire language so that it becomes part of their uptake (long-term memory)?”  The answer is not complicated and involved, but does take persistence and consistency.  It comes down to providing as much comprehensible input as possible to students, both listening and reading.  The more exposure students have to input that is comprehensible to them the more likely the language will become uptake and make its way to the long-term memory.  Again, this is mostly a subconscious process in which language is acquired so comprehensible inout is the most effective tool.  This is yet another reason to use the target language as much as possible (90-100%) in the second language classroom.

I want to end with a quick word about learning grammar and vocabulary, as opposed to acquiring.  Steven Krashen, who is best known for his input hypothesis (i+1), does speak to the usefulness of studying and learning grammar and vocabulary.  He describes this learned language as a monitor that assess output that originates in the long-term memory for accuracy.  This learned, often intake/short-term memory, language is useful in writing as well because the writer has the time to reflect and monitor the output.  When communicating interpersonally in real time the output is often less accurate with novice and intermediate students because the more accurate and native-like language has not yet made its way to the long-term memory.

VanPatten, B. (1996). Input processing and grammar instruction: Theory and research. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

VanPatten, B., & Cadierno, T. (1993). Explicit instruction and input processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15, 225–243.

VanPatten, B., & Oikkenon, S. (1996). Explanation versus structured input in processing instruction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18 (4), 495–510.

Introducing Writing in the Novice Level Foreign Language Classroom

I’ve been working on writing with my novice mid class (3rd graders). They are consistently in the novice mid range when speaking.

Introducing Writing in the Novice Level Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.com

In this activity I first gave students a sheet with pictures of words that they know well orally and have seen written. They wrote in the words as they remember them (challenging in French because there are lots of unpronounced letters..but their spelling is recognizable to a sympathetic reader). I then gave them picture sentences and they wrote the sentences using their reference sheet. In this video I am going around and asking students to “read” the sentences without looking at what they wrote.

In a follow-up they  cut out the sentences that they wrote and the individual pictures. They then reconstructed the picture sentence based on what they wrote. This is helpful to reinforce syntax.

An Exercise in Foreign Language Circumlocution

The 100th day of school is a very important day in many elementary schools and there are lots of activities to celebrate, all based on the number 100. Each year, I challenge my 3rd graders to list 100 words and expressions that they know in the target language in 20 minutes. I give pairs of students a card with a category and they brainstorm words and expressions. It’s a great way for them to use category words in preparation for circumlocution.

An Exercise in Foreign Language Circumlocution (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comWe then write the list. I always hold off on using the words for numbers, unless they are needed to reach 100. We did not need to resort to them this year.  It is all about the context.  Rather than listing words for fruit, ask students to tell you which fruits are their favorite, or to describe the colors.  Instead of asking for examples of verbs, have students tell you what they like to do on the weekends with their friends, and follow it up with when and where.  Once they communicate in context the words and expressions keep coming.

Planning Towards a Goal in the Foreign Language Classroom

Feedback is an important and much-needed part of learning.  It is important that students have a clear understanding of what the goal or end product is so that they don’t feel that they are working just to work.  How many of us have heard students ask, “Why are we learning this?” or “When will I ever need this?”  Students ask this when they are not motivated to learn because the goal that they are working toward is not clear and obvious.  Teachers need to clearly understand what the end goal or product will be, and this needs to be shared with students at the beginning of a unit or lesson.Planning Towards a Goal in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comThroughout the unit or lesson the formative assessment and feedback should always be in relation to the goal.  Comments such as “good work” or “nice job” are not specific and in relation to the goal.  When the goal is presented early on it is more productive to assess formatively and provide feedback toward the goal.  For example, if the goal is to narrate an event in the past, feedback such as, “Your mastery of these regular verb forms will help you to speak confidently about what you did last weekend.  Now turn your focus to these irregular verb forms that will help you speak or write about more events.” Information from  Formative Assessment provides data during the instructional process. Without a clear goal, it is difficult to answer these formative assessment questions:

  • Where am I going?
  • Where am I now?
  • How can I get to where I am going/need to be?

Here are some ways to keep the goal the focus of the a unit or lesson.

Planning Towards a Goal in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.com

A Change in Words Can Change a Student’s Mindset

I’ve been reading a lot about student motivation and I wrote a post last summer about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  The focus of that post was student choice in what they talk and write about so that the motivation to use the foreign language is self-motivated (intrinsic) rather than the motivation being a grade or to please the teacher (extrinsic).  The more I have searched the internet and communicated with teachers in my Personal Learning Network (PNL) the more I have found that students can take a more metacognitive approach to motivation.  This will help to make motivation that is typically more extrinsic more intrinsic.

