When I was a teaching assistant, one of the most popular questions I got asked was: “Do you actually talk to the students in Spanish ALL THE TIME?”
This ‘Spanish only’ approach is actually quite old*. A great example that illustrates how old this matter is is the following sketch from SNL. *Eddie Murphy old.
There is a thin line between helping the students and making them feel stupid (big mistake) or disengaged. So where is the key for me? It is not that simple.
Firstly, make it natural. How creepy is it when the teacher smiles all the time? (even during such inappropriate situations). One of my old teachers looked so thrilled when she pointed at the window to indicate that that was the word she was looking for at that moment. “-Why was she so into windows?” is the thing we still remember the most about those lessons.
I would tell the students that we all gesture very often so since it is a language we share it would be preferable that if we needed to communicate something (and we didn’t know how to say it) instead of using the word in our native language we could try to gesture (if possible) just the way they would if they forgot how to name something.
When I was an Erasmus student my French and Japanese housemates were great at using gestures to communicate with each other and none of them felt stupid, why so? It felt really natural, sometimes funny and useful in most cases.
Also, be careful with repetition. It always depends on your student’s needs. If you need them to repeat something and the repetition sounds monotonous, only then, change your ways. For instance, repeat something, then repeat the same thing in a high pitch voice (that they will have to try to copy), in a deeper tone, in a desperate voice… break that monotony quick. This is obvious but keep them motivated. For me, everything depends on what do you think your students value the most. A technique can be great but in the end, if your students don’t think so, this is it.
Gestures are especially useful when you have more than one nationality in the class and you cannot simply switch to their mother tongue. I once had to teach a group of absolute beginners and it was quite a challenge since they all came from lots of different countries so gestures were essential in that lesson. One of my best teachers told me that at some point she took some acting lessons in order the help her with her teaching and that really helped her.
On the other hand, if you are able to speak their native language I do think that you should only go for a Spanish only mode if your students feel like it. Like in the video, if someone’s mum died or there is something vital you want to communicate there is nothing wrong with not speaking in Spanish, of course.
If your students feel really scared at first about going a 100% in Spanish you could progressively expose them to the language as much as you can but in a natural and funny way. For example, if I ask them how was the weekend? (“-¿Qué tal el fin de semana?”) then I can follow with: “-¿…bien, mal, regular, fenomenal, interesante, aburrido, spectacular, mágico, épico…?”. Again, the key here is motivation.
I would never put it as a punishment like pay 5p every time someone uses their native language or pretend that you didn’t understand because you pretend not to speak their language (unless you are able to do it in a hilarious way).
TO SUM UP:
- Take into account your student’s reactions. It is some of the best feedback
- It must feel natural or funny
- Do not punish them. Give them tools instead so they can communicate
If not… this may happen: