Should L1 be used in EFL classes?

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16 Responses

  1. In my present job, L1 use is strongly discouraged. I can see the benefit for intermediate-level speakers who should think about different ways of expressing words and opinions. However, I think occasion L1 use is fine for novice-level speakers. In my current program, I don’t encourage L1 use, but have in past teaching positions. Sometimes being frustrated and unable to express a word or opinion defeats the purpose of language learning and can de-motivate students. Thanks for the post.

  2. @Neil Barker
    Totally banning L1 may not be a wise idea and overusing L1 may kill language acquisition too. So Teachers must strike a balance between the two options.
    1. Use of L1 when it is really necessary.
    2. Keeping the target language as “the Default language”
    Thanks for the comment!!

  3. Actually not so controversial. I think the no L1 policy was massively supported by schools (abroad) who tried to sell the idea of the superiority of native speakers. Obviously these schools employed many such native speakers.

  4. faid says:

    Undoubtedly the use of L1 from time to time is required especially with poor achievers because you feel it motivates them and it puts them on the track. But to teach the TL through the native lge is a harmful sin that teachers must avoid.
    Many tks for med rh

  5. Ahkam says:

    We should not be a fanatic whether to use L1 or L2 in English classroom. There are special conditions when to use the L1 and when to use the L2. For me, however, I prefer to use L2 in my own classes though I will have to use L1 when necessary. To help students get better language acquisition, we should discourage the use of L1.

  6. Saraswati Dawadi says:

    Nice to read your opinion. I am not very much different from you all. In my opinion, we must try to make the target language as a vehicle for communication in classroom. We need to teach the target language using the same language. However, I think that the judicious use of mother tongue of the students will not be harmful, rather it facilitates language learning.

  7. Michael says:

    1. Differences between one’s native language and English in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and stylistic usage should not be ignored by foreign learners living and learning English in non-English speaking countries to master English thoroughly. When learning and using English foreign learners cannot but notice those differences between English and their native language. Knowledge of those differences by foreign learners of English is essential for understanding correct forms, meaning and use of English grammar and for vocabulary usage to reduce making mistakes in English as much as possible, especially in fine tricky points of English grammar, vocabulary and stylistic usage. Native language interference when learning and using English by foreign learners is a natural thing equally as translation is a natural language activity in human communication. Therefore native language interference when learning and using English cannot be prevented or eliminated until English has been mastered by foreign learners as good as their native language. Knowledge of phonetic, grammatical, lexical and stylistic differences between English and one’s native language weakens natural native language interference when learning and using English.

    2. In my view it is easier for foreign learners, especially for absolute beginners to study English through their native language explanations of English pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary for easier, better and quicker understanding. Non-native teachers of EFL know that perfectly well. Of course practice/exercises should be done in the English language only. Most ESL/EFL teachers do not exclude native language use in ESL/EFL classroom. I could share with you links to some interesting professional articles on the role of native language in learning English.

    3. In the setting when a native ESL teacher teaches English to students from various ethnic backgrounds all explanations of English pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary have to be done in English only at English classes. As you know there are monolingual English courses for learning and practising all four skills in one course in each lesson (listening, speaking, reading and writing alongside pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary). Four skills English courses include textbooks with audio and video recordings for all levels including for beginners and are suitable for self-study as well. There are also monolingual online English learning courses.

    4. Would most foreign learners of English especially beginners prefer bilingual English learning courses to monolingual English courses? Which are more effective, more time- consuming and harder to master the material? Is there convincing evidence to support one’s claims?

    I look forward to get to know your new thoughts on those issues.

  8. Grover says:

    There should be zero L1 in the classroom, with only one exception: Students can ask you “What does ____ mean?” “How do you say ____ in English?” But don’t translate for them, engage them in meaningful dialogue. Say, “Gee, I’m not sure.” [Even if you are!] “Is that a ____”; “Could you give me an example…?” etc. Keep it up until the meaning has been worked out IN ENGLISH. Don’t worry about wasting the other students’ time: they will be all ears—English ears. When you are speaking in L1 for the sake of efficiency, then worry about wasting the students’ time because that is exactly what you are doing. In an EFL situation, this kind of student-teacher exchange may be the only chance they have of ever communicating directly with a native speaker.

    If L1 is used students will become conditioned to endure L2 explanations (i.e. snooze) while waiting for the inevitable translation.

    Students will come to regard L2 use (if they use it at all) as part of some kind of silly game but certainly not for REAL communication. After all didn’t their teacher demonstrate to them on a daily basis that L1 is what is used for the true grit of conveying ideas?

    The very act of using L2 for explanations on the other hand gives students a mini-listening lesson (with full attention) every time meanings are clarified. They not only get the idea [not always] being conveyed they also get exposure to the rhythms, stress, intonations of the target language. They pick up new vocabulary and, if they are clever and interested enough, they can steer the instructor away from the dull stuff s/he had planned and on to something more engaging.

