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Why I teach more Model Language and less Target Language

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by gianfrancoconti1966, May 28, 2017.

  1. gianfrancoconti1966

    gianfrancoconti1966 Occasional commenter

    Dodros likes this.
  2. Dodros

    Dodros Lead commenter

    Interesting piece. Thank you for describing your personal odyssey towards your own philosophy and practice of language teaching. My PGCE in the early 1970s was completed well before the arrival of the communicative approach and my subsequent French and German teaching post in a boys' grammar-technical school drew me into the world of grammar-translation and audio-lingual teaching in equal measure back then. The art of eclecticism is soon mastered as theories and methods of foreign language pedagogy come and go. My own introduction to the communicatice approach was rooted in classroom practice, insofar as the late 1970s and early 1980s saw the rise of the Graded Objective movement in MFL teaching, separating out the four skills and bringing in the idea of authentic texts and communication skills that equipped the learner for everday life in the target-language country. This move resonated with me because at the end of my O-level German course I spent two weeks with a German family to improve my fluency in the language. This visit confirmed that while my knowledge of German vocabulary and grammar was sound, my ability to communicate and comprehend by word of mouth lagged far behind. I was tongue-tied in German, which of course didn't matter in the early 1960s when oral exams counted for almost nothing. I still got my "A" in O-level German.

    Moving on to authentic texts, I now strongly believe that they have a place in all levels of teaching languages and with students of all abilities. Authentic texts come in many shapes and lengths, some even consisting of a single word such as:
    I have contributed several German word knowledge exercises to TES Resources and they can be found among the entries at https://www.tes.com/resources/search/?&q=dodros. These exercises are based on short authentic texts and I have used similar short texts with students with special educational needs with great success to support learning of vocabulary from beginners onwards. Authentic texts don't have to be extended pieces of continuous prose, they can take the form of tables, signs, advertisements etc. When the schools within my local authority got together in the late 1970s and early 1980s to write Graded Objectives Tests in French and German, we used a variety of similar short authentic texts to assess reading comprehension. In the 1990s I used to go to the university library to photocopy pages of German newspaper advertisements and returned home to glue them on to index cards, each tied to an item of German vocabulary on the GCSE German word list. I ended up with hundreds of such cards, which found their way into key stage 3 tests as well as exercises for examination classes. Nowadays it's much easier to collect such texts, as Google Images has many pictures of German signage, as above, that can reinforce understanding of written German.
    pascuam49 likes this.
  3. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    I try to read and appreciate points made in your posts. I noticed a request from a correspondent in the follow-up to your article....
    "I don’t suppose you could give us a clue as to some examples of phrases you regularly use?"
    I have frequently wanted to 'scream' the same question...

    You've mentioned "chunks" before: can you give examples of some of the "chunks" you've presented to your learners (and maybe the age/ability of the learners);
    You've referred to encouraging learners to "unpack the chunks"... can you give examples of ways in which learners might "unpack" a "chunk"?

    Examples would make your points so much more informative (French and German examples would 'reach' most of the readership here) to anyone wondering what exactly you mean.

    Thanks in advance!
    Dodros likes this.
  4. gianfrancoconti1966

    gianfrancoconti1966 Occasional commenter


    Example of chunks can be found in my latest TES resources. Two of them contains a list of a set of my 'universals&

    As for how to unpack a chunk, I provide a basic framework in my second last post on my blog on inductive grammar teaching

    Hope this helps

  5. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Is this distinction between model and target languages really important for MFL teachers in their day to day work?
  6. Random175

    Random175 New commenter

  7. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    OK, one last plea.... any chance of some links to the places you mentioned in post 4? I've searched and searched to no avail.
  8. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

  9. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Plus below is a link to his resources page. They are chargeable but have preview pages.

  10. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    Thanks for taking the trouble to help me, Minka. Very grateful, now I'll see what I can find.
  11. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Hope you find what you're looking for. Gianfranco has such interesting blogs . Such a pity no one seems interested enough to discuss them on TES.
  12. Dodros

    Dodros Lead commenter

    Well, not quite no one. You, me and a couple of other people do put in our two cents' worth. I responded this time because I feel strongly about the role of authentic texts in foreign language teaching and my starting point tends to be a an eclectic and practical problem-solving approach rather than a theoretical or philosophical stance. But it takes two to tango. It was left to you to provide the precise links sought by Incommunicado. When I refer people to resources on my own website, I feel impelled to provide chapter and verse when it comes to the URLs of the documents I am highlighting.
  13. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    It's generally the case that most MFL teachers are more interested in practical ideas than theory and discussions of methodology. I don't criticise them for that. Most of the time teachers are chasing their tale and getting through the day!
    pascuam49 likes this.
  14. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Everybody has a theory, about how languages are learned and the best methodology to use to teach, whether it is an informed view or a feeling that this is the right way. I hope for most mfl teachers it is the former rather than the latter.
  15. gianfrancoconti1966

    gianfrancoconti1966 Occasional commenter

    Hi, Minka. I do believe the distinction is important, my point being that one has to try as much as possible to fashion the foreign language input we give our students in a way which facilitates learning and recycles to death the grammar or vocabulary we aim to teach. Way too often teachers provide students with input which is related to topic-at-hand or even the target grammar structure because it is in the book, it relates to the same topic area they are covering, without focusing of how it is really going to help our students to learn.

    Texts that facilitate learning should be easy to comprehend so as to help students spot and learn from context the target items embedded in the text. Similarly, teacher talk should be patterned and structured in such a way as to recycle the target items over and over even at the risk of sounding artificial. And this is the main point: authentic texts at lower levels of proficiency do not facilitate learning as they are not designed for learning; not even the ones in current textbooks which often - to be used effectively and efficiently - requires teacher to prepare pre- reading activities to scaffold learning, which is very time-consuming.

    Finally, Minka, the most important way the distinction has helped me is by focusing me more and more on the core language features I want to teach and on how I can make sure that they keep recurring in my input. The list of 'universals' I came up with have totally changed the way I teach and have enhanced learning significantly in my lessons.
  16. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    I totally agree with what you say. I must admit I was very confused when you bring out a distinction between Lewis' definition of model and target language and yours. I must have read the first few paragraphs 10 times now to get a handle on it but perhaps a bit too technical for me. Was looking forward to a wide ranging discussion on the ideas you put forward but it has failed to materialise so far.

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