What people do not get is that it is entirely possible to discuss topics students are interested in while targeting. High frequency, you know? We are focusing on high-frequency language, supposedly. It’s perfectly feasible to simply add a few words (making them comprehended as we use them, by writing them up with the L1 equivalent and pausing and pointing each time they are used) to make it possible to use those same high-frequency words to discuss a wide variety of topics.

The question becomes whether it’s a best use of class time to have a discussion in the target language about a topic of interest if it’s not going to fulfill the teacher’s goals for acquisition — and targeters and non-targeters seem to have different goals in that aspect. Targeters expect the focus items in a lesson to be mastered to the point where they are quickly and easily understood (in the case of opaque script languages like Chinese, to the point where there is a voice that can “hear” the word without it being said or read to the student). We target in Chinese because…literacy. If we don’t “work” words and phrases until they are very solid, there’s no way a student can recognize them in a script that looks like writing “This is a sentence” is ” X W j &”. The voice is necessary for reading until the characters are firm enough in visual memory, linked to the words they represent.

To someone who targets, it makes little sense to use a bunch of unknown words one time to have a discussion, if there will be no acquisition of those words. They cannot be read without memorization. And using them it taking time from words that could be read later, and which could be more firmly mastered. Such a discussion (exchange of information) can be accomplished more quickly and efficiently in the L1.

Students have no idea whether you’ve chosen a word or phrase ahead of time or not. They just know it’s coming up in class, and really they don’t pay much attention if you’re talking in a way that even vaguely makes sense and is connected. Sure, if in the middle of the lesson you suddenly started repeating one phrase over and over, without context or connection, that’s a pretty good indication that the teacher is “pushing” that thing on the class. But for most teachers who need to provide regular assessment results, knowing what will be assessed and having the confidence that students will have encountered that language sufficiently to succeed on assessments is important. And for Chinese teachers (or teachers of other opaque-script languages), targeting is the only feasible way to avoid memorization-based literacy for beginners, unless you plan to write all your own reading materials from scratch for each individual class every day. And you don’t want to do that. Don’t ask me how I know…