How to have an Immersion Classroom: Teaching in the Target Language

In order for students to become proficient in the target language, they must hear and speak it without interference from their own language.  They must hear and speak it so that they get sufficient repetition for the language to stick.  The only way to do this is to conduct the class in the target language only and not to allow the students’ first language.  So, how does one accomplish this?  So many teachers have asked me this question.   So many teachers have tried and failed.

How to have an immersion classroom. Using the Target Language

Comprehensible Input

First, I would like to clarify that an “immersion” classroom is not effective unless by that you mean a classroom filled with comprehensible input.  In level one,  I provide tons of input without demanding, initially, that students speak in the target language.  I speak Spanish 90% of the time because I am able to make myself understood without the use of English most of the time.  When I am unable, I speak English.  Otherwise, it would not be comprehensible.

Also, the students do not have enough vocabulary to communicate yet.  After I have taught certain vocabulary and grammar concepts, after about three months (on the block) I go to 100% for me and the students.  Here is how I do it.

How I do it

In level one, I teach all the vocabulary that students will need to know to function in the classroom in the target language: the commands, high frequency words, the classroom objects, greetings, los saludos, numbers, months, years, dates, verbs in the infinitiveconjugations, and, lastly, how to ask and answer all possible questions (yes/no/interrogative, Tú, usted, ustedes)  After teaching the questions, I go to all Spanish. Usually by then I am already speaking all Spanish but have allowed them to speak English.  Now, there is no reason for me to tell students what to do in English as they already understand the commands in Spanish.

Each time I teach something new I tell students, “From now on, I will not use English for this vocabulary and you are not permitted to either.”  By the time we get to all Spanish the transition is pretty seamless.

From day one I tell students we will be going to all Spanish.  Mentally they prepare themselves for the day when they will be forced to communicate only in the target language.  I say things like, “When we go to all Spanish…”

How to have an immersion classroom

After week three I give students a list of Frases Útiles which include most communication students will have to say to me, such as, “Do we have to… Do I have to…Can I sharpen my pencil?”  After we practice those and I test them on it I tell them, “If you are saying something to me that is on this sheet, I will not understand.  I will say, “No entiendo.  Frases Útiles.”  It takes them a while to get it:  Oh.  After we learn these I am actually expected to use them.  If we do not force students to communicate in the language, they never go from, “This is a class I have to take to get into college” to, “This is communication”.

In addition, I give students training wheels.  I allow them to ask me,”¿Qué quiere decir?” and “¿Cómo se dice?” and I give them points for asking.  I put those words on the board and two or three become bonus words for the next test.  In that way, students are rewarded for trying to speak the target language and are not frustrated when they do not have the sufficient vocabulary.

I also tell them, “Do anything you can to make yourself understood.”

How to Handle Student Pressure

It is important not to allow students to pressure you.  This is where debutants buckle.  When students speak to me in English, I either ignore them or I say, “No entiendo”.  They soon learn that, if they want to engage in discourse with me, it must be in the target language.  I simulate the situation of being in another country but with training wheels and sheltered language.

For higher levels, I have other tricks I use.  I make most paired activities a competition in which students keep points.  They are instructed to give themselves a point each time their partner speaks English.  This works like a charm because students self-monitor.  I reward with either points or chocolate.  Here are some paired activities I use that work well for me.  One is to practice “ser”; the other is to practice double-object pronouns

Spanish Ser Paired Activity

For the FREE Double-Object Pronoun Game, CLICK HERE

For levels two through AP, I use the following technique:  I write “inglés” on the board at the beginning of class.  Each time I hear English, I erase a letter.  If there is a letter left at the end of the class, students receive one extra point toward the next test.  It works like a charm.  The peer pressure does all the work.  I often hear angry, “Who?s” (¿Quién?  ¿Quién habló inglés?)

Provide Comprehensible Input- Use the Target Language!

Lastly, the bulk of the responsibility for creating an immersion situation rests on the teacher.  She must ALWAYS be providing comprehensible input.  Yes, it’s exhausting.  But, it must be done and the reward is great.

When your level one students are having conversations with you you will not regret having expected them to function in the target language.  Here is what you need:  visuals for everything. (I write most of what I say), PowerPoints with tons of visuals for everything you say and teach, (See PowerPoints for Spanish One and PowerPoints for Spanish Two) puppet shows, (see “Sock Puppets“), speak-they write, analyze text, interact with text, ask/answer questions, TPR Stories (See TPR Stories).

Translation -Ugh!

Lastly, avoid translation.  Sometimes it is necessary for short bursts, but try to find alternative, more effective, target-language driven activities.  For bell work, instead of translation, I give silly sentences using the vocabulary or grammar we are studying and have students change them to logical sentences.  Instead of saying, “¿Cómo se dice, ‘I dropped the book?’, I put up a visual of a student dropping a book and have students describe the picture using the non-intentional “se”.

Instead of saying, “¿Cómo se dice, “He is having a good time”?  I put up a scene of people participating in lots of activities and have students tell me, using the gerund, what the people are doing.  Or I ask questions, “What are you doing?  What is he doing?  What was she doing?”

There are so many ways to provide comprehensible input.  It’s fun, too!  Happy teaching in the target language!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Marie

    Great! Thank you for all this information.

  • admin

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you found it helpful.

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