How can we create a Target Language ONLY classroom? Part 1

How can we create a Target Language ONLY classroom? Part 1

How can we create a Target Language ONLY classroom? Part 1

By Wendy Maxwell

View video here

One of the most often asked questions that I receive from any second language teacher is:

How do I create an immersion environment where both my students and I use the  target language only in all class activities?

Teachers tell me that they are frustrated by the fact that students don’t understand, don’t have the skills to speak or write only in the Target Language (TL) after many. They say: “I also want to be able to connect personally with my students, have great discussions, but I will need to use English sometimes for those interactions, won’t I?”. In my experience, (with the exception of sandwiching!) using our first language in the limited allotted to us in our second language class has the following effect:  students end up not learning the language effectively and become frustrated, feeling that language class is a waste of time – this is just the opposite of the goals that we want to achieve!

As language teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to give the gift of language to our students  – this is our passion and our ultimate goal! To me, TL only in any language classroom makes total sense – why would we speak English in a French class? Spanish in a Mandarin class? Japanese in an Italian class…in fact, I think TL only is essential in getting students up and running in the language quickly so that they experience the joy of speaking and understanding a new language as soon as possible and in my experience we connect even MORE powerfully with students when we are the unique individual with whom students share this new language.

The strategies provided in AIM, for example, such as the use of the Pared Down Language, Pleasant Repetition, deeply embedding words in context through stories and drama, music and dance, scaffolded language manipulation activities, gestures to promote extensive practice with speaking and written language activities that extend into the highest level of engagement through creative writing to books publishing are all part of a system in which each individual technique works synergistically with the others to support teachers in ensuring that students acquire the language.

HOWEVER, I feel that if we miss one important piece of this system, it will result in a significant drop in its effectiveness. What is this piece? Setting the expectation of and consistently and insistently requiring the TL only! In this video I will discuss a few strategies such as the importance of commitment and also how the PDL works to ensure TL only.

Because this is such an important topic, I will dedicate additional videos to Target Language only as well, each one focusing one or more of the strategies that AIM offers to help you maintain the TL Only.

So it all starts with a commitment on the part of the teacher and this is absolutely key to success. It is so easy to slip into the first language…easier and faster for you and so much easier for the students. However, one never achieved anything without hard work and commitment to a goal. Believe in yourself and believe in your students. What are we telling students when we use English or allow them to do so? We are saying: “I don’t believe that you can handle it, so I am going to have to speak in English”. 

Please do believe in them! They CAN do it! I and many other teachers have experienced it. And once you make this commitment, now draw on strategies to support you. Consider how the PDL can help. Use the simplicity that the PDL offers you to limit your gestured communication at first to very short sentences…baby talk! That’s how we all began! Don’t worry that students might continue to use baby talk forever – we didn’t and neither will they! However, starting simply and consciously selecting those essential high-frequency words from the PDL and repeating them over and over again in different ways as I gesture is how I helped my students reached their highest potential. It is in fact very easy. Let’s get into the details as to how the Pared Down Language supports you.

You are provided with a carefully selected list of high-frequency verbs, nouns, questions, conjunctions and expressions. This one of the most important supports for the maintenance of the TL only. How? When you are only using these specific words and recycling them through your spontaneous gesturing – reviewing the story, asking and responding to questions, describing activities, explaining a game, talking about anything that is going on in class, you are providing students with pure Comprehensible Input and the opportunity for sufficient pleasant repetition for acquisition. LESS is definitely MORE in this case.

If you commit, heart and soul in every action that you take, in every sentence that you gesture and in all communication to your students, that TL only is priority for you and use the strategy of scaffolding that the notion of the PDL offers, then you are well on your way. In fact this is how AIM developed – every aspect of the methodology is there to support you. My students never know that I speak English – well, they are never sure…until they hear me quietly talking to a parent for example, who has no French… and then I get a big scolding from them! Whether it is outside at recess or lunch supervision, leading Karate Club, leading cooking club – I would not consider anything else but doing this in French. I was lucky of course, because AIM was used throughout my school.

Consider that you embody the language that you teach – for your students you ARE the language – show your passion for it and your absolute commitment to it.


I hope that you join me next week for more tips on maintaining TL only!