Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Student Teachers' Attitudes and Beliefs about Using the Target Language in the Classroom

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Student Teachers' Attitudes and Beliefs about Using the Target Language in the Classroom

Article excerpt


Although the language teaching profession has long emphasized the use of the target language in the classroom, student teachers face various challenges in their efforts to conduct class in their target language. This case study focused on 10 student teachers with respect to (1) their initial attitudes and beliefs about using the target language, (2) the extent to which they felt the target language could be used in specific activities, (3) the factors that affected their decisions regarding target language use, and (4) how their attitudes toward target language use evolved and changed during their student teaching. Sources of information included pre- and postquestionnaires, journal entries, and observations of student teachers' classes. Themes that emerged from student teachers' experiences are discussed, as well as possible implications for language teacher education.

Key words: action research, input, mentoring, student teachers, target language

Language: Spanish, relevant to all languages


Since at least the late 19th century, the foreign language teaching profession has emphasized the importance of target language use by classroom teachers (Cook, 2001). The direct method, for example, was based on the premise that optimal language learning occurs when instructors present material directly in the target language without recourse to the students' native language (LI). A half-century later, Brooks said the audiolingual method stressed "rendering English inactive while the new language is being learnt" (as cited in Cook, 2001, p. 404). More recently, the language teaching profession has underscored the importance of learning language through real communication, implying that the classroom should provide an environment in which both instructors and students use the target language much of the time.

In the last quarter-century, the push for the use of the target language by instructors has gained support from theoretical literature as well as empirical research on comprehensible input (e.g., Ellis, 1984; Gass & Madden, 1985; Krashen, 1982). Turnbull (2001) maintains that the strongest rationale for target language use by instructors is to expose learners to input, and he points out that for most foreign language students, the instructor is the main source of input. Ellis affirms that instructors who provide target language input of sufficient quantity and quality can approximate the kinds of input that occur in naturalistic second language development.

A number of empirical studies, reviewed by Turnbull (2001), have provided further support for target language use by examining student language learning outcomes in relation to the proportion of class time that their instructors spoke in the target language. Carroll, Clark, Edwards, and Handrick (1967) analyzed the language attainments of foreign language majors at American colleges and universities. Carroll (1975) examined the level of achievement in French of students in eight non-Frenchspeaking countries, and Wolf (1977) examined the U.S. data from the same study. Burstall (1968, 1970) and Burstall, Jamieson, Cohen, and Hargreaves (1974) studied the French achievement of primary school students in England and Wales. Turnbull (1999) examined the achievement and proficiency of ninth grade French students in Canada. Although these studies were conducted in very different settings and at different levels of instruction, they all found a positive relationship between the amount of target language used by instructors in class and their students' achievement or proficiency in the language.

Taking a more qualitative approach to the issue, Wong-Fillmore (1985) conducted a series of studies in some 40 elementary school classrooms serving limited-Englishproficient students. One of the factors that differentiated between successful and less successful classes in terms of students' language learning was the way in which the instructor used the target language. …

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