Vol. 5. No. 4 F-1 March 2002
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***TESL-EJ Forum***

Using The First Language In Second Language Instruction:
If, When, Why and How Much?

Karen Stanley, editor

One of the on-going debates among language teachers is that of whether or not to use the students' first language (L1) in foreign language (L2) classrooms or learning environments. Generally, few instructors feel that the primary language of instruction should be the L1. However, there seems to be a wide range of opinions on the degree of L1 use. One end of this spectrum favors banning the L1 from the classroom totally; the remainder (a fairly large remainder) proposes various types of L1 use or limitation. Factors which affect these decisions include such things as social and cultural norms, student motivation and goals, whether or not English is a primary means of communication in the environment external to the classroom (ESL) or not (EFL), age and proficiency of the students, and the linguistic makeup of the class (monolingual or multilingual as relates to L1), among others. One interesting point is that the same factors may lead to different conclusions and methodologies for different teachers, and even when different policies and practices are implemented in the classroom, all of them may well lead to successful results.

The discussion in this article consists of a wide variety of informed insights which first appeared as posts on the TESL-L email list for ESL/EFL classroom pedagogy between May 2000 and June 2001. Many posts have been slightly edited or expanded to accommodate the purposes of the article. Readers are invited to share their ideas, opinions and reactions with the editor and/or the individual posters.

Julia Reineman
M.A. student, California State University, San Bernardino, U.S.A.

I do not believe that there is a hard-fast rule for when first (or common) languages should be allowed or prohibited in the classroom. I do know that most of my own philosophy is based on my own experience as a second-language learner of Spanish, as well as the theoretical viewpoint that language is what we use to create and express who we are, not something that should be 'studied' as an end in itself. [-1-]

So my answer to whether or not to allow non-target languages in the classroom is, "Yes. Conditionally." When I am introducing new vocabulary in which meaning can be expressed through drawings, noises, pantomimes or the like, I use the target language exclusively. However, when attempting to communicate ideas that are abstract, I use/permit first language. All in all, I believe input needs to be COMPREHENSIBLE. I had a Spanish teacher who insisted on NO English in her classroom or office. I cannot tell you how many times I asked questions to which I simply did not understand the answer. (I finally resorted to dragging a native speaker with me every time I went to her office so he could translate for me after we left.)

I am currently teaching beginning Spanish to American university students. On days that we do group work (collective quizzes) I insist that they speak exclusively in the target language. At this point, they are already familiar with the material, and can negotiate meaning fairly well, because they are all discussing what is on the paper directly in front of them. I have a red mechanical pencil that is passed around to whomever I "catch" speaking English. Whoever gets "stuck" with it at the end of the class must bring a roll of Lifesaver candies to the next class.

However, the day after an exam we are introducing new material, and it is on these days I tolerate the most negotiation in the first language. I believe this gives students the ability to tap into their prior knowledge in order to learn the new one; an important aspect of critical pedagogy. I also believe that, even at advanced levels, the more abstract the concept, the more important it is to tap into that prior knowledge. When I was starting my third year of Spanish I was struggling with reading/understanding the literary texts, due to my limited proficiency. One of my professors recommended that I read works in translation so that I could discuss them intelligently in the target language. It was like a huge weight was lifted from me; suddenly I was capable of participating in the discussions with my native speaker classmates. Did it hinder my learning the language? I don't believe so. I graduated with departmental honors, and I am now teaching lower division classes at the same university, while I am finishing my M.A. in English. I realize that too often students hold on to the security blanket of their first language FAR too long, but I don't believe we should throw out the baby with the bath water.

Anthony Green
Chief Editor of www.voicebook.com

[A poster] asked about using the language of the students in a monolingual class. I suppose the major criterion for me with only an hour or two a week with each group of native Italian students is efficiency - how can I get the job done as quickly and as effectively as possible? At the beginning of a course, I generally have to try and change my students' preconceived ideas about how to learn a language as quickly as possible, and if I could get those ideas across to them in English, then ironically it would of course mean that they don't need to follow my lessons! So I speak Italian most of the first lesson and then tell them that from the second lesson on I'm going to pretend to be unable to speak it, a promise I never of course maintain 100%. For example, I find it useful when attention is beginning to flag or confusion reigns to talk about aspects of the language, tell anecdotes, and get feedback from them in L1. I certainly don't feel a need to force them to speak English the whole time - I tell them that they will each do so in their own time when they're ready and the sooner the better, and if they don't take the plunge then they'll never be able to pass the exam anyway. One day they seem to just come in and speak mainly English instead of Italian, and I'm never able to identify a common trigger for their change in behavior, but clearly confidence, exposure to the language and the freedom to choose when to start talking in L2 all play their part. [-2-]

Professoressa Ornella Spano
Cagliari, Italy

I teach English in a secondary school in Italy. My students are elementary level adults and I had (and still have) to cope with the problems of using L1 when I started school last September. Last school year they had another teacher who mainly spoke only English and didn't translate any words into Italian. When I arrived, they asked me if I could at least explain grammar points or words in Italian instead of English because they had big problems in understanding the target language. They were not able to communicate except for very elementary functions, such as ask and say name, nationality and so on - and they did have English class 4 hours a week for a whole school year! So, I usually try to find a compromise: for example if my lesson is about "ask and talk about past events" we usually read a dialogue or a text focusing on the topic, students always ask me the meaning of each unknown words (and there are too many!) I try with examples, gesture, visuals etc to explain them and if I can't I give the translation. As far as concerns grammar structures, at first I explain the topic only in English and then, by the means of transparencies or Power Point presentation I present the same topic in Italian. I feel that my students are more confident when they understand everything. Otherwise they look at me as if I were an alien creature! In my opinion the use of translation may not be necessary with advanced students but with beginners it is almost inevitable, at least if they are adult people.

