Using Mother Tongue In An English Language Classroom

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  • Jos Emilio Prez Abad

    USING THE MOTHER TONGUE IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM

    Linguists and researchers have varied opinions on the best type of instruction to

    facilitate L2 learning. Krashen, who uses Comprehension Hypothesis in language and

    literacy development, states that language acquisition occurs through maximum

    exposure to Comprehensible input, and therefore L1 should be disallowed in class

    (Piske & Young-Scholten, 2009).

    Form instruction, an innovative instruction method supports communicative language

    teaching principles and focuses on exposing students to oral and written

    communication in real-life situations in L2. The communicative approach to L2

    instruction advocates the use of L2 in second language learning. Indeed, Van Patten

    and Cadiernos experimental study on students learning Spanish in 1993 supported the

    communicative approach to L2 instruction (Morett,people.ucsc.edu). Another

    successful method is direct instruction or integrating L2 learning with content learning,

    using L2 only. One example is the implementation of French immersion teaching in

    Canada from the 1960s. L2 learners not only mastered content but also acquired the

    language of instruction (Francis, 2008).

    Advocates of monolingualism claim that using L1 in the classroom conflicts with SLA

    theories, which argue for modified input and negotiation in L2 as a way of learning

    (Polio, 1994 in Miles, 2004). Nation (2003) states that, when teachers use L1, students

    tend to follow suit and the class becomes a grammar-translation class. Besides, mixing

    both languages might cause confusion in the students, giving rise to interference. As L1

    and L2 structures are dissimilar, they need to be separated to avoid confusion. Hence,

    students listening to the teachers explanation in the target language get good listening

    and speaking practice. As they keep on hearing and listening to the language, they

    become more comfortable and proficient in it.

    Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman (1999) in Bankier contend that language errors made

    by learners are caused by interference from the L1. They use the example of a Japanese

    student saying" He was fallen by the rain" instead of "The rain fell on him". Here, a

    minimal knowledge of the L1 is useful to show the difference between both, but if we

    are teaching the active and passive forms, it is better done in English than in Japanese.

    Nevertheless, new research indicates that the use of L1 allows learners to work out L2 at

    lower levels. As they become more proficient in L2, they gradually use it more, relying

    less on L1 (Upton & Lee-Thompson, 2001).Mouhanna (2009) conducted a study on 124

    students from three levels of English proficiency at a foundations English programme

    in a UAE tertiary institution. He found that level 1 students required more L1 support

    (mean: 2.05) compared to Level 3 students (mean: 3.03).

    Similarly, Simseks data analysis (2010) of the achievement test of English Grammar on

    Turkish students found that L1-assisted learning was more effective at increasing the

    students achievement of English Grammar than monolingual grammar instruction.

    There was also a significant difference between the delayed post-test means of the

    experimental and control groups, showing that L1-assisted language learning was more

    lasting than monolingual grammar teaching.

  • Jos Emilio Prez Abad

    In an investigation on the use of L1 to generate ideas for writing among low proficiency

    Malaysian students, Stapa and Abdul Majid (2006) found that students using L1

    generated 166 ideas, compared to 85 from students not using their L1. The first group

    also produced better quality essays in terms of organization, vocabulary, language and

    mechanics. This is because generating ideas on a topic in a different language creates

    confusion and inhibits long-term memory processes. Thus, low proficiency learners

    should be allowed to use their L1 when communicating abstract ideas and accessing

    content, as it supports L2 acquisition (2006).

    In Holland, the mandatory Utrecht pilot was used as part of the Dutch Integration

    policy to prepare new Moroccan arrivals and long-term residents without Dutch

    citizenship for the workplace. 220 women were taught Dutch in 200 500 hours. One

    group had an L1 teacher who taught Dutch in L1, another had an L1 as well as an L2

    teacher, and the third group had an L2 teacher who used only L2. It was found that

    using L1 helped learners to reflect on learning processes, learn meanings of words, and

    contrast grammatical structures of both languages. However, the group using L1 and L2

    teachers achieved 84.2% L2 literacy at the first level, compared to 21.1% and 30% when

    instruction was only in L1 and L2 respectively. But, at level 2, the majority of the group

    with the L2 teacher met the L2 literacy requirement, demonstrating that teaching in the

    L2 benefits learners in long-term programmes (Prins, 2011).

    A study by Morett (people.ucsc.edu) compares the use of grammar-translation and the

    communicative approach to teach Spanish vocabulary. She found that learners in the

    communicative approach recalled more words than an uninstructed group in a short-

    term post test. But, no significant differences were noticed between groups taught with

    the grammar-translation method, suggesting that other factors like prior knowledge

    and instruction also contributed towards early L2 acquisition, not the avoidance of L1.

    Not using L1 may be right in some situations but various techniques must be utilised to

    make up for this. If some L1 is allowed, the time saved can be used for other activities,

    e.g., translating vocabulary items, or quickly comparing L1 and L2 grammar. This will

    reduce interference as students become more aware of common errors. In classes that

    have a dominant L1, students can compare and contrast the L2 with the language they

    know best when studying form and meaning. They can check exercises with partners,

    understand jokes and complex instructions, and learn vocabulary with direct

    equivalents.

