90% Target Language Use? How About Your Message Count…

Forget that 90% figure (i.e. 90%+ of all the language provided by the teacher as input-provider should be in the target language)…How many messages are you providing? I did a quick search for Latin lessons:

Here’s the first Google hit for “Latin lesson” with 2 messages, the first recurring 3 different times. The second Google hit contains 0 messages. The third Google hit contains 1 message.

Here’s the first Latin lesson from the National Archives. It contains 0 messages in Latin because isolated words are not messages. Here’s a Duolingo lesson from a Duolingo community member with a questionable 8 messages because even phrases and sentences lacking a context aren’t messages for input.*

Here’s a video lesson supplement for the first chapter of Ecce Rōmānī, a popular Latin textbook! There is only 1 message in this video recurring 4 different times. In comparison, the Ecce Rōmānī textbook itself has 9 messages in the first reading passage, and there are 7 messages as follow-up questions. Yowza, right?! At this point it sounds really good to have that many messages, unless, of course, you realize that there’s no way teachers are working through a single textbook passage like this each day; the pace is much slower, especially as one advances through the textbook.

So, could it be that there are fewer than 20 unique messages in the target language each day? Yep, at least that’s not out of the ordinary for some conventional language classes. Now, the examples above might not be the best, but they can certainly serve as non-examples when it comes to providing input. The common practice of reviewing isolated vocabulary, translating a reading passage from the textbook, answering questions, and then being presented with some kind of grammar lesson (as well as cultural reading in English) results in significantly lower messages in the target language than is possible in a class hour.

To give you a sense of things, my new routine on its own contains a minimum of 12 messages without personalizing and reacting to anything. Today in class, however, a student showed us her bracelet, I asked the class what color it was, then asked if anyone else was also wearing the same color, red. Between that one interaction and subsequent questions, confirming statements, and asking more questions, I provided another ~14 messages. I remember a few other rogue comments throughout the rest of the routine, so let’s just tally the whole routine at ~30 messages. I then read aloud 22 messages of a text students were going to finish reading at home on their own, which included a few Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA). This increases the overall number of messages to ~57. What followed was a game of Team Trashketball Translate, which usually doesn’t contain complete messages in context, although I remember making statements throughout the whole game. Therefore, a solid estimate of today’s unique messages in Latin would be 65, which is probably among the lowest number of messages I’ve provided in one class all year (given the Team Trashketball Translate team-building game).

Next week or so, I intend to record my classes and tally all the messages provided. I’ll report back soon.

*OK OK OK, I’ll hedge a liiiiiiittle bit for those who would say that isolated words, phrases, and complete sentences lacking context are all messages. Let’s say they are. I would still add that the more context-isolated input is, the less likely students will attend to it for meaning that leads to acquisition. Think about it; if not, we could acquire language just by reading dictionaries, or word lists. Even if that were shown to be true, the amount of time spent reading isolated lists could be spent on contextualized messages during communicative interactions that most students find more enjoyable. Your call.

Strip Test
Want to do a little analysis?

  • Strip away all isolated words, grammar, and any English explanations from a lesson you find/have planned.
  • Now, look at the messages.
  • Check to see if any of those messages repeat.

How many unique messages do you have? What could you do to increase the number of messages you provide in the target language?

6 thoughts on “90% Target Language Use? How About Your Message Count…

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  5. Thanks, this is really useful!

    I’m confused about how you define a “message” here. For example, in the first video you link, I would guess there are four messages: (1) puer amat puellam, (2) puellam amat puer, and (3) puella amat puerum, (4) puer puellam amat.

    My guess is that you count different orderings as part of the same message, perhaps because they have the same semantics. Is that correct?

    • Correct, doesn’t sound like you’re confused at all! There are only two ideas being expressed. One message is that the boy loves the girl. The other is the opposite. Word order doesn’t change the meaning of those two messages.

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