I believe that we should do a balanced use of L1 and L2. Extremes do not work!

Anthea Tillyer
City University of New York (USA)

I'm sorry but I don't have much patience with the claims that a little of the L1 is good for students because it makes them feel "comfortable." I think that it may be a case of "comfort now, pay later."

While I absolutely agree that no teacher should try to add more stress than necessary to any learning situation, it is absurd (in my opinion) to talk a language other than the target language for any reason at all. The fact is that you have to break some eggs in order to make an omelet and you have to face a few moments of discomfort in order to learn a language. So what?

Life is full of stresses and difficulties, as well as joys and excitement. I can't see that it helps anyone to believe that all stress is to be avoided all the time. It is a fact of life, and certainly a fact of learning a new language, and language learners have to get used to it. [-3-]

You can't learn a language by speaking or listening to another language. No one ever has learned a language this way, and no one ever will. So I think that teachers who speak to students in their L1 to make them feel better about the L2 are really misguided. I also think that is it a form of sabotage.

The skilled teacher will use the L2 to make students feel comfortable and not simply assume that the only way to reduce stress is to use L1.

This issue reminds me somewhat of giving small babies shots to protect them from illness. The little ones cry and cry and you know that your decision to get the shots had resulted in pain, but as a parent you believe that this pain is short-lived and worth it. I think the same thing about learning a language..sure, it's awful when you don't understand at first, and you feel miserable and stupid. But it doesn't last long...AS LONG AS NO WELL-MEANING TEACHER DOESN'T PROLONG IT BY SPEAKING L1. The more the student speaks L1 instead of L2, the longer they will remain in the miserable limbo of being unable to communicate in L2.

It is a disservice to students to imply to them that the only way they can feel comfortable is to speak L1. [-4-]

Tomasz Pilch
Nauczycielskie Kolegium Jezykowe, Opole, Poland

I think that the question of whether to use the instruction in L1 or not depends on the circumstances - if you have a lot of time, small groups, students keen on studying on their own and inquisitive and, preferably, no important exam in English for them to pass at the end of the semester, than you can choose 'the hard' way that Ms. Tillyer describes. I can believe that the skill acquired in this way is likely to be more lasting and more student's-own. However, in my teaching practice I have never as yet encountered a situation even remotely similar to the ideal above. Normally, I have 1 or 2 classes a week (45 min or 1,5 h) and an exam at the end of the year or FCE exam after four years. Besides, children are not motivated since this is for them a foreign language (I am Polish and I teach in Poland) and they are overloaded with other work (7-10 types of classes). So, in such a situation, I avail myself of any help I can find, and, besides, I have found that when you have knowledge of both L1 and L2 grammars, you can present the L2 not only faster, but, at the same time, you can prevent your students from making mistakes in identifying the real nature of the use of some grammatical forms - especially, to prevent them from wrongly identifying L2 grammatical phenomena as identical in nature with what they have in L1. I think that the decision to refrain from talking about grammar in L1 is risky because it also makes it impossible for the teacher to check how some students have understood the instruction (and their 'ingenuity' in this field is really stunning) and therefore we run the risk that we lose control over what we really teach. [-5-]

Dennis Bricault
Director of ESL Programs & Coordinator, 1st Year Spanish Program
North Park University
Chicago, IL USA

I agree with Tomasz Pilch's argument for the need to take into account the situation in which the teacher finds him/herself. I teach Spanish and ESL at a small university in Chicago. I couldn't possibly get away with using only Spanish in my beginning Spanish courses. My students would either revolt or drop my class due to frustration; I use English judiciously, particularly when talking about abstract topics (grammar) or when sharing anecdotes about my experiences while living in Spain. As Tomasz Pilch mentioned, their motivation for coming to class is *very* different!

In my (usual multilingual) ESL classes, I use only English -- there are very often many languages represented, and while I may be able to converse with a few students in their own language, I would exclude many others by doing so. In a monolingual class, I might be more tempted to allow the use of L1 occasionally to address problem areas more efficiently. [-6-]

At a TESOL convention in Spain some years back, Mario Rinvolucri was asked for his views on using (or avoiding) L1 in class. He said, "Try miming 'although'." In my opinion, the best approach to using L1 is what works "best" (i.e., most efficient, most effective) in one's own classroom situation.

N. Eleni Pappamihiel
Florida State University, Multilingual/Multicultural Education

We know from past research that older, literate ESL students are able to take advantage of cognitive skills in their native language and transfer them to the L2, and I've seen many cases in which use of the L1 has aided this transfer of skills.

I do not mean that you should use the L1 to the exclusion of others who do not speak that language (as in multilingual classes). However, in cases where the entire class represents one language group, I strongly believe use of the students' L1 TO SUPPORT L2 acquisition is appropriate (not in the case where the use of the L1 rescues unprepared teachers).

As a person trained in both bilingual education and ESL, I can see the good in both methodologies. Additionally, I have used both in classes where appropriate, and my students have benefited from this practice. The question is not really whether or not we should use a student's L1, but rather when.

