Target Language: What it is and how to present?

What does it mean to teach a language or to learn a language? A simple or a tough question to answer? EFL terminology comes to help out — it’s all about teaching TL (target language and skills). Target language, to tell the truth, this and many other terms just embarrassed me, leaving in confusion and dismay when I first had to come up with my CELTA lesson plan 9 years ago. In this article, I would like to share my experience and explain in a simple way the terms and ideas about TL that at first sight seem not that simple. 

What is  target language?

When it comes to any simple sentence we can say that it is a number of some meaningful words (aka Lexis or Vocabulary), there is some «correlation» between them (aka Grammar) and they serve some purpose, that means that we use them in some particular situation and for some reason (aka Function). 

For instance,I’m afraid, it’s not possible.’ 

(Lexis) — you can use this sentence to teach pronouns ‘I’ and ‘it’ or adjectives ‘afraid’, ‘possible’.

(Grammar) — teach ‘to be’: I am, it is, it is not or even word order ‘subject +be + adjective’ , be afraid, be possible.

(Function) — this sentence is used to refuse something or to respond ‘no’ in a polite way.

Sure, you can’t teach just with the example of one sentence but once you’ve got a number of them with the focus on target Lexis, Grammar or Function, it gets clearer.

When it comes to Lesson Structure, a basic 40-minute lesson usually includes developing and practising 2 areas: skills (about 20 minutes) and target language (about 20 minutes). You can find more information on lesson planning  here and about reading skills here. 

How do we present Target Language?

Once you have practised reading or listening skills in the first part of the lesson, it seems very natural to use the materials you have, what I mean is lexis, grammar or function from the text or tapescript. Depending on the lesson materials and lesson aims, choose the best way to present/elicit TL from the list below. 

  • Eliciting TL through reading and listening

Make your students notice TL (Target  Language) — it’s more learner-centered: 

Teacher: ‘We’ve just read the text/listened to the text about… 

(Lexis) Now let’s find/ underline the words in the text/ tapescript that are examples    of… (e.g. food) 

(Grammar) Now let’s find/ underline in the text/ tapescript (the verbs in the past)

(Function) Now let’s find/ underline in the text/tapescript the phrases the speaker            used (to ask about facilities/ to describe the city, etc.)

If they’re lower level or they haven’t come across this TL before you might find it more appropriate to make them fill in the gaps with TL. So, you provide a number of gapped sentences which  they have to fill in with the words, grammar structures or situational phrases.

(2) Present TL using flashcards and pictures

Another way is to start a TL presentation without practicing any skills prior. You can do it very straightforward by means of flashcards/ posters. It’s rather teacher-centred, suitable for young learners though.


(Lexis) Here I’ve got some cards for you . Look, what’s this?  (elicit or provide ‘a carton of milk) TL — food.

(Grammar) Here’s a picture of a fridge. You can see milk in it. We can say: ‘There’s some milk in the fridge.’ (the teacher provides a written sample on the whiteboard) TL — ‘there’s, there’re’.

(Function) The man needs to find a bank in the city (provide a picture if possible). What can he say? What questions can he ask people round? (elicit or provide ‘Where’s the bank near here? How can I get to the bank? and so on)

(3) Working with TL using stories

You can also weave lexis/ grammar/ phrases into a story, this is teacher-led presentation.

Teacher: Yesterday night I was hungry, so I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. And in the fridge, I saw …”

 (Lexis)… ‘some milk’ ( the teacher can add a card or realia or just draw on the board)

(Grammar) …no milk ‘There wasn’t any milk in my fridge’ 

(Function) … some milk. ‘Why don’t we make a cake? ‘/ What about making a cake?’     (elicit more ideas on offers)

What are the stages of presenting TL?

After attracting students’ attention to TL we need to work on TL presentation. When it comes to TL presentation stage there are three cornerstones:

M — meaning  F — form P — pronunciation.

In order words, students know’ a word, a grammar structure or functional language when they understand the meaning the TL carries, how to write it and how it correlates in the sentence or sentences or in a dialogue and how to ‘voice’ it (in terms of sounds, stress intonation).

There’s a slight difference in the order we present, as pronunciation is principal when it comes to separate words. When it comes to grammar and function, pronunciation depends on the form more — it’s more about linking some words together, merging sounds, putting stress and intonation in these phrases. So, the order we present these three features looks the following way:

Lexis — M P F,  Grammar and Function — M F P

Another important issue to consider is anticipated problems and solutions in each of the areas, that is ‘what kind of problems might arise with the meaning? pronunciation? form?’

Therefore, you need to conduct language analysis before the lesson to predict anticipated problems and be ready to answer students question in the lesson if any arise. 

Here are some samples of language analysis from TKT: Practical Handbook for Teachers by Cambridge English.

Lexis sample
Target Language: What it is and how to present?

Grammar sample
Target Language: What it is and how to present?

Function sample

Target Language: What it is and how to present?
So, your first step of
understanding and presenting the target language is done. You’ve hopefully got a bit better what some ELT terms actually mean and what you need them for.  The next steps are to practice and produce the target language your students have learnt. If you want to learn more on this, make a comment!

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