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Running Head: Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in Classroom Interactions?

Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in


Classroom Interactions?
By Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Twitter: @jonacuso
Post 180

With the rise of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and a growing


emphasis on oral communication skills, the role of student talk in the language classroom
has become more important than ever (Hilliard, 2014). This can be seen across the globe
in ELT settings where language instructors are reluctant to use the target language (TL)
as the means of instruction in the classroom, and Costa Rica is not the exception from
this futile teacher practice. Knop (n.d.), in an article published by Emory University,
stresses the importance the TL has in the cognitive development of students who are
learning a foreign language. Excessive TTT [Teacher Talking Time] limits the amount of
STT (student talking time). If the teacher talks for half the time in a 60 minute lesson with
15 students, each student gets only 2 minutes to speak (Darn, 2007). Then, the rhetorical
question stays in the air; is it so difficult to increase the TL in classroom interactions?

Knop (n.d.) proposes a series of steps to increase the use of TL use in the
classroom; what are her language practice proposals? Knops proposal though not
necessarily connected to the English Teaching per se- focuses its attention on the
Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano

Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in Classroom Interactions?

promotion of student interaction in class along with having learners use the TL; Knops
ideas are: a) language ladders, b) days lesson plan on board, c) informal pair & S2S
interactions, d) Gouin series, e) amount of teacher talk, f) authentic and appropriate
input, and g) class participation in the TL. For Knop (n.d.), these classroom practices can
encrease the amount of student talk, but this will not happen overnight; these strategies
need to be tried out and implemented in a progressive manner over a period of time
(Knop, n.d.) to really witness some language use change in classroom settings.

Hilliard (2014), similarly to Knop (n.d.), puts it simply, language teachers have to
start each class with a speaking activity, something that is quite close to what Knop
labels as language ladders. A language ladder is a set of commonly used classroom
expressions focused on classroom function. And as Hilliards (2014) proposal regarding
a speaking activity, Knop (n.d.) suggests using a great array of speaking activities that
can set the mood for the class to start speaking, on the one hand by St2T interactions
(i.e. seeking information, expressing confusion, making excuses, asking persmission,
making small talk, exchanging greetings and leave-takings, giving directions, praising and
encouraging, and disciplining), and on the other hand, St2St interactions (expressing likes
& dislikes, expressing agreement and disagreement, giving compliments, inviting
someone, and accepting and refusing and invitation). All of these suggested language
ladders can be labeled as possible ways to test learners descriptors in the ACTFL
guidelines (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2012) or even
traced within the can-do table proposed by ETS for the TOEIC test (Educational Testing
Services, 2000).

Not only Knop (n.d.) but also Hilliard (2014) have similar suggestions regarding TL
use in the classroom. Hilliard (2014) proposes to let students do the work for you. In this
line of thought, it is possible to group Knops nomenclatures for the steps to follow for
teachers lesson plans and her taxonomy for informal pair interactions (Knop, n.d.).
Instead of fostering excessive teacher talk, Knops wants to have language students make
use of the language during class interactions. Another way of helping students
understand and use the target language is to put an outline of the lesson plan on the

Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano

Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in Classroom Interactions?

board, says Knop (n.d.). For this very reason, Knop adduces that it is necessary to use
the lesson plan on the board at the start of class, during class, and at the end of class
(n.d.). The use of the outline of the instructors plan can help language students to review
material before major tests and quizzes; it can give language trainees a sense of transition
from topic to topic and of closure towards the end of the lesson; and it can provide
students with a sense of accomplishment.
TTT often means that the teacher is giving the students information that they could
be finding out for themselves, such as grammar rules, the meanings of vocabulary items
and corrections (Darn, 2007). Bearing in mind Hilliards (2014) idea of having learners
do the instructors work is to follow Knops (n.d.) suggestions for informal pairs
interactions. Knop (n.d.) pigeonholes ten different types of language activities in her
taxonomy aiming at having students do the talking themselves: a) warm-ups, b) study of
new verbs, c) learning of a dialogue, d) vocabulary study, e) grammar work, f) dictations,
g) naming, h) expressing references, i) describing and j) sharing information. All these
kinds of activities are great paths to guide learners towards the use of the TL language in
the classroom rather than just listening to the teacher talk. As suggested by Darn (2007),
a large amount of TTT results in long stretches of time in teacher-to-class (T/class) mode
and a monotonous pace. Student under-involvement inevitably leads to loss of
concentration and reduced learning. Knops (n.d.) thesis combined with Hilliards (2014)
proposal can indeed produce another kind of class interaction in which student talk
prevails.

Though the term Gouin Series Method is not a new term in language learning, it
derives its name from its inventor, Franois Gouin, a French Latin teacher. The approach
advocated by Gouin is to have themes such as The Plant and to have students
memorize sentences in sequence relating to the theme (Martin, 2009). For Knop (n.d.),
Gouin Series are organized in a logical sequence and students are usually directed to
say the sentences while acting them out. As pointed out by the author herself, Gouin
Series do use several meaning reinforcers (Knop, n.d.), allowing students to review
language and use it fully attached to meaning and use. Gouin Series will appeal to

Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano

Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in Classroom Interactions?

various senses and will help teach appropriate behavior in a cultural activity (Knop,
n.d.). At a cognitive level, language students are motivated to be using the threedimensional grammar framework endorsed by Larsen-Freeman (n.d.), where students
not only exercise how a stucture is constructed, but how it is used properly within a social
context and what it means for the native speakers when such a structure is built and used
to convey meaning. By means of the three-dimensional grammar framework, which
must be borne in mind by language instructors at all times, students can discover cultural
information about the language, which is only encased in exercises where a critical,
mental chronology of events can be sequenced. And aside from the cultural component
attributed to Gouin Series, language instructors can also engage students in active
practice of the sentences and actions (Knop, n.d.), connected in form, meaning, and use.
Hilliard (2014) recommends implementing more authentic, communicative
classroom activities. However, though Gouin Series are a good first attempt to provoke
communication in the classroom, they do not necessarily yield the expected outcome at
all times. Anything from pair work and group work, to discussions and debates, to taskbased activities and games can be utilized within a CLT framework (Hilliard, 2014). But
all these intances mentioned here must be nurtured by the provision of authentic input
in classroom interaction (Knop, n.d.). Considering to the concept of authentic language
input, Gilmore (2007) defined authentic language input as the language carrying a real
message which is created by a real speaker or writer for a real audience (Bahrani &
Soltani, 2012). So how can authentic input be provided to students so they can get to use
the language in class?
Bearing in mind the nature of the communicative classroom, teachers should
perhaps be aware of the quality of their TTT and how it is used rather than trying to reduce
it to a bare minimum (Darn, 2007). But still, are we providing input that is varied,
authentic, and appropriate? If we are not meeting the standards set by Bahrani & Soltani
(2012), we are bound to be providing inauthentic input, bound to be directing classroom
activities inappropriately, or bound to exert some more control over the input that we are
giving (Knop, n.d.). Authentic input/material can be imported into the classroom from

Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano

Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in Classroom Interactions?

various sources, and it can help studends develop the target language if used properly;
otherwise, we will be responsible for its failure.
Knops (n.d.) unique most significant addition to the use of the TL in the classroom
is not linked to authenticity in the input, but the surpassing importance of keeping track of
students participation. A record participation is important since in-class performance is
considered an integral part of a students grade (Knop, n.d.). By doing so, the instructor
can know even as backwash- where his/her attention is focused when practicing the TL
in the classroom. An oral participation grade might be given out to students, based on
the summary of point or grades earned for the frequency of their contributions and their
use of the TL (Knop, n.d.). This can be indeed used as a way to make language trainees
aware of their active role or chosen passivity in the classroom. In other words, learners
have to be aware of the implications of activity or inactivity in class and how it may affect
their performance grade and, why not, language development, learning, and acquisition.

As neatly stated by Knop (n.d.), the increase TL use in class will not happen
overnight. Strategies need to be tried out and implemented in a progressive manner over
a period of time (Knop, n.d.). Pesce (n.d.) subscribes to the theory that in the case of
beginners, the ratio of TTT vs. STT should be 50-50, and this percentage should
progressively change till you achieve a 30% TTT vs. 70% STT. But Pesce (n.d.) points
out, as suggested by Knop (n.d.), that the teacher needs to identify what really works for
his/her class, but class attention, talk, and participation must be fixed upon the learner.
Once these three elements are fixed on the student, the strategies proposed here can
help educators increase the use of the target language in all classroom interactions.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (2012). ACTFL Proficiency


Guidelines 2012. Alexandria, VA, USA: ACTFL.ORG.
Bahrani, T., & Soltani, R. (2012, February 2). An Overview on How to Utilize Authentic
Language Input for Language Teaching. (P. M. S. Thirumalai, Ed.) LANGUAGE
IN INDIA, 12, 800-807. Retrieved June 20, 2015

Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano

Is it So Difficult to Increase the TL in Classroom Interactions?

Darn, S. (2007, August 15). Teaching English. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from BBC
British Broadcasting Corporation:
http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/teacher-talking-time
Educational Testing Services. (2000). TOEIC Can-Do Guide. New Jersey, New Jersey,
USA: The Chauncey Group.
Hilliard, A. (2014, February). TESOL Connections. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from
TESOL Connections:
http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/issues/2014-02-01/3.html
Knop, C. (n.d.). Language Center. Retrieved June 17, 2015, from Emory College of Arts
and Science:
http://languagecenter.emory.edu/home/documents/constanceknop.pdf
Larsen-Freeman, D. (n.d.). Institut fr Anglistik. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from
Universitt Innsbruck: http://www.uibk.ac.at/anglistik/staff/freeman/coursedocuments/tesfl_-_teaching_grammar.pdf
Martin, J. (2009, February 18). The Language Nest. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from The
Language Nest: http://languagenest.blogspot.com/2009/02/designing-gouinseries.html
Pesce, C. (n.d.). Busy Teacher. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from Busy Teacher:
http://busyteacher.org/13959-how-to-increase-student-talking-time-7techniques.html

Prof. Jonathan Acua Solano