One of the key methodological question for Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers may be the use of the target language within the classroom. This paper will attempt to, firstly, define the term used in this study followed by an overview of what the National Curriculum and Ofsted are requiring, the second part will focus on the advantages in communicating with the target language. The third part explores the different challenges uncounted when using target language and finally, this study will try to suggest some strategies to deal with those issues.
I. Definitions and requirements
One of the main issue in teaching Modern Foreign Languages, is to determine the place of the target language within the classroom, but, the first question is: what is the target language? It could be defined as “the language learners are studying or the teacher wants them to learn”. (BBC, 2004). For example, in a French lesson in England, French would be the target language and English the L1, native language or mother tongue. Although target language is the most common term, it is important to note that it is also called the “L2”, or the Second Language (Acquisition), or even L2 input. For more convenience, Target Language (TL) will be used throughout this paper, in contrast with the L1 , the home language which will be English in this study.
As MFL teachers, and because this paper is focusing on secondary schools within the UK, it is important to know what is expecting to do with KS3 and KS4 pupils. The OFSTED Handbook, at section 37, is stating that “teachers should insist on the use of the target language for all aspects of a lesson.” (Ofsted, 1993). Some terms of this statement may be unclear or at least not precise enough, especially for a beginner or a trainee. “Should insist”, does it mean sanction any English words mentioned, or just reminding pupils, or maybe just try to use the target language as much as we can? Also, “all aspects of a lesson”; does it imply all the time within a lesson like when teaching vocabulary, grammar for example, or it includes instructions, behaviour management, feedback, strategies for exams and everything else around the lesson taught?
Some schools have a ‘target language only’ policy in the MFL classroom which, in that case, leave no possible further discussion.
In England, the National Curriculum, concerning the languages programmes of study for KS3, stated that the aims are as follow:
· “understand and respond to spoken and written language from a variety of authentic sources
· speak with increasing confidence, fluency and spontaneity, finding ways of communicating what they want to say, including through discussion and asking questions, and continually improving the accuracy of their pronunciation and intonation
· can write at varying length, for different purposes and audiences, using the variety of grammatical structures that they have learnt ….”
As Jeff Lee said, “the revised National Curriculum refers to pupils’ use of the target language and of English. It does not refer explicitly to teachers’ use of either language, nor do the QCA schemes of work” (Lee, 2000). It can be argued that the use of the target language is not mentioned specifically but others can say that even if it is not mentioned, it is difficult to pretend that it is not implied. Despite what OFSTED is stating target language use remains one of those issues on which many teachers remain uncertain. Finally, in August 2013, OFSTED composed a document called “Judging the use of the target language by teachers and students”, where, can be found some expectations for use of TL by not only teachers but also learners. Due to the focus of this paper being on the teacher aspect, it is more relevant to ignore the learners’ expectations at this stage and highlight what is expected from teachers of languages. An ‘outstanding’ lesson is, according to this document a lesson where “TL is the dominant means of communication”, similarly, in a ‘good’ lesson, the teacher is “consistent role model in use of the TL, however, if you use TL for “praise and organisational matters only” expect a ‘requires improvement’ and finally, when teachers use English where the TL could be used and switches rapidly between English and TL, then, your lesson would be graded as ‘inadequate’.
a) Quantity is important
Why do MFL teachers need to use TL in their lesson? First of all, teachers are always assimilated to role models for their pupils; for a French teacher who is trying to make his students talk in French, it would be coherent to model those expectations. In that way, the logical question from a reluctant student asking – “why are WE expected to speak French and you are not?!”- can be avoided. Also, many would say that it is just common sense to say that the best progress will be made if the teacher uses as much TL as possible. So, can we suggest that the more pupils hear a language the more they can grasp? Indeed, when teachers use the TL as the principal mean of communication it allows pupils to gain a maximum opportunity to use it for themselves as well. (Little, 1995) Also, when learners hear large amounts of comprehensible input and they are engaged in meaning-making, they understand and retain what they hear and they use it to form their own messages. (Long, 1981) (Swain, 1995) In addition to that point, ACTFL states that “learners need as much exposure as possible to the target language for acquisition to occur” (ACTFL, 2017). If this statement is accepted to be true, then, the MFL teacher has no other choice but to use TL as much as he can, especially when it is established that the classroom is the only opportunity for the French student to hear and speak in the target language. Crichton (2009) suggests that it is still possible if the target language is seen as the normal means of communication by both the teacher and the students. In conclusion, those multiple opinions highlight the importance of a good quantity of TL within the classroom.
