According to ACTFL, World Language teachers should use the target language anywhere from 90% to 100% of the time. In my personal experience, doing this on a consistent basis has been very difficult. A study conducted by Peter Dickson from the National Foundation for Educational research has outlined several factors that could possibly deter teachers' use of the target language. The categories are as follows: disorderly behavior, lower achieving students, large classes, mixed ability classes, your own fatigue, your views on target language use, your confidence teaching a foreign language if said language is not your native language, department policy, and your confidence (1
foreign language). Dickson created a questionnaire that 504 language teachers answered for each of these categories on how they rated it affected negatively their use of the target language in the classroom ranging from very much, quite a lot, a bit, and not at all.
It comes as no surprise that the three categories in which the greatest number of teachers selected very much or quite a lot were 1. disorderly behavior, 2. lower achieving students, and 3. mixed ability classrooms.
At my school, these three factors are prevalent in all of my classes. Last year, our school had the highest percentage of suspensions in the district. In the last ten years, only two students have been able to pass an AP exam. And in my Spanish classes, I have some students who are in twelfth grade in Spanish 2 who took Spanish 1 three years ago in ninth grade among tenth grade students who finished Spanish 1 just months before. I am not using these statistics as excuses for why I cannot remain in target language, only to highlight the reasons I want to answer the questions I posed in the introduction of this paper.
For me, the most significant obstacle has been mixed ability classrooms. This is evident in my class data on assessments and presentational tasks. By a large margin, students in Spanish 1 do much better than students in either Spanish 2 or Spanish 3, and Spanish 1 students also can comprehend and produce more of the target language, and have less of a resistance to it. This could be for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious one is that as an introductory course (with the exception of native speakers, of whom I have two) the mixed abilities factor is virtually gone. Even students who academically do much better than other students are at only a slight advantage; everyone is essentially starting from zero. The opposite is true in the other levels. In Spanish 2 and 3 students' language history begins to diverge. Are they taking it in consecutive years or spread out? Do they have the same teacher? Have they used it outside of school? These uncontrollable factors make higher levels not just more difficult to learn, but more difficult to teach. As I continue writing and researching, the question of "How can I overcome these three factors and continue to move toward 95% to 100% target language?" will remain a focus in my mind.
While achieving full Target Language in my classroom is my goal, it is important to discuss the schools of thought that don't necessarily agree with teaching in only target language. Jang Ho Lee wrote a paper in 2012, "English Teaching: Practice and Critique" criticizing policies in Korea that demand that English classes be taught only in English. "Use English to teach English" is the motto in many World Language curriculums. She argues, however, that in a bilingual global society, we should teach bilingualism. She goes on to explain four assumptions that we make about how to teach a foreign language: Monolingualism, Naturalism, Native-speakerism, and Absolutism.
Lee defines monoligualism as implying that any language other than the target language should not be used, no matter what. She defines Naturalism as the idea that language learners will learn second and third languages much more efficiently if learned in a "natural" way similar to how toddlers' learn their first language. She defines Native-speakerism as the view that separates native speaker teachers from non-native speaker teachers and that one is more effective than another (this is most associated with English as a second language, so I will not be going into detail). Finally, Absolutism is defined as the absolute confidence in monolingualism, and it presupposes that other techniques cannot be valid.
Native-speakerism and monolingualism can be mostly applied to learning English, and Lee's paper speaks directly to that subject. Naturalism and Absolutism, however, can be applied to learning foreign languages in middle school and high school. Naturalism suggests that teaching in only the target language will allow the student to learn a language in a similar way to how a first language is learned, through constant immersion. Lee questions this assumption based on the two schools of thought attached to being bilingual. Henry Widdowson has coined terms for the two accepted theories of bilingual people; "compound bilingualism" and "coordinate bilingualism."
Compound bilingualism claims that when someone learns a second language, the two languages become inseparable and intertwined in the learner's mind. For people like me, who became bilingual at a very early age (three years old) this does not seem to be the case. I can very easily turn one language off or on. I can also have both on, so to speak, and switch between them very quickly. When I am actively teaching in the classroom, both languages are on; however, when I am visiting family who speak only Spanish, my English is off. Whether that is voluntary or involuntary seems a mystery to most researchers.
For Widdowson, according to Lee, coordinate bilingualism is "coordinate bilingualisation" in which L1 and TL linguistic systems are held to be neither interfering with each other nor fusing into one single system."
It seems as though the process of teaching in only the target language would be coordinate bilingualisation because one language is not dependent on the other. However, it also seems as though bilingual learners who learn a second language later in life cannot separate one language from another. This doesn't mean that they constantly translate in their head, but it does mean that they use each language to help expand the other one. This seems to be how bilingual learners from later in life become fluent.
Lee makes a case for bilingual teaching rather than teaching in only target language. I think that Lee is going in the right direction. However, when thinking about high school students from New Haven, it is difficult to make the assumption that learners will use both languages to help each language; rather they will use English as a crutch and never accept the difficulty of learning any new language. For example, I fell into the trap this year of using too much English, especially in my Spanish 2 classes. When I tried to go back to more Spanish the students rebelled and would say, "JUST TELL US WHAT IT MEANS, JUST TRANSLATE!" I had created a crutch for them and ended up paralyzing them for good. Yet I think that if English is used on a teacher's terms rather than a student's terms, then English can be used effectively to teach.