Antonio Portaluri
Newspeak Language School, Como, Italy,

Our decision whether or not to use L1 in class should be subject to the following questions:

I am sure that each one of us could add more questions to the list. But what we really don't need, as people involved in the everyday task of teaching, is ideology about teaching. The matter is rather complex and the only thing I would prohibit in the present debate is the word "prohibition." [-7-]

Susan Connick-Hirtz
MA Petaluma Adult School Petaluma, California

I feel like I'm entering the lion's den, but here's my opinion based on 20+ years of experience in California ESL classrooms at all levels from kindergarten through adult:

Yes, I use L1 with my beginning students. I use it primarily when they first enter the classroom to assist them in feeling comfortable and to encourage them to take risks. Many of my students have spent little time in a school at all. Some are illiterate. Some are terrified of a school setting and particularly, of Americans. Many are here illegally and are desperate to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible for a variety of reasons. While motivated, they don't understand the educational process.

That said, I agree ...[that, while it] is very tempting to use the L1 in an ESL setting, [w]e have to be very careful if we are bilingual ourselves not to deprive our students of the opportunity to feel uncomfortable enough to want to learn. Since I teach in an open entry, open exit adult program currently, I can come to class and find no students if I scare them away. Thus, I must be careful to walk a fine line in this area. I bridge it with humor (the films I mentioned before), games, lots of rewards (little surprises), plenty of orientation walks and speakers, and extra preparation.

I do agree ... about the necessity of being aware of grammatical constructions in the L1; however, I am Japanese-challenged and know no Brazilian Portugese and have students with these L1s in my class. I stumble along and do what I can with pictures and the above methods.

Janet Loewenstein
New Jersey, USA

I agree that there is a time and place in which to utilize the L1 in order to facilitate the acquisition of the L2. Having taught for many years in a self-contained bilingual elementary classroom, I began the school year using a 95-5% mix of Spanish-English. This was a transitional program and by January, the mix was 50-50, graduating to a 5-95% mix by June.

Concepts were introduced in Spanish to ensure the students' understanding and avoid delays in learning academic content while they were acquiring the English vocabulary but the rest of the lesson was taught (as the students progressed in English) in English. The emphasis was on the CALLA method of acquisition of academic vocabulary through sheltered content area lessons. This was highly successful as a main focus was reading in the L2...and I read to the students daily. They commented on the lessons in whatever language they preferred and their test scores (of the majority) after 2-3 years, were close to the monolingual American students. BTW, this was achieved in an urban setting in New Jersey. [-8-]

Dick Tibbetts
University of Macau, Macau SAR, China

I think there is perhaps a difference in perspective here between teachers of EFL and ESL. ESL teachers may well want to use a bit of L1 because it smooths over and gentles that cultural leap that ESL students have to make. Besides, these students are exposed to some English at least outside the classroom.

EFL students often have no exposure to English outside the classroom. No street conversation, no TV, no newspapers or magazines. This makes the exposure to English time in class that much more important. You just cannot spend too much of this valuable teaching time using the L1. You also need to show that English is a real language, not a textbook subject, by giving classroom instructions in English. I've said in previous postings that I'm quite prepared to accept Chinese used in class when it gets the class past a difficult stumbling block but I doubt this happens more than 1% of the teaching time.

Here in Macau we get some students who have been taught in the medium of English by teachers who do not use Chinese and some who are taught by teachers who use Chinese to teach and explain English. The difference is very clear to see. Those taught without the use of the L1 generally feed into our advanced classes and those taught through Chinese generally go to the intermediate and lower intermediate classes.

Tomasz Pilch
Nauczycielske Kolegium Jezykowe, Opole, Poland

[T]eaching a foreign language in state schools in Poland has some peculiarities which favour teaching 'suspiciously' - a majority of the students in a class are frequently disinterested, you have to grade them, they have to take up an exam at the end on the level, preferrably, of FCE. In such a situation, native-speakers, invariably well-wishing and prepared, very often fail. The method of speaking L2 exclusively, is good at the elementary level but starts to creak when they try to move fast enough to reach far enough with all the students. I know business crash-courses where the L2-only method produces quick results on the level of rudimentary communication (ungrammatical and imprecise) but satisfactory for the students and I know language-courses employing it to teach children whose parents complain later that it has been a waste of time (the school I refer to is affiliated with International House and all the teachers are English - so, they all know English and have been trained to teach in L2-only method). I think that both positions have their advantages and the trick is how to marry advantages and avoid [-9-] shortcomings or side-effects. The idea that we should fill the class with as much of L2 as possible is obviously right but not to the detriment of correctness of understanding of meaning of certain language phenomena. The idea to produce a non-mediated response to language situation is clearly tempting but the question is if it has to be the aim from the very beginning or at the forefront all the time - I think, in some cases, it might be possible to realise this non-mediation with occasional help of L1 - besides, should we really believe that our students do not form syntheses in L1 of grammatical phenomena while learning? I think they do and we'd better check carefully the quality and shape of these syntheses. One more thing about using or knowing L1 in teaching L2 - many native speakers teaching in Poland do not realize that some grammatical phenomena may be wrongly identified by Polish students because similar forms exist here but of different nature - to make students understand what they are being taught correctly it would be helpful if the teacher knew the grammar and vocabulary of their language and sometimes referred to it to prevent the students from forming a wrong idea of the nature of they are thought. I think that teaching a foreign language should take into consideration the L1 - universal approach ignoring the peculiarities of the students' mother tongue profits mostly the teacher who will not learn anything new.