    Not finally, but why flog the obvious: Don’t launch into an explication of the arcane inner workings of the Parliamentary System of Government in a class of full beginners. Challenge the students with stuff they CAN assimilate IN English. Wait six months and then get to the good stuff.

    Using L1 in the classroom is a disservice to the people who pay our wages.

  9. Sam says:

    I’m bilingual, and have 2 children who are fully bilingual. I’ve taught Spanish to American students in different schools (from elementary-high school).I’ve also read Krashen’s theories on language acquisition and have applied them in my daily teaching. What have me confused is that with the many theories and approaches(over decades)and the many experts in languages(including Krashen, who I respect tremendously)we have in this world no one have founded a language school to demonstrate the validity of their theories…
    Hmmm, maybe because the process of language acquisition is more difficult than what the experts and we (we count as experts too!!!)might proclaim to be?
    I’m the one who believes that we can’t not make assumptions.
    Right now I’m being harrased by another Spanish teacher who doesn’t agree with my philosophy that I should respect/value my students first language, which is English. She and some of her colleagues (like many of you)think that by using Spanish (or French)90-100% of the time will make their students fluent and that they will be better off when they go into the real world…
    My response to that arguemt is simple…
    That might me true regarding some students and not so true regarding many others. If not, schools would have more than 1 section of AP courses evry year(assuming that those students started in level 1).
    My response to this well intentioned teacher is that I use my students first language any time I can–for to me the respecting and using my students first language is what invites them to be eagered learn my own language–Spanish(none of us like to be where we know are not being appreciated). I understan that school division guidelines,second language theories, fluency, etc. are important, but for me my students expressing their emotions and needs and concerns in their first language is as important—if not, the most important!

  10. Ben says:

    I think even if you’re not going to use L1 in class, it is very helpful to have a firm knowledge and understanding of it. Obviously this is not possible for the majority of native English teachers ho flit about the globe, but even they can learn some basic differences.

    I would say that the teacher should speak almost 100% in English, except where doubts arise, with the exception of complex instruction giving in lower levels, in order to maximise time. It can be frustrating for teachers who have learned their students’ language to a high level like I have (and I have a sneaking suspicion that most teachers who advocate 100% English in class are monolingual English speakers so they have nothing to lose) but it IS for our students’ good that they speak in English.

    I really disagree with Sam’s comment that, “My response to this well intentioned teacher is that I use my students’ first language any time I can” because as Grover mentioned above, “Students will come to regard L2 use (if they use it at all) as part of some kind of silly game but certainly not for REAL communication”. There should be no double standards in language teaching: if in the ESL classroom English is the no. 1 communicator, then so should Spanish be in the Spanish classroom. I have found that in most cases pictures are a great way to teach concepts, and a lot of L1 is avoided thereby. Students really need to get used to understanding and explaining new ideas in the L2, since this is what they will have to do in the real world. L1 should be a last resort.

  11. Daniel Bell says:

    Thanks for making such a cool post which is really very well written.

  12. Luke Gaffney says:

    I agree with the judicious use of L1 in classrooms. I’m currently teaching children in Spain and I’ve found knowing Spanish has recently helped me when trying to explain family members such as cousins and granddaughters.

  13. Dr. KN Anandan says:

    I think the idea of using L1 judiciously is to be pedagogically interpreted. Discourse Oriented Pedagogy (DOP), which I had introduced in the schools of Kerala and AP proposes code-switching as an inevitable pedagogic strategy for facilitating second language acquisition. We have to critically examine the most common classroom ELT practices advocated and practised, by the stake holders of “Standard model of English Language Teaching”. Deviating drastically from the conventional and non-critical ELT, Discourse Oriented Pedagogy does away with the teaching of discrete elements of language such as sounds/letters, words and sentences, grammar and pronunciation. DOP drives its impetus from the theory of innateness, social constructivism and critical pedagogy. Deviating drastically away from the conventional and non-critical ELT, DOP proposes a modular mode of classroom transaction, where both the input and output are conceived in terms of various genres of discourses such as narratives, descriptions, conversations, speeches, and so on, each with a set of well-defined and level-specific features. More importantly, classroom theatre is used as a pedagogical tool comprising of discourse genres such as narratives, choreography and drama. For facilitating language acquisition of the beginners switching of codes takes place at the discourse level embedding L2 expressions in the larger context of L1 narratives; there is no need for translating such expressions into the mother tongue as the learners will be able to comprehend the narrative contextually. Eventually, the L1narratives will be gliding over to L2 narratives.

  1. January 2, 2010

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    […] provides several examples of effectively using L1 in the classroom in the post, Should L1 be used in EFL classes?. Moreover, he gives a nice description of the monolingual and bilingual […]

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