Facilitating Target Language Comprehensibility
Teachers' Voices Series
In this article, Jessica Fu shares her thoughts about using the target language (TL) in Chinese language classrooms. Fu is a member of the Asia Society Chinese Teacher Leadership Program, an online, part-time certificate program aiming to help its participants make a positive impact in their classrooms, academic institution, the greater community, and the Chinese pedagogy field.
By Jessica Fu
Herricks High School, New York
Using the target language (TL) in the classroom extensively is common practice for almost every world language teacher. However, the devil is always in the details.
When the TL is used in instruction, it's critical that it is comprehensible and engaging. Imagine walking along a street and a passerby talking to you in a foreign language. You will most likely not understand, because there is simply no context and thus no comprehensibility nor negotiation of meanings. The same goes for new language learners in the classroom.
Therefore, it's important for educators to provide comprehensible input through various supports such as context, body language, gestures, visual support, and connection to prior knowledge and experiences. This does not mean that when introducing new vocabularies, educators simply show a bunch of pictures with new words and ask students to repeat them. Instead, a relevant story – a context – may be created and new words can be presented naturally throughout the story.
The use of contextual stories reminds me of a language instruction class I took with Dr. Elaine Margarita. We were asked to close our eyes and imagine we were travelling with her while she was telling a story. When she mentioned, “It started to rain,” I felt water on my face. And when she said, “The cheese is delicious!” I then smelled the cheese. It turns out she actually sprinkled water and squeezed a cheese aroma from a stink blaster toy to our faces. Just like that, “rain” and “cheese” were naturally presented.
By embedding new language elements in a well-developed discourse at an appropriate level, and providing the comprehensible input with context and sensuous experiences, Dr. Margarita easily made learning much more memorable and efficient. And we, as language educators, can certainly do the same to make target language comprehensible and accessible to our learners in our classrooms.