Antonio Portaluri
Newspeak Language School, Como, Italy,

With reference to... the use of L1 in class by bilingual teachers , I submit the following extract as evidence that not all pedagogical research points to monolingual teaching (as it is often claimed). The following is an extract from LLT by Peter J. M. Groot (Utercht University) source file:

and refers to the word learning process:

'(....) the data also indicate that there are marked differences between the L1 and the L2 word learning process. In particular, the fact that the L2 learner already has a system of conceptual categories at his disposal to accommodate the new L2 labels may imply that L2 word learning represents a simpler cognitive task than L1 word acquisition where new concepts and labels have to be learned simultaneously. To the extent that this is indeed the case the question arises whether attempts (....) to make L2 word learning a condensed copy of the L1 word acquisition process are cost effective, especially in the case of L2 words that have equivalent L1 counterparts. In such cases a simple bilingual presentation followed by some rehearsal practice may be more efficient ...'

Anthea Tillyer
City University of New York (USA)

I agree that it is important that L2 beginners know what is going on in class and what they are supposed to be doing and why, but I completely disagree that use of L1 is the right or only way to do this. [-10-]

I believe (and have seen) that a well-trained and resourceful L2 teacher can act out, demonstrate, illustrate or coach new learners to do what is required in class without ever using L1. Teachers of heterogeneous groups ALWAYS have to use these techniques because they cannot use all the L1s of all the students and certainly not the L1 of just some of the students in the group. There is no reason why the techniques used in hetergeneous classes can't be used in homogeneous classes too.

It seems to me that it is important for TEACHERS to be freed of the tyranny of use of L1, just as much as we want to give our learners the strength and confidence to try everything in L2. If a teacher believes that comfort and strength can only come through the use of L1, then that impression will inevitably be imparted to the learners. However, it is not true that learners can only feel at home and in control if they use their L1; with appropriate techniques and a nurturing atmosphere, even beginners can feel fine in L2 right from day one.

Of course, it is important for teachers to feel fine in L2 too, so they need to be helped to break out of the L1 straight-jacket and be given a repertoire of techniques to help them operate effectively in L2 with beginners and all other students. It seems to me that maybe it is the TEACHERS who subconsciously are imparting to their students the impression that L2 is the only way to feel comfortable and at ease. This is simply not true, but if the teacher believes it or simply doesn't know how to help students feel empowered in L2, then the students will not feel empowered in L2 and will be stuck in L1 (maybe even forever).

Ainslie Baldwin <ainslie_baldwin@WIREWEB.NET>

I worked at the Matsuka Phonics English schools in in Japan, where there was an English-only policy inside the classroom. This required all of us teachers, native Japanese-speaking or native English-speaking, to be able to show, draw, or act out as we spoke. We said, "Watch," or "Listen carefully," or "I'll show you," first. Our students developed 'big ears' for English, and big confidence, too. True, some first year students were confused during the (Krashen) "silent period." But second year students' demeanor indicated they felt they could understand *everything* their teacher said. Why? Because *they had become adept listeners and guessers.*

We NES teachers came and went, so it was our Japanese colleagues who showed us how to teach EFL effectively. There were three situations when Japanese might be used:

1) the teacher *wrote* some hints on the board *in Japanese* to help students understand abstract ideas *while continuing to speak in English*;

2) the teacher took the class outside the classroom to explain something in Japanese (used in extreme cases);

3) the teacher placed a magnet on the board and drew a circle around it. This signaled that students could speak in Japanese (usually while preparing skits for the Open Class Day performance). [-11-]

The 'big ears' strategy really paid off in building students' confidence in themselves as English learners.

(One caveat: Don't switch in mid-stream. If you have been teaching L2 in L1, adopt the English-only policy in new classes. Those who have come to rely on translation can't switch easily.)

Lorna Joy Swain
American Language Program, California State University Hayward & College of Alameda, Alameda, CA, USA

I'd like to add ... reasons why students don't use English in the classroom. Often students *do not have the language* for performing linguistic tasks. For example, they may not know how to say "I don't understand the instructions." In most of my classes (all except the most advanced ones), I have a cloze activity (adapted from materials developed by the American Language Institute at San Francisco State University) that I do in the first or second week of classes. It has items like:

Your teacher speaks very quickly. You ask your teacher:

"C_____ you speak ________ ____________, please?"

I explain that every job has special language, and they need to learn the language of their job (being a student). After we complete the cloze, we list other useful expressions on the board. I follow up by printing all the expressions onto 5 x 8" cards and distributing them. At the beginning of each class, I ask the students to take out their cards. Here is the list of phrases on the card:


Could you repeat that? Once more, please? Pardon? I'm sorry? Excuse me? Could you speak more slowly, please? Can you speak louder, please? How do you spell _________? How do you say ___________ in English? What does __________ mean? It means... Just a moment, please. I don't understand. I don't understand the instructions. I don't know. I don't know how to answer. Could you play the tape again? Can we hear it again? Can we watch it again? What do you have for number ___? I think the answer is _________. I have the same answer. I have a different answer. What do you think? What's your opinion? I agree because... I disagree because...


