How to Get your Students to Speak the Target Language

An effective world language teacher, skilled in the use of comprehensible input, uses the target language 90 to 100% of the time in all levels of instruction.  However, the real challenge is to get your STUDENTS to speak the target language.  There are some strategies that work de maravilla because, just as in classroom management, it’s not the teacher, but the students, who, with a mighty zeal, police each other.  How is this accomplished?

How to Get your Students to speak the target language

It's a simple matter of psychology.

When the students WANT to speak the language more than they don’t want to, they will.  Through trial and error, I have discovered two strategies that work, either separately, or simultaneously.

After writing the word, “English” on the board in the target language, I tell the students that every time I hear the nasty mother tongue, I will erase a letter. (And I am consistent about doing so.)  If the students have any letters left at the end of the period, I add one bonus point to the next test.  Other rewards may be used but extra test points have proven to be the highest motivator in my classes.  The points don’t change the scores that much, and, even if they do, they are worth it because of the learning that is taking place in a semi-immersion classroom.  It’s a joy to see students shushing each other and glaring at offending English speakers.  Positive peer pressure is a strong motivator.

But what about whispered English?

What about the English that the teacher doesn’t hear, the off-task whispering out of auditory range?  ¡Híjole!  I mean, “¡Frijoles!” I give 10 beans to each student at the beginning of the week and tell them I will continue to erase letters when I hear English spoken.  However, when THEY hear it, they must / can take a bean away from the offender.  I teach them to say, “Dame tu frijol”, which they do with much smugness and satisfaction.  In the case of extremely overly-nice students I encourage meanness by telling them that if I hear English and no bean is confiscated, I will take the “hearer’s” bean away.

At the end of the week, the students with the most beans get a prize. (I give chocolate to ten-beaners and homework passes to the few very high winners.) To minimize teacher-work, ask your  T.A.s to count the beans. No T.A.s?  Designate a student to be the day’s bean counter.

Lastly, competition is an effective approach for getting the students to WANT to speak the language.  For example, during my competitions, English is prohibited and always earns a negative  point.  During paired competitions, such as the DOUBLE-OBJECT PRONOUN GAME, or the SER PAIRED ACTIVITY, when an opponent speaks English, his/her partner wins a point.  Believe it or not, students will choose chocolate over the ease of slipping into English.  They will WORK for chocolate, and in the process, will become proficient.

Now you have three more ideas for how to get your students to speak the target language. Happy beaning!

Have you read the previous blog posts about How to Use the Target Language 90-100%?

How to Use the Target Language 90-100% – Part Two

How to Use the Target Language 90-100% – Part Three

I would love to hear if any of these strategies works for you! Comment below.

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