Student Engagement

Engaging Novice World Language Learners

Using target language videos, news articles, music, and more can spark engagement even with students who are just getting started.

Street scene of an outdoor market in Nice, France
©500px/Elena Elisseeva

It’s no secret that teaching a world language creatively can be challenging, particularly at the novice level. Our novice learners are limited in terms of their communicative skills, which often dissuades us from taking risks when designing lessons and assessments.

As world language instructors, we can become so laser-focused on teaching the foundations of the language that we unintentionally neglect to infuse culturally rich, authentic materials into our lessons. This results in disengagement and lowered motivation on the students’ part, and frustration on ours.

Authentic images, readings, videos, and infographics are often perceived to be suitable solely for higher-level language classes. But with some exploration, a willingness to take risks, and a dose of reflection, it’s possible to use such materials at the novice levels as well. Novice learners can take full advantage of authentic resources, as long as there are level-appropriate expectations, supports, and tasks in place.

Whether you bring in texts, songs, or video clips, authentic resources have the power to catch students’ attention and spark their motivation. Over time, I’ve worked out some ideas for how to find and use authentic materials from the target language country in novice-level classes.

5 Tips for Using Authentic Target-Language Resources

1. Use a national tourism website associated with the target language country: Visit the official tourism website of a country whose language you teach for authentic texts—these sites have a lot of resources you can use. You’ll likely find a myriad of short readings on popular places to visit, typical dishes, and cultural events in the country.

Create true/false questions based on a reading, or pose simple short answer questions. Use sentence starters or key words to have a whole-class discussion about cultural similarities and differences based on the text.

2. Research newspapers or news websites from the target language country: Gather a sampling of fairly straightforward headlines and ask students to predict what the articles are about, or to summarize the main idea of the headline. Select thought-provoking photographs or images to draw cultural connections.

For example, if a Spanish newspaper features a picture of a typical school lunch in Spain, ask students to identify the foods seen in the picture. Then have them discuss any similarities and differences between the lunch in the image and the typical lunch they eat.

3. Find commercials in the target language on YouTube: Browse YouTube to find commercials in the target language to strengthen listening comprehension skills. You can search specifically for the YouTube channels of well-known brands, companies, or retail stores within the target language country.

Commercials serve as a quick snapshot of a culture and expose beginner students to native speakers in a manner that’s not overwhelming. Have questions for students to answer as they view a commercial, such as:

  • What is the product being advertised?
  • What are the people in the commercial doing?
  • Rate the quality of the commercial—why did you like it or dislike it?

4. Create a playlist in the target language with Spotify: Download Spotify and listen to popular songs currently trending in the target country. Create a class playlist and let the music flow as students enter the room at the start of class or as they work on an activity. This not only gives them cultural exposure but also creates an upbeat, positive atmosphere in the classroom.

You can use these songs as lesson materials to introduce vocabulary and grammatical structures while exposing students to the pop culture associated with the language. As a song is playing, have students circle key vocabulary words they hear on a word cloud. You can also have them sing along for some fun practice with the language.

5. Tour a city in the target language country via Google Maps: Use Google Maps to introduce students to specific cities associated with the language of study. This gives you an opportunity to take them on a virtual field trip—they can enjoy 360-degree views of cities or towns.

You can introduce vocabulary associated with important places in the community using real pictures. Additionally, you can coach students on how to request and give directions.

Incorporating a variety of authentic resources into instruction will help to pick up the pace in your novice-level courses. It’s possible to deliver captivating, culturally rich lessons to beginners with the help of authentic materials.

Students are often unmotivated to continue studying a world language when they feel the content is not applicable to their lives. Using real materials from the target language can halt this discouraging trend and reinvigorate your world language classroom.

Unleash your creativity, win back your students’ interest, and remember why you fell in love with the language you teach in the first place.