Note the variety of reasons why students might be unable to answer; now they have the language to articulate what the problem is!!! It's very exciting to see the light go on when students first use these phrases and are able to negotiate their way through the problem. [-12-]

Also, I insist that the students use correct grammar when asking about spelling and pronunciation. I explain that memorizing (yes!!!) these forms will help them with all Wh-questions. I also try to head off "I'm agree" and "It's mean..." early on, since I have often taught advanced students who make these errors (for easily understandable reasons).

Suzan Oniz
Middle East Technical University, Department of Basic English, Ankara, Turkey

In a piece of small-scale research that a colleague at our institution conducted, she found that students in monolingual classes tend to conduct pair or group work in L1 when the task involves problem solving. What happens is that students discuss the solution using L1, Turkish in our case, but the end product, often a written task, is in English.

The same tends to happen in our teacher education sessions when we ask teachers to put their heads together to discuss an issue and come up with a solution. Most monolingual groups/pairs use L1. It's natural to use your mother tongue, I guess. Another reason is that all members in a problem solving task have the same role unless the teacher assigns one student to list ....., another one to write down ..... with each group or pair member having a distinct job accompanied by the necessary friend-to-friend type of exchanges such as 'Right, that's great!', 'Oh come off it!' etc. Our students need informal expressions for praising each other, rejecting/skipping ideas, etc. When we taped beginner level groups to find out what it was in group work that they said in Turkish, we discovered that they were saying these things in L1 and rightfully so because our course books nor we did not teach these and they didn't know them. I wonder how much of this applies to teachers in other teaching contexts?

Donna Minick
Rancho Santiago Community College, Santa Ana, CA, USA

Teachers who get concerned when the first language is spoken have perhaps not spent time trying to learn a new language with no reference given to their first language. For adults, this is DIFFICULT. Yes, when the material has been covered thoroughly, then the target language should be practiced. I teach mainly Spanish speakers, and I feel that clarification in the target language, or comparison between grammar practices in English and Spanish can help adult learners, and provide them with an anchor so that they don't feel totally adrift.

Bill Snyder
MA TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY

[I]n a heterogeneous classroom only the target language should be used, ...[a]nd while I agree that maximal use of the target language should be the goal in any classroom, I do think that there are times when use of the L1 in a homogeneous classroom is okay. [-13-]

A tale from my times teaching survival level English to Russian immigrants in the US: The students came into class with no English and I insisted on only using English in the classroom, hiding my knowledge of Russian from them. We worked well and hard, but finally the day came when the word 'however' popped up in a reading. The students were baffled and the reading ground to a halt. I spent what felt like an eternity trying to explain 'however' to them in English. I tried everything - pantomime, drawings, verbal explanation... No luck. It was beyond their current ability level to understand the concept through these means and the result was an increasingly frustrated group, including me. Finally, I gave up and had one of the students search through her belongings for her dictionary to look it up, wasting a few more minutes. Everyone was relieved the torture was over.

Later, I thought about it and realized that I had lost a lot of time on an unimportant issue and had effectively lost control of the lesson. I made the choice then that when this situation came round again, I would simply translate the word and move on with the real focus of the lesson.

Of course, this involved deciding to let the students know that I knew their language. While some tried to engage me with it after that, I simply let them know that class time was for English... . However, outside of class time, I did speak Russian with them and for many of the students it was a welcome opportunity to ask questions that they didn't have the English for, not just about the language, but also about the survival issues I was supposed to be helping them cope with. Doing this made my cajoling to use class time for English more effective.

The students L1 is not an enemy of learning unless we make it one ... I believe it can be a resource, but one that has to be used sparingly and appropriately. It may actually help students learn.

Dick Tibbetts
University of Macau, Macau SAR, China

I allow L1 in the classroom when I feel it's absolutely necessary. I have a monolingual classroom, except for myself, and sometimes a quick translated word makes life easier. Sometimes, too, it helps to compare the way the L1 and the L2 work. It gives students an insight into language.

But if you find that you are having to introduce the L1 frequently then it's possible that the language level is too high for the students. This happens so often in many countries where the expectations of administrators and syllabus designers are way out of line with classroom reality. I suspect this might have been the case with the previous poster on this subject who found she needed to read books in translation before she could comment on them. It may or may not affect language acquisition but I'm sure the frustration of being taught at a level above your comprehension must do something to motivation.

A further point is the perceived value, use and importance of the L1 and L2 in the classroom. If the L1 is the language of action and power, the language of classroom organisation and discipline and the language through which the L2 is mediated, then it is rather a bad example to students and gives the message that the L2 is merely a classroom subject, not a real useful language. [-14-]

Dr. Merton L. Bland
International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, Guinean Higher Institute of the Sciences of Education (ISSEG-Maneah)

The argument usually put forth for not using the target language is that you are being paid to teach English, not the native language. Indeed, in a classroom of students from many linguistic backgrounds, which native language will you use (how's your Lao?)?

But for the many of us raised on S-R Bond theory, the rationale is far more profound. We feel that most students (and probably east Asians in particular) initially feel that the target language is merely a translation of the native language. I know I did. Indeed, I felt that French was something my teachers invented to make life miserable for me until I went to France and discovered people actually spoke the language.

