5 Myths about the 90% Target Language Classroom


This post is meant to DEBUNK some of the myths out there about 90% target language classrooms.  If you aren’t sure what that means, a 90% target language classroom aims to keep at least 90% of communication in the target language.  I say at least because my experience is that when a classroom aims for 90%, they are more likely to reach 100%, and can do so frequently.  Whether or not you teach a language, a 90% target language classroom may sound overwhelming. Here are 5 myths you may be thinking right now about why maintaining target language can’t work:

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I have been aiming at a 90% target language classroom all year long.  It has been a goal of mine. This goal has not weakened but strengthened the relationships I have with my students.  We bond over the language. Whether they’ll admit it outloud or not, my students really enjoy that I push them to use only Spanish.  Children yearn to be challenged. When we set high expectations, they reach them. They act things out and they use the words they can use to describe the things they can’t.  Their personalities really come out when they try to communicate in their second language. Not to mention, their kindness shines as they help one another with finding the right words.

A 90% target language is built on trust.  My students trust that I am not going to give them a task that is too challenging for their proficiency level.  I trust that they are going to attempt and try to communicate with me in Spanish as much as possible. Trust is key to building any relationship including that between teacher and student.  A 90% target language classroom does not limit student/teacher relationships from forming but, rather, allows them to grow stronger.

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This is so false and it grinds my gears when I hear a teacher say this.  We do a disservice to our students when we wait to speak completely in the target language until they have achieved a higher proficiency level.  Profiency can come a lot faster when you keep to the target language. I know two teacher friends of mine, Dorie (@doriecp) and Julie (@mundodepepita) who both took the leap to go 100% with their first graders this year.  Their students don’t even know they speak English and so if their kids want to communicate with them, they have to use Spanish. What I keep hearing from them is that it has WORKED. Their students have come to understand that Spanish is the expectation and they’ve decided to rise to the occasion.  The learning shows that it is working.

If we think about how we learned our second, third, of forth language…and I mean really learned it, we were probably in some sort of immersion setting.  For me, my Spanish was “formalized” when I was put in a situation when I needed to use it for survival.  When I studied abroad in Spain and met people who didn’t speak a lick of English, I knew if I was going to build a relationship with them Spanish was going to be the agent for me to do so.  That’s what really motivated and pushed me to dig deep into my brain and find the vocabulary and words I knew to say what I needed to say. I wasn’t able to use a translator and I wasn’t able to use my native tongue.

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False, again.

This myth was hard for me to stop believing at first.  I had a hard time at first with establishing and maintaining good classroom management in Spanish only because I knew I was capable of doing it better in English.  What I came to realize was that it wasn’t that I could do it better but faster in English. It may take a while for your students to learn key phrases in Spanish related to rules and routines but when after these are established, they work just as well as they would in English.  If you establish these at the start of the year, then you really can create a classroom environment where students are held accountable.

This is where visuals are KEY.  Create classroom posters or use hand signals as reminders to students about your expectations.  If they have not mastered the phrase “sientate” but see a picture of someone sitting, they are going to be successful without the need for English.

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Yup, so false.

Yet again another myth I struggled to overcome myself as I transitioned to a 90% target language classroom.  I have written another blog post you can read here that talks about the motivator I am using successfully in my classrooms to keep students in the target language.  I highly suggest you read this post if you believe this myth. In short, I’ve implemented a simple PBIS-like system in my classroom that rewards students for using the target language.  I am thrilled with the success of this system and can’t recommend it enough. Everyday I am impressed by the organic language that my students are producing because they are motivated and encouraged to do so.

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YES YOU CAN! The sooner you commit to it and the sooner you tell yourself you are capable of doing it, the sooner you will see results in your students’ proficiency! Get out of your own way!  If you’ve been waiting for someone to give you the pass to try 90% target language in your classroom, consider this it.

Just like you tell your students, the more that you do this the easier it is going to become.  There will be bumps in the road and there will be days you are exhausted and don’t want to spend 5 minutes trying to tell your students to take out their scissors and cut the paper you handed to them.  But those days will be limited and that 5 minutes will become increasingly smaller the more that you do this. It is going to become easier for you and your students as you try new communication techniques.  yOu will find some things work and you will find others don’t. You are going to fail and you are going to struggle. Through that failure and through that struggle you are going to find out what does not work so you can discover what can.  And maybe that’s something different for every one of your classes if you are like me and teach 11 different groups of students, and that’s okay. Like individuals, classes are unique so what works for one class or one grade level may not work for another class or another grade level.  The only way you are going to find that out is if you try. If you don’t even try you are not going to find out if you can do it.


So there you have it.  Five myths about a 90% target language classroom officially DE-BUNKED.


Do you have other myths about a 90% target language classroom that ought to be busted?  Have a success story about how you transitioned to teach with 90% target language? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


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