The Big Questions: How Much English?

I was led to begin this journey of putting my thoughts down by a few big questions that have been floating around in my head (and a lot of little ones as well). Some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately are too big to keep all the details in my own brain.

How much Spanish should I speak? What about my students?

This question seems to have so many potential answers, and most of them seem right! ACTFL says teachers and students should spend at least 95% of their time in the target language. Some teachers don’t use English at all. Some rely heavily on English for the first few weeks and then wean the kids off as the year progresses. So where will I land?

Until this year, I have basically just been teaching the way I was taught: mostly in English, except when specifically practicing with the vocabulary from the lesson/unit/chapter. Grammar instruction and even practice have relied heavily on English until now. But I’m so frustrated with the results. When we review things, the students can basically fill out charts and tell me the steps with their eyes closed, but their ability to apply that grammar is not even close to where I want it to be. And their abilities in speaking and listening…let’s not even get started on that.

So clearly I need to change something. After Christmas break and some long conversations with a fellow Spanish teacher, I changed gears with my Spanish III students and we now speak Spanish 100% of the time in class. I can absolutely tell that they’re more comfortable communicating with each other now than they were 12 weeks ago. It’s very encouraging, to the point that I’ve announced to my Spanish I and II students that next year (in Spanish II and III) there will be no English spoken. I’m a little nervous about that, but then yesterday I had a couple of students in my classroom during prep and they were thinking about next year. Their conversation went something like this:

Current Spanish II Student: “I’m so nervous that next year I won’t have any idea what’s going on because it’ll all be in Spanish.”

Current Spanish III Student: “It’s hard at first, but after a few weeks you figure out what she’s saying without even trying. I think it’s better this way. I think all the classes should be in Spanish all the time. Well, not Spanish I, but Spanish II, III, and IV, definitely.”

I was so encouraged by that little conversation. It seems like I made a good decision here.

But what about Spanish I? I imagine that for a Spanish I student, with no background in the language at all (beyond Dora), it would be highly frustrating to have a teacher speak only Spanish. But how much English is too much? And, if I start making small exceptions and speak English occasionally, will that lead to me falling back to English more and more often until I’m back where I am now? Should I speak Spanish all the time, but allow the kids to speak English, at least at the beginning of the year? That’s kind of what I’m thinking right now, but the more I read about other teachers’ experiences, the less certain I am, and the more my opinion varies. I want to be ready with whatever I’m going to do when school starts in the fall, so I guess I’ll be doing some soul searching this summer.

This was supposed to be a post about all my big questions, but it’s already long, so I guess I’ll save the others for later.


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