Unfortunately, no language is a direct translation of any other, and if you really want to get the feel of the target language you have to learn the target language in the target language. An immersion atmosphere usually shows that is possible to use the target language as a vehicle of communication (with all its frustrations) rather than an object of study. Or, in terms of that old S-R Bond theory, it shows that one can go directly from the stimulus to the response without having to pass through any mediating response (read: the native language).

Since no language is a direct translation of another, concept formation is enhanced by full immersion. In addition, if one specifically teaches communication strategies as paraphrasing, using paralinguistics, or eliciting vocabulary from one's communicating partner, there is no need for the L1. And, if grammar is taught inductively, there is also no need for "explanations" in the L1.

To implement a total immersion policy all one needs is a piece of chalk; use it to draw a line on the doorsill. "Out there you can speak anything you please; in here only English is permitted."

Julia Reineman
MA candidate English, California State University, San Bernardino, USA

In reference to allowing Spanish speaking children to use their L1 during classtime/recess...

I may be making some incorrect assumptions, but here goes: First, I do not believe that anyone has the right to dictate what language students (of any age) use during their own time (i.e. recess). (And this is not to be confused with the "type" of language they use.)

Secondly, I have to wonder, "What's the rush?" I think we need to remember that unlike adults, children do not enroll themselves in ESL classes; they are placed there. Consequently, an "English only" regulation may cause deep resentment, producing the opposite effect that the instructor is aiming for. (Yes, I realize that allowing students to speak in their L1 may cause other problems within the classroom setting; especially if it is the teacher who is excluded from the conversation.) [-15-]

I am a firm advocator of developing L1 literacy skills before we attempt to teach L2 literacy. However, I am looking at this issue from a very different perspective than an elementary school teacher. I teach adults (not ESL) at the university level. I see hispanic students in my English classes exhibiting ESL writing errors who swear that they do not speak Spanish. They consider English their first/only language. Yet when I ask them how old they were when they began to speak it they say, "five." Others enroll in my Spanish classes and are ridiculed for not speaking Spanish; for being a "poor excuse of a Mexican", and they are resented because they understand the language better than their peers, even if they cannot produce it.

I read countless newspaper articles on how desperately we need bilingual/bicultural employees in the fields of education, medicine, law enforcement and the judicial system. Just last week I read an article of a Korean-American teenager who literally cannot communicate with his parents without the help of his older sister to translate for him. They were so busy working they never had time to learn English, and once he hit school he replaced his L1 with English. I see this as a tragic atrocity. We as a society (U.S.) are so terrified of the "other" that we don't want children to be bilingual. We want them to exchange one language for another (unless we need them to translate for their parents).

I recently read an article in which a mainstream classroom permitted students to choose the language of the material in which they did their free reading. Books were available in Spanish, English, and bilingual editions. By the end of the term, all of Spanish L1 speakers had begun (at their own pace) to choose English texts. Likewise, many English L1 students took an interest in the Spanish texts, and were tutored by their Spanish speaking peers (talk about building self-esteem in ESL students!).

This is what I want to see: children who are born with the gift of being truly bilingual who are helped to foster that talent rather than have it squelched or worse yet, uprooted. I believe we are killing something precious inside of them when we do that--even if it is for "the good" of the children.

Bill Snyder
MA TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY

... there is more theoretical literature available with ideas about how learners use L1 in learning L2. A favorite of mine is a classic by S. Pit Corder called 'A Role for the Mother Tongue', in which he argues that learners are not slaves to their L1 in learning L2, but use it selectively, in situations where they feel it will be helpful based on various considerations. The more we know about this literature, I think the better we can use it for making pedagogical decisions. [-16-]

[K]nowing this literature will not lead all of us to the same decisions. Knowing that learners use L1 in learning L2, some will see this as something detrimental to the learning process to be suppressed and focus on pedagogical approaches that move learners away from actively using the L1. Others may see it as something to be taken advantage of pedagogically and make explicit use of L1. But for both groups, knowing what's in the literature can provide a basis for pedagogical experiments that we all need to hear about.

Antonio Portaluri
Newspeak Language School, Como, Italy -

Bill Snyder concluded:

"knowing what's in the literature can provide a basis for pedagogical experiments that we all need to hear about."

I'd recommend reading Vygotsky's theory about second language learning as expressed in his work "Language and Thought." Vygotsky has also inspired the basic principles of the Whole Language Approach but the part of his theory regarding the process of L2 learning has been (surprisingly) rejected. This is even more surprising considering that Vygotsky described the process of L2 learning as an analogy for the general process of concept formation. So to reject Vygostky's view that the learning of L2 is based on the prior knowledge of L1, and that in fact it builds on that, is to discard his theory of concept formation as a whole.

Recent sociolinguistic research however consider Vygotsky's work as one of the most valuable contribution to the subject and would probably be worth considering for those who are looking for theoretical background in pedagogy.

Bill Snyder
MA TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY

[Some people seem] to assume that "use of L1" means "sole or dominant use of L1 for instruction." But I've never advocated that kind of use of L1 nor do I think anyone else in this forum has. I've been consistent in saying that limited use of L1 for carefully considered pedagogical purposes in homogenous L2 classrooms is appropriate. ..

