This past week, Dr. Stephen Krashen published a blog post entitled “90% fever: Should we require that the teacher use the target language 90% of the time in class?” Being the researcher he is, he expressed his misgivings about ACTFL’s statement about 90% Target Language, since that specific percentage is not based on an empirical study nor does it address how the first language (10%) should be used.
Dr. Krashen wrote: “If we simply focus first language use on making second language input more comprehensible, e.g. an occasional translation of a problematic word or a brief explanation of grammar, I predict that use of the second language will be 90% or more. But if our goal is only to use the second language 90% of the time, there is no guarantee that it will be used in the service of providing comprehensible input.”
His blog post really got me to thinking, and I crafted what I thought was a brilliant response. Where my original response went, I have no idea. (I lost it when I couldn’t sign in successfully.) This blog post is inspired by that lost comment, as I attempt to reiterate what I said in response to not only Dr. Krashen’s post, but also the thought-provoking comments that followed.
I have never considered ACTFL 90% Target (goal) to be based on anything more than logic. Generally speaking, most language practitioners believe what research has supported for many years: For language acquisition to take place, learners must have access to a great deal of comprehensible input. If that’s true, then it’s logical that our national language organization (ACTFL) would make some sort of a formal statement about the importance of being in the target language. Although a specific number (90%) might be confusing or unsettling to some, there is no doubt that the 90% position statement has been a great influence in promoting more productive use of class time. It does, however, bring with it some valid questions.
- Why 90%? Where did that exact number come from?
- 90% of what? 90% of time, words, instruction?
- Does that 90% also apply to students? If yes, can we really expect novice language learners who do not yet have linguistic competence to independently communicate in L2?
- What % of the TL has to be comprehensible?
- Can we REALLY measure 90% anyway?
- What is “allowable” or recommended during the other 10% of the time?
- If 10% is used for communication in L1, then for what purpose should instructors use L1?
These questions are not in direct conflict with the core principle of promoting the importance of using the target language. They are merely seeking specific information to achieve what I believe to be a universally shared goal: To help students become informed, productive, life-long, communicatively-competent learners of language.
I do not think there is any disagreement on the fundamental principle or goal. There is merely misunderstanding and disagreement on how it is articulated. That said, I’d love feedback from acquisition-minded instructors on how YOU would re-write ACTFL’s position statement if you had a chance to give input. Below is an excerpt from ACTFL’s website, followed by my own amateur attempt to write a position statement that is aligned with the principles of SLA and provides a helpful, somewhat measurable goal for language instructors.
ACTFL’s current title:
USE OF THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN THE CLASSROOM
Research indicates that effective language instruction must provide significant levels of meaningful communication* …
…ACTFL therefore recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom. In classrooms that feature maximum target-language use, instructors use a variety of strategies to facilitate comprehension and support meaning making. For example, they:
1 (of 8) provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals;
MY REVISED STATEMENT: Use of CI in the Language Classroom
Research indicates that exposure to a great deal of comprehensible input is needed for language acquisition to take place. ACTFL therefore recommends that teachers use level-appropriate, comprehensible target language as their primary language of communication, using a judicious amount of English to establish and/or clarify meaning and to accurately check for understanding. Instructors provide opportunities to interact with comprehensible input using strategies that are meaningful, have communicative intent, and are focused on multiple high-interest contexts. For example, they…