Foreign language learning through presentations in authentic settings

Petteri Ruuska
MA (Educ.) senior lecturer, Spanish and English
JAMK University of Applied Sciences, Finland



The report considers presentation ‘in authentic settings’ as a tool in language learning with FL learners with B1 skills. A project was carried out during a Spanish course in Jyväskylä, Finland; adult learners prepared brief presentations on their own study programmes and student life at a university of applied sciences (UAS) and later presented them to local senior high school students during their Spanish lessons. The high schools had been requesting information on studies at UAS. The major results showed that such a real situation clearly motivated students, and the task was considered useful and relevant for learning. The outcome was positive although not everyone liked giving a presentation.


Every now and then we language teachers would like to send the students out of the classroom to the so-called real world. However, the situation seems complicated if traveling is not possible, or the target language is not spoken in the area, but we would still like to put some old-fashioned face-to-face interaction into practise. Visits to other institutions can offer a solution.

In this report I will describe one way to carry out a presentation in a language course. I shall consider the process and the method’s pros and cons on language learning particularly in this project but to some extent also in general.

The experiment consisted of a group of young adult learners of Spanish who prepared presentations and gave them to students of Spanish in neighbouring senior high schools. The results of the experiment were quite satisfactory and encouraging, but many aspects in the process will need to be studied carefully.

The term presentation method in this paper refers to its application in this particular project, outside the usual classroom. Nevertheless, several observations would be applicable to most classroom presentations, too. Notice that senior high school or simply ‘high school’ is used referring to upper secondary school, or to sixth form.


There were three stakeholders involved: a group of students in a Spanish course, JAMK University of Applied Sciences and four local high schools. The local high schools needed information about studies in university of applied sciences; second, JAMK UAS had been and is still promoting cooperation with (upper) secondary education; and third, a group of UAS students of Spanish who needed to practise and improve their language skills.

The students in the Spanish 3 course took up the challenge: they started to prepare presentations on their own lines of studies and student life which later would be presented to upper secondary students. What was different here was the fact that the presentations were to be given in Spanish, and therefore only a limited group of high school students would belong to the target group. Nevertheless, the project aimed to improve all Spanish students’ language skills and naturally provide the requested information to high school students.

A total of 19 students carried out the presentation and completed the Spanish 3 course (5 ECTS, 39 hours of tuition in about three months). On average, the students possessed independent user’s Spanish skills, mostly the level B1 in the CEFR, ranging from A2 to B2. There were Finns, French, a German and a Russian student in the group. The partner high schools in Jyväskylä (Finland) were these: Upper Secondary School for Adults, Cygnaeus High School, Upper Secondary School of Lyseo and Upper Secondary School of Seppä.

It is worth noticing that, besides the present project, some rather complicated linguistic and grammatical topics were studied during the course, such as the subjunctive mode and the preterite and imperfect tenses. Understandably, the presentation project covered mostly the oral part and some writing, but it was not the only focus in the course.

Implementing the project

The objectives, timetable and the means of the project were introduced and discussed at the beginning of the Spanish 3 course in early September 2014. The presentations at high schools took place about two months later in November.

Some techniques and tools, for example sign-posting language and visual aids, were discussed in class. The students then built and practised their presentations in small groups that autumn during the weekly contact lessons and on their own time. The students’ presentation slides were reviewed and corrected before the actual presentations.

At the initial stage we, of course, had talked about the contents of the presentation: one’s own degree programme and the most relevant studies in them, prospects in working life, and student life. They were also encouraged to prepare a brief glossary about their degree programmes which could be handed out to the audience.

The schedule with the local high schools was agreed on well in advance. When the time came, the students, independently or with their partner, went to the high school assigned to them and met the local Spanish teacher and their class. The presentations lasted 12-20 minutes, including some time for discussion and questions.

As an observer, I had a chance to attend only two (superb) live presentations out of eight. In order to get some acknowledgement, the high school students were asked to write feedback immediately after the visits. A simple, standard form was used. I interviewed each UAS student or student team later and also gave them the comments the local teachers had told me over the phone. At the end of the course, the UAS students reflected their experiences and learning Spanish, and gave feedback about the project.

Observations and recommendations

The major advantages and disadvantages of this particular project have been listed below.

Presentation method in language learning: Pros
+  task-based learning motivates students
+  challenging enough
+  relevant for students
+  gradual preparing and practising worked well
+  clear improvement in language skills
+  networking
+  served both groups’ needs
+  student-to-younger-students was seen attractive
+  a change to school day routines
+  courage and self-confidence gained
+  useful and applicable for working life
+  deeper learning
+  saves time in classroom for other tasks if presentations given elsewhere

Presentation method in language learning: Cons
– partner institution(s) and adequate target groups may be difficult to find
– careful preplanning needed
– dependant on several timetables
– difficult or impossible to book time to all
– preparations time-consuming
– too challenging if skill level below B1
– some students dislike presentations
– information not necessarily too accurate or relevant
– little interaction
– controlling and guiding difficult
– largely second-hand evaluation

Carrying out the project needed a lot of painstaking preparation, but the students’ learning outcome showed very positive results. The project motivated most students, as it was considered rather ambitious yet interesting. On the other hand, low skill level and fear of speaking in front of a real audience made a few students feel less confident. However, the students liked practising it in parts which reduced anxiety and helped most of them overcome the fear.

The high school students were rather interested in listening to the UAS students’ presentations. Nevertheless, it was reported that little student-to-student interaction took place, although the monitors and Spanish teachers encouraged the young to ask the visitors questions. Apparently some younger students found the topics too complicated or the study programmes irrelevant to them.

We could not assign a suitable time to every UAS student, so a plan B was needed, and in fact, a plan C, too: a video presentation with a discussion or giving the presentation in the usual classroom.


In my opinion, presentations in authentic settings can be a strong tool in language learning. That is so especially with adult FL or SL learners who possess solid skills in the target language; also, the topic should be relevant. Naturally, the more parties there are involved, the more planning, coordinating and scheduling need to be done.

The task motivated many students to do their best and not the least because they needed to carry it out in more ‘real settings’ and not in their habitual classroom. The fact that the presentations were prepared for a real audience in another school gave the UAS students a clear boost to do their best and, therefore, learn the language more efficiently. The topic, the degree programmes and student life, pushed students to improve their language and especially their oral skills. The results imply that deeper learning took place. In addition, the students gained self-confidence which they were glad to mention afterwards, although not everyone really enjoyed the challenge. Low skill-level and lack of time, due to other studies or work, were the major reasons for not making the most of it.

As an alternative, a video presentation with a discussion can work well in language acquisition, too. In the future, I will most probably encourage students to make video presentations or short clips in the target language. It is another useful means definitely worth having a closer look.