Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Keeping Learners in the Target Language Since 2011


Today's post is long overdue, so here we go! After several e-mails in which I explained/forwarded the method I use to keep students in the target language, I decided to write a post so that I can refer back to it when the topic comes up.  Blogging serves a beautiful purpose!

I would like to thank French teacher, Janet Hachen, of the Upstate in South Carolina, for first presenting this PAIE-MOI! (Pay me!) system at the South Carolina chapter of the AATF's fall workshop back in 2011.  After attending her presentation, I implemented the plan in my classroom the following week and have been using it ever since. Merci mille fois, Janet!

Before I share my thoughts on this method, please visit my professional wiki and click on the file entitled, 'French-Only Policy,' in order to get a better understanding of how it works. 


It goes without saying that students' oral proficiency has improved, dare I say, tremendously since the implementation of the paie-moi system.  They speak with more ease AND some language learners even crack jokes (...usually at my expence, but it's all good!).  Of course, this type of plan only works because I greatly prepare students with useful 'classroom navigation' expressions at the start of year one AND I strategically plan daily learning experiences.  By the way, classroom management issues are reduced significantly when students are actively engaged in target language tasks. What a great incentive to make the change!

Some language educators with whom I've corresponded have an 'English zone' in their classroom where they put down masking or duct tape in the shape of a box. Students can enter the zone along with the teacher and pose a question or make a comment in English.  This comes in handy on occasion, especially for the first year students, because they sometimes have long explanations/questions that would take too long to write down. (My 'English zone' is just outside my door in the hallway because I feel comfortable using that space.) 

Remember, with this system, students may write things in English on mini white boards, tablets, or elsewhere. Trust me, this ends rather quickly because students seem to prefer speaking, even if it's in the target language. Yay!

It should also be noted that this method really holds the teacher accountable for 90%+ use of the target language, as well, because baking brownies for a class takes away some of that precious personal time! Now that I speak French from bell to bell, the often frustrating days of going back and forth between the native and target language are a thing of the past.

Now, some of you might not think the paie-moi plan would work in your classroom. Here are some other ideas that might suit you better.  Special thanks to @HCPSLanguages from my Twitter PLN for sharing these resources!

From the October 2012 edition of ACTFL's magazine, The Language Educator:
"Going for 90%+: How to Stay in the Target Language" by Douglass Crouse

Check out this wiki page for several ideas that have been shared by world language educators!

Before you go, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.  Do you have a TL-only system in your classroom? How does it work? Do you know of other resources that would help WL teachers make the switch?

Best wishes for a new year of 90%+ target language use in your classroom!

Cristy Vogel a.k.a. @msfrenchteach


  1. Mille mercis, Cristy, for sharing this idea with me last summer. I implemented it in all of my French classes (French I-V) during the 2012-2013. Kids were very receptive and the use of the target language by my students grew exponentially! In Wisconsin, I am part of the developmental pilot of student learning objectives (50% of the teacher evaluation model). My SLO goal was "As a result of students self-monitoring their use of the target language and conferencing with their instructors, 90% of students who initially exhibit Minimal or Basic skills will improve to Proficient or Advanced skills, based on their course level as measured by the World Language Departmental Speaking Rubric, collected once each term."

    Here are the details and results: http://goo.gl/4mrrd

    Here is the final self-assessment survey that students took at the end of each term: http://goo.gl/ADY1F

    Your "Paie-moi" initiative was a crucial step in helping me and my students achieve our goals! Je te remercie encore!

  2. Merci à toi aussi, Melinda! Bravo on your oral proficiency goals and results for last year! You've inspired me to use an app to create a similar self-assessment survey for my students. Merci encore!

  3. I like the concept, and particularly how you too are held accountable to stay in the TL by the students. I wonder, though, what sort of writing you have received from students in the "suck-up" letters? It seems to me that the other option, of having to bring in and share a resource or artifact in French, is a little less punitive and more productive for the whole class in terms of expanding on the number of materials in the TL in play. Do students often choose to write the letter instead?

    Again, great job on sticking to your goals of staying in the TL! I'm sure your students are far better communicators for your efforts.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Caleb! The students write how much they love everything French on a piece of paper. It's silly and students don't love expressing such things to me, BUT they most often choose that option because they can write it while on campus. I would like to try another option at some point, but that's what I do for now. I tell my students that I will get their letters out on a bad day, read them, AND believe them. That last part always brings laughter. :-)

    1. Hehehe, well that does certainly sound like a good emotional boost for those down teacher days :D

    2. By the way, Janet Hachen, who shared this method, told us that she tells her students that she believes what they write in those letters. Borrowed that from her!

  5. I really like this idea. Do you have anything tangible that the students have to "pay" you with as they are accumulated? How do you keep track of the points? Do the kids who catch their classmates speaking English get anything? Thanks! Trying to see how this might work in my classroom. What are the phrases you give Students for classroom navigation?

    1. Thanks, Sarah. They have to either write a 'suck-up' letter in English OR bring in something French/Francophone or that has French writing on it. I keep track of the points on computer paper on a clipboard because it's just easy to carry around the room. I do not give students anything if they call others out who spoke English. It might be something to consider, but they never neglect to report misconduct. :) As for useful phrases, I have a clothesline hooked in the drop ceiling, along a wall, where I hang frequently-used expressions on construction paper. Students see, for example, 'How do you say...?' or 'What does that mean?' Items around the room are labeled in French, too: interrogative pronouns surrounded by question marks, a direct and indirect object pronoun 'flag,' and so on. Hope that helps!