b) Practice learning
It seems obvious that no one can learn to play the guitar without picking up a guitar and try it, and by practising more and more someone can become an excellent player. We can apply this to using a language, you can excel at it by practising as much as possible; it is useful to speak the language and hear it as well, so the learner and the teacher should use the target language at every opportunity they have. As Allison Chase (2015) states, “with language learning, the whole point is being able to put your language skills to the test and have a go at some meaningful communication with another person …”. (Chase, 2015) and this is why it seems important to allow the student to be actively engaged with the use of TL, by using it i.e. speak it, or by listening to it from others and more specially from an expert, the teacher.
c) Language means of communication
Teaching language is the one of the rare subject where the content is also the mean of communication, “the target language comes to be used not only as a medium of classroom communication but also as a channel of learning and a tool for reflection” (Little, et al., 2003). When teachers use the TL as the main mean of communication, it allows students a larger chance to use the language for themselves and some researchers like David Little (1995) and Hazel Crichton (2009) support this view. Also, it is very interesting to say that when the subject is transform to a way of communication, “the language is seen as useful now, and not just at some point in the future” (Macdonald, 1993). Indeed, even if students plan to go abroad, where the language is used, it still a vague possibility which is not real and concrete enough.
d) Self-esteem for students
The more they talk in TL, the more the student feel confident and motivated to continue. The self-confidence builds up and they are more opened to challenges, and they “realise their ability to communicate with even a limited amount of language” (Macdonald, 1993)
e) Authentic resources
Even though the classroom is not the most natural environment to speak a foreign language, the opportunity to hear, for a whole lesson, someone speak a language offers a “foreign atmosphere” to the students, which comes with language, intonations and culture taught by the teacher and it might be the only opportunity for the student to sense that. Moreover, students can relate directly their learning that is happening in the MFL classroom with practical situation. For example, when the teacher gives homework in the TL, she uses the day of the week taught in class which pupils will connect easily.
As Krashen (1982) says, the student can “only acquire (internalise) language when they hear large quantities of input that the teacher provides orally”, and we already discussed the fact that the MFL classrooms could be the only opportunity for most students to hear someone speak in TL. In addition, the teacher input might be considered as an authentic resource, especially if the teacher is a native speaker. Consequently, every situation where teacher and student use TL, for behaviour management, or homework , or just because a pen forgotten, it become a real, authentic situation where language is applied. It can mean sometimes that in addition of role plays, those situations are added to the pupil’s experience.
Another advantage of using the target language in a MFL classroom is the fact that students are mostly preparing for their end of year exam especially GCSE, as this paper is focusing in secondary schools; it is consequently important to prepare them to it. They will sit four exam papers which are listening, speaking, writing and reading. The two first exams cites above would be much facilitated if pupils would listen and speak the TL throughout the year in school, they may attain a level where they can speak spontaneously sometimes. The teachers’ pronunciation and intonation should be familiar, and mimicry should be easier for them than students who never or rarely hear it. (Lee, 2000)
There is a lot of benefices in using the target language within the MFL classroom and it seems that no one can argue that it is not good practice to use it as much as possible. Why all the teachers are not using TL ALL the time then?
III. Challenges and solutions
a) Time consuming
Because it is not the most natural language for the teacher and the students – even if the teacher is a native speaker of the TL – repetitions and clarification is always required, also, teachers would always check if students have understood what has been said, and ideally in TL. Therefore, using TL lead to be spending more time giving instructions or else, where sometimes a minute of English would be enough to get the same result. Teachers, who want to use TL 100% throughout the lesson, will spend a large amount of time repeating a sentence, finding cognates or synonyms, drawing on the board and, sometimes, a student will just translate it in English to cut short the eventual confusion. Is it worth it? Jones and Jones (2001), commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England, student was put off, only when the student “was listening to the teacher speaking in the target language for long periods of time” (Jones & Jones, 2001). Yet, how would the students learn how to pronounce words correctly in the target language if teachers do not talk more, therefore, some think that heavy teacher’s presence in all dialogues and demonstrations (how to say the word accurately) is a positive element. it can be said that teachers need to model pronunciation without babbling for a too large amount of time or some students may be lost in the process. Indeed, “some pupils will be left behind” (Cajkler & Addelman, 2000), especially if some students have learning difficulties or just low able students.
Time is also an issue when considering constraints imposed by the National Curriculum and examination syllabuses; it urges some restrictions on the time used in the classroom (Morgan & Neil, 2001).
One of the worst thing in a language lesson is to have students demotivated to learn. Collins (1993) comments that “the motivation, especially of lower ability children may dictate that use of TL has to be interspersed with English in order to keep their attention and to ensure they are following the lesson”.