One of the reasons I reject absolutism ... is that is that it restricts teachers, denying them the use of their good judgement in applying ALL the tools they may have available in a teaching-learning situation. If, for example, use of a set of advertisements in L1 and L2 for comparable products leads to a good classroom discussion IN ENGLISH of the different values displayed in those ads, then that is class time successfully used. It does require that I lay out the rules for discussion and enforce an English only policy for it, but that is part of my job. If being able to talk about something that is at least partly familiar helps students do this (and makes them more likely to want to do it), then I think it's pedagogically sound. [-17-]

Fatima A Nacaytuna
Manila, Philippines

Philippines is a good example of a country torn between two major languages or lingua franca and a number of local languages. But when the Americans came here for the first time to establish the Philippine Normal School and started the English language education, students did not have a choice but learn ENGLISH THROUGH ENGLISH. Hence, those trained in the "old school" learned to think and communicate in L2 with absolutely no, if not very little, interference from L1.

Towards the last decade of the 20th century, the bilingual education invaded the schools, the Taglish (Tagalog-English) phenomenon became an everyday scenario, and code-switching/code-mixing process developed as an interesting subject of research among linguistic experts. One very interesting conclusion states that interlocutors experience the code-switching/code-mixing process during their conversations because they lack proficiency in both L1 and L2. Today, the convenient co-existence of L1 and L2 in a typical conversation has been perpetuated by interpersonal, group, and public communication via mass media and elevated to an indispensable medium that marks a newly emerging culture of a growing generation of users..

Experts observing this linguistic development have opposing views. Others blame the educational system that allowed the use of L1 (lingua franca or local language) in teaching L2. Others see it as an inevitable growth of the Tagalog-based Filipino enriched by Spanish, English, Chinese, and other languages from the neighboring countries and our own provinces. Today, our lingua franca enriched by various languages is juxtaposed with a global language in a typical meaningful utterance. The latter establishes parallelism between Filipino and English, which has continuously expanded with the inclusion of words from Latin, Greek, French, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages.

Despite the observed learning difficulty and inadequacy, English still survives as a medium of intellectualization in the academe and industry. Hence, the instrumental motivation to learn L2 remains. As long as there is motivation to achieve, any possible means will bring the learners to the desired end. We must remember that the decision in favor of a lifetime acquisition of L2 is a student's prerogative, not a teacher' mandate. [-18-]

Marianna Scheffer
Kulani Correctional Facility, Hilo, Hawaii

It seems to me that only the most minimal use of L1 can be justified in teaching L2. It would be easy to cater to students by providing them with the pleasing and understandable input of their own language, but it does not do them a favor. This is particularly true if L1 is used for grammar instruction or text translation. Students will not learn L2 until they actually commit to using it as a living language. Understandable input in L2, enhanced with pictures, graphs, diagrams, measurements, and so on, (now, thankfully, readily available over the WEB) will bring students along faster than sterile grammar exercises or translating which can only be carried out with L1 input.

Jeremy Taylor
Writer, Teacher, Juggler, Linguaviva Centre, Dublin, Ireland

Learning a language is like learning to swim. You have to get in there, splash around, get wet, probably swallow a few mouthfuls of water. If you continue to hold on to the bar at the side - and are not discouraged from doing so, you will never win an Olympic medal.

In the early 1990s, many young, unskilled but enthusiastic teachers set off for the Czech Republic and other countries in Eastern Europe. I was there from 1992 to 1998. It was clear that students who had been taught by the native speakers had far better English than those who were taught by the non-natives. Was this because they were better teachers? (Unlike their non-native colleagues, many of them wouldn't have known the 3rd conditional if it had bitten them on the nose). Surely it was because they were UNABLE to speak the L1 and all T-S S-T communication had to be in the L2.

Bill Snyder
MA TEFL Program, Bilkent University Ankara, TURKEY

I know of no account of second language acquisition that proposes that learners start from scratch. In fact, we know they don't. Learners are not blank slates, but begin the process of learning L2 with knowledge of their L1 and they make use of that knowledge in the process of learning. [-19-]

The question is whether they use that knowledge mechanistically, without conscious control, or whether they do make decisions about when and how to use it, as S. Pit Corder proposed in his article, A Role for the Mother Tongue. There is some evidence that they do in fact make conscious choices about degrees of parallelism between vocabulary items in the two languages. (The study was by Eric Kellerman and was included in a volume edited by M. Sharwood-Smith that I seem to have lost.) Their decisions will not always produce correct language, but making errors is part of the learning process.

But none of this really touches on the question of L1 use in L2 instruction. What I think it points to is that we don't need to fear the L1 as a baleful influence on learners. They are not automata, but beings who are aware of the process they are engaged in. Given support and motivation, they will become successful learners. I suspect lack of learning is more a result of lack of motivation than of use of L1 in the classroom. I do think the use of L1 should be limited, if used at all, but don't see it as automatically detrimental.

David Ross
Houston Community College, Houston, TX USA

I generally agree with those who reject the "ban on L1 from the classroom," but I think that not only is this ban the fruit of an absolutist view of the role of theory in language teaching, but the very framing of the question is somewhat absolutist as well.

What does it mean to "ban L1 from the classroom"? Of course, there is the theoretical sense that [posters] have referred to, whereby the L1 serves as a distraction from or an interference with L2 learning, but let's leave theory aside for the moment. A "ban on L1" most often appears as a METHODOLOGICAL principle or as a CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT rule.

To begin with, some methodologies (e.g. the "direct method" a la Berlitz) ban L1 as a matter of principle. People pay lots of money to have their L1's banned from the classroom. In such cases, it is futile to appeal to [experts], since students are explicitly contracting for instruction in L2 only. All I can say is caveat emptor.