A Change in Words Can Change a Student's Mindset (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comIt essentially comes down to changing how students approach challenging linguistic situations.  This is reminiscent of Vygotsky’s Private Speechwhich is speech spoken to oneself for communication, self-guidance, and self-regulation of behavior.  He argued that children use private speech when learning to navigate the word around them, including language development.  If students change the words and questions they use to approach their work, the outcome will be different. A mindset that is more focused on growth and overcoming challenges will lead to higher confidence and a clearer understanding, whereas a fixed mindset causes students to limit their confidence and potential (Carol Dweck, Mindset).

Here are some examples of self-talk (private speech) that follow a fixed mindset along with a change in approach that is more focused on a growth mindset.  The examples are in English, Spanish and French as they can be easily assimilated into the world language classroom.  Perhaps students can write their own growth statements.

A Change in Words Can Change a Student's MindsetA Change in Words Can Change a Student's MindsetA Change in Words Can Change a Student's Mindset

Foreign Language Vocabulary Practice-Go Fish!

Foreign (World) Language Vocabulary Practice: Go Fish!  (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comStudents know how to play Go Fish and it great to be able to tap into this to have students practice vocabulary.  This activity remains very communicative because students must use the vocabulary to play, but the goal is to collect the cards.   The teacher simply needs to print out and cut up the cards and give a group of 3-4 students the pile to play. Several sets work best so that several groups can play. This is a an effective review game and a ideal opportunity for students to speak with each other in the foreign language.  Go Fish! also works well as a station activity.

Download Go Fish! games here:

Verb and Vocabulary Speaking and Writing Activity (Shipwreck)

This is a fun and engaging way for students to practice verb forms or any type of vocabulary.  I call this shipwreck (Naufrage, Naufragio, Hǎinàn-海难, Schiffbruch, Naufragium).  The board has 1oo squares, you can use fewer or more depending on the level of your students.

Foreign (World) Language Verb and Vocabulary Activity (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comIn the example below there are subjects and infinitives in each box.  Students play against an opponent and choose a box.  He then says or writes the correct verb form.  The example below has the student put the verb in the past tense in French.  If the opponent agrees that it is correct, the player gets to  color in the square with his color, then it is the opponent’s turn.  If the opponent does not agree with the response the teacher is summoned to verify.  If the answer is not correct the player loses that turn.  When a player gets three boxes in a row of his color he gets a point, which is recorded on the bottom.  Each play has a different color and employs a blocking strategy to try to prevent the opponent from getting three boxes in a row.  This works well with vocabulary (students either translate or use the word in a sentence) or adjective/adverb forms as well.

Foreign (World) Language Verb and Vocabulary Activity (French, Spanish) www.wlteacher.wordpress.com

You can make these activities in a WORD Document or you can download these activities that are ready to use:

Verb Reference when Speaking and Writing

This handy reference for students has verb forms on both sides. I photocopy it on  card stock (two-sides) and cut it into strips so that students can put it in their books, usually in the lesson we are currently studying.  My students really like having this easily accessible reference so that they don’t always have to go looking through their book for verb forms when speaking and writing.  The example below is for beginning/intermediate students, but more advanced students would benefit from more advanced verb forms and conjugations.

This handy reference can be made in a WORD document by making columns or text boxes.  You can also download them completed in French and Spanish here:

Classic Battleship to Get Kids Speaking

I always like to use classic games such as battleship in the foreign language classroom.  These types of activities don’t typically require a lot of explanation because students are familiar with the how the game is played and they can get right on task practicing their language skills.  You can read about how language instruction is improved with “fun and games” in a post that I wrote previously. 

Classic Battleship in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comHere is an example of how battleships can be used to practice  clothing vocabulary and colors in Spanish.  Students place boats (filled in boxes) on the game board. Students play against another student and try to find and sink the boats of the opponent. There are pictures of clothing down the left side and colors across the top (this can also easily be done with with subjects and verbs). To choose a square, the player must say the article of clothing and the correct form of the color.   All of the necessary vocabulary (boat names, hit, sunk, miss, examples of how to say a sentence) are on the sheet for student reference. There are two grids for each player to use, one to put his/her own “boats” on and the other to keep track of the opponent.

Classic Battleship in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comDownload Battleship Games Here: