Using the Target Language: A view from the classroom

Peter Dickson

01 November 1996

There has been very little argument among teachers of modern foreign languages (MFLs) about the merit of using the target language as much as possible when teaching. However, there has been an uneasy acceptance of the principle, proposed by the National Curriculum Order for MFLs, that the target language should be the normal means of all communication in the language classroom. Much discussion of the policy and its implementation has focused on teachers' proficiency and fluency in the target language, but there has been little consideration given to the validity of the principle itself.

The survey described in this report set out to establish the extent to which teachers use the target language, and to investigate their beliefs about its role in effective teaching and learning. It provides information, in particular, about the quantity of target language used by both teachers and pupils at key stages 3 and 4 of the National Curriculum, about difficulties encountered in promoting target language use, and about the balance of target language and English thought to be most appropriate for developing foreign language competence.

The perspectives of teachers whose mother tongue is the target language are considered alongside those of English speakers, and together these show a considerable degree of consensus about the need to adapt target language use to circumstances, and to recognise that it is only one aspect of a broader strategy for teaching and learning MFLs.