It's at the classroom management level that I have real problems with the "ban." (DISCLOSURE: The following remarks are intended to apply to adult-level ESL classroom situations) Of course, I, like most teachers, include in my syllabus a statement discouraging the use of L1 in the classroom by students (with 10+ native languages in the class, this is a more a matter of classroom order than pedagogy), but even here, I would not qualify this statement as a "ban." Bans must be enforced, and I have not found a way to enforce such a ban without adopting the kind of intrusive, unpleasant presence that makes me feel uncomfortable when I see it in other teachers. (And I can't help including all those 10-cent penalties for using L1 in the same intrusive category ... at least when teaching adults)

Indeed, one of the less-discussed aspects of this question is the degree to which attempting to over-control natural human behavior becomes a form of infantilizing adult learners. Does this promote language learning? [-20-]

Aiva Drukovskis
County College of Morris, Randolph, N.J. USA

The discussion on L1 usage in the classroom has been most interesting. I had an opportunity to teach rank beginners last year (adults) - people who had only recently arrived here with only a few words of English at their command. This was a multilingual class of about 34 people. I found that they eventually sorted themselves into L1 groups within the classroom so they could help each other over parts they didn't know. I didn't speak anything other than English to the class. The ones who came from countries where they were the only one of that nationality in the class dropped out quite quickly. The ones with the L1 "support groups" stayed til the end of the course. I think there is a period of time (definitely the first year of arriving here) they DO need support from the first language for it all to begin to make sense. After that though, instruction should be in English only because bi-lingual education stretched into infinity doesn't work. (Observations from the trenches.) My level 4's speak nothing but English in class, but even so, occasionally there will be a short "conference" as to what the equivalent word should be in English. Language learning is a messy business.

Lisa Crandall
(Monterey, California)

[A poster] asked: "would those in favour of accepting use of L1 suggest that I arrange my multilingual group of students so that speakers of the same L1 are together to facilitate their learning??"

Personally, I usually leave it up to the students where they want to sit. I have taught mostly multilingual classes and in my opinion, the diversity is a real asset. The students are usually very motivated to talk to someone from a different country, they can learn something new. Unlike monolingual classes, they have a completely natural reason to use the target language. However, there can be special cases. I have had classes where one student's level of English (and confidence) was significantly lower than the rest of the class. In this case, I am very happy to have another student with the same native language quietly help them out. That can really help to break down the affective barrier.

Personally, in general I prefer that the L1 has a very limited role in the classroom. Certainly, I am not happy with students chatting away about unrelated topics in class. However, I rarely have any problem differentiating between on-task use of L1 and off-task chatting. Also, as another poster mentioned, when you are teaching adults, any attempt to bully students into doing something creates an unfavourable tenor and diminishes rapport. Who wants to be treated like a naughty schoolchild? I usually try to nip this problem in the bud by discussing with a new class what their, and my expectations are. I explain to them why I believe that they should speak English as much as possible in the class to promote their learning. In a class where most students share the same L1, but one or two don't, I also draw their attention to the fact that use of the L1 will exclude those people. [-21-]

A certain class springs to mind in which a wonderful, motivated bunch of students, in a monolingual class, would do their very best to avoid the temptation of taking the easy route out, but when they felt it was necessary, would say: 'Lisa, I'd really like to say this in Russian'. Then their attention was brought to the fact that there was something they couldn't express in English. As a class they would work together to get the concept across to me (in English, making drawings, or whatever means available), and then I could provide them with a more succint English version. Perhaps this becomes one of those 'teachable moments'. It seems to me that this kind of policy (which, admittedly, depends more on the learners than me) is more conducive to learning than a blanket ban which simply silences the students and prevents them from expressing themselves.

Marc Anthony
Director of Teacher Training, Transworld Schools, San Francisco USA

These posts suggest only that we are all experiencing different situations and different learning attitudes. ...[An] <<absolutist>> view of English Only is sometimes asked for by the learners. I think we could all agree that we've had learners who demand that. But it is just as likely that many of us have learners who benefit from the constructive bridging of L1 to L2. I do not believe there is any proper approach here also because we, as ESOL educators, are utilizing different methods which suit our individual styles and suit our learners as well--and I would think that the majority of us are using the method called "whatever works." As Lisa Crandall states, "[it's] a messy business."

Perhaps what we need to remember as teachers is what worked and didn't work for us when we were language learners. For example, I studied French at the Alliance Francaise in Paris where most of the faculty employed a teacher-centered, lectured-based and prescribed approach to language teaching--and done only in L2. I was overwhelmed by the high degree of grammar jargon spoken only in L2. This was an added layer of lexis which was largely irrelevant for me. My goals were communicative, not academic. We were not encouraged to interact except under the strict elicitation of the teacher, and then only through instructions like, "Give me an example of the passe compose." I was one of only three English speakers in the class. We did not form an L1 language clique--although I wanted to. The other two preferred to "swim" by themselves. I eventually lost confidence in my ability to comprehend what was happening and so dropped the course. Later, I found a teacher who, although using a prescribed approach, did so in English. I was then able to grasp the concepts of grammar, while the communicative tasks were done in French Only.

My point is, while there is nothing wrong with English Only, and even in some situations most useful, we must consider the degree of comprehensible input the learners are receiving as well as the role L1 has in the learning process.

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