Getting Students to Stick to the Target Language in an EFL Lesson


posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

In this interesting and thought-provoking video, Herbert Puchta addresses the important issue of monolingual communicative language teaching in (secondary school) foreign language classrooms.  As is well-known, many foreign language learners tend to switch to their mother tongue ‘whenever’ (this is an overgeneralization, of course) they are asked to work in pairs or in groups, especially when they are engaged in more demanding, increasingly self-regulated communicative activities.  In consequence, very often only the resulting products are presented in the target language in class (often by those students who are more confident – and competent – in the specific target language). This is a huge problem in German EFL classrooms, and perhaps, in foreign language classrooms around the world.

Herbert Puchta suggests that EFL  teachers should think about offering some additional incentives,, e.g. by appealing to the competitive spirit of teenage learners, and, more generally, by creating a classroom atmosphere that is not (or at least less) detrimental to the students’ willingness to speak English. This is plausible,  but in order to get down to the core of the problem (i.e. code-switching), teachers need to think more deeply about the basic design of the activities and tasks they wish to use in the EFL / foreign language classroom in the first place.

Tasks and activities which allow (or even force!) learners to resort to the mother tongue are questionable, mainly because they are not sufficiently tuned to the learners’  target language level of productive competence. Embedding competetive, game-like elements may help, but this is just one way of circumventing the problem.

Theoretically, this largely corresponds with Krashen’s I+ 1 , but O + 1 (O = output; with the improvised +1) is equally important in foreign language education.

On this blog, you can find an activity that softly ‘pushes’ EFL learners to speak English, to use their target language resources spontaneously, i.e. the improvisation ‘Bus Stop’. Try it out and let me know how it worked for you and your learners.

2 responses to “Getting Students to Stick to the Target Language in an EFL Lesson

  1. Pattipeg Harjo

    Oh my goodness–you can do this so much more easily by playing “circumlocution.” On index cards, write nouns in the student’s mother tongue–everything from “Barbie Doll” to “freedom” to “restraining order” to “Chihuahua.” Give pairs of students five cards each. They must get their partner to say the word in L1, but they can only use L2 to describe it. Rule: you can’t use an L2 form of the L1 word (e.g. if the word is “dog house” they can’t say “hund” or “haus”). This is their warmup session (usually about 15 minutes). The next day, the students are in two teams. A student from team A comes to the front of the room, chooses a card, and must describe the word in L2 to his team. They may not ask questions. They have about one minute to guess the word–if not, their person sits down and the other team gets a turn. The teacher must sit quietly, and cannot give any help whatsoever, even though s/he is cringing on the inside at the slaughter of the L2. After the game is over, the class takes particularly difficult words and brainstorms how they could have described them more effectively. The teacher may also want to model explanations of particularly difficult words.

    This game teaches students that they CAN communicate effectively in L2. After that, it’s a matter of ensuring that other paired activities are not too difficult for their vocabulary and grammar capabilities.

    BTW, I always use L1 for the words they have to guess, and I use words they know in L1 which they might not know in L2–here in Oklahoma I use “grits,” “chicken fried steak,” “fried okra,” “discombobulate,” “prom dress,” and “ATV.”

  2. I agree. This is exactly what I had in mind when I referred to the video as ‘thought-provoking’.

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