    Thus, the use of L1 in the class depends on the type of learners. At lower levels, where

    students cannot express emotions properly, itlessens the burden of constantly using L2

    or consulting dictionaries. At higher levels, teaching in L2 is preferred. It is only in a

    multilingual classroom that using L1 becomes impractical as a teacher would not know

    so many languages.

    Audiolingual method, the communicative approach, or task-based learning have advocated L2 only method. One reason of using this method is that the exposure to L2 outside the classroom is rather scarce. As Cook says that the use of L1 is perceived to hinder the learning of L2 (as quoted in Zacharias 2000). On the contrary, many ELT professionals have suggested reexamining the English only approach in the L2 classroom. Prodromou reminds us that there is much potential for using L1 in language

  • Jos Emilio Prez Abad

    learning contexts rather than abusing it (as quoted in Juarez and Oxbrow 2008). Therefore, when not used excessively, L1 is beneficial in L2 classroom. First of all, the use of L1 enhances relaxed classroom atmosphere. Both teacher and students are given the opportunity to use L1 in certain situations. In such a less threatening classroom, students anxiety can be minimized. Rivera finds that allowing students to use L1 makes them feel less intimidated (Auerbach 1993). In addition, students feel freer to express their ideas. Whenever they do not know a particular lexical item in L2, they can switch to the one in L1, for example How do you say menerkam in English ? Bolitho sees this phenomenon as a valuable humanistic element in the classroom (Atkinson 1987). When this happens, learning takes place. In addition, L1 is useful in managing the class. Explaining grammar concept through L1 saves time. Piasecka states that for novice students, grammar explanation in L2 is useless because their language repertoire is limited (as quoted in Auerbach 1993). Atkinson advises teachers to use L1 when a correlate structure does not exist in L1 such as a verb tense (as quoted in Harbord 1992). Checking students comprehension and correcting errors can be conducted in L1, too. This strategy is believed to be very helpful to avoid misunderstanding (Harbord 1992). Giving instruction in L1 helps teachers keep the class moving at early levels. Harbord (1992) asserts that teacher can use L1 to simplify a complex activity. Moreover, a research done by Lameta-Tufuga reveals that students can fully understand the content of the written task through L1 (as quoted in Nation 2003). Eventually, these procedures help teachers to achieve the objective of the lesson. Most important, permitting students to use L accelerates students L2 acquisition process. Students learn new vocabulary faster through L1. Laufer and Shmueli claim studies comparing the effectiveness of various methods for learning always come up with the result that an L1 translation is the most effective (as quoted in Nation 2001). If students are aware of similarities and differences between L1 and L2, they can avoid errors which could be derived from the transfer of their L1. Ferrer (2005) takes the view that the use of L1 enable students to notice the gap between their inner grammars and the target language and ultimately, through constant hyphotesis testing, achieve higher levels of grammatical as well as communicative competence. This awareness contributes to L2 acquisition process. Even though many language teachers oppose the issue of L1 use in L2 classroom, literature provide evidence that L1 use in L2 classroom is advantageous if not overused. Due to friendly classroom atmosphere, students feel more comfortable so they are motivated to learn. The use of L1 makes it possible for teacher to manage the class more effectively. Through L1, students experience faster L2 acquisition process.

  • Jos Emilio Prez Abad

    References

    Atkinson, D. 1987. The mother tongue in the classroom: A neglected resource. ELT Journal, 41(4): 241-247.

    Auerbach, Elsa Roberts. 1993. Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. TESOL, Qarterly, 27(1): 9-31.

    Ferrer, V. (2005). The use of the mother tongue in the classroom: Cross-linguistic comparisons, noticing and explicit knowledge. (Online: http://www.teachenglish worldwide.com/Articles.htm.).

    Harbord, J.1999. The use mother tongue in the classroom. ELT Journal, 46(4): 402-423 Juarez, Carolina Rodriquez and Gina Oxbrow. 2008. L1 in the EFL classroom: More a help than a

    hindrance ? Porta Linguarum, 9(1): 99-109. Nation, Paul. 2003. The role of the first language in foreign language learning.

    Asian EFL Journal, 5(2). (Online: http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/june 2003 Rn.html )

    Zacharias, Nugrahenny T. 2000. Teachers belief about the use of the students mother tongue: A survey of tertiary English teachers in Indonesia. English Australia Journal,22:44-52.

    Bankier, J, How to Save Time and Increase Learning with the Students First Language , viewed 9

    Mar2011,

    Francis, N2008, Integration of language and content learning: Research advancesSelected papers from

    the 17th International Symposium on English Teaching,Taipei: English Teachers Association, Y.- N.

    Leung & H. Chang (eds.), pp. 343-354

    Miles, R2004,Evaluating the Use of L1 in the English language Classroom. School of Humanities.

    Centre for English Language Studies Department of English, University of Birmingham, viewed 9 Mar

    2011,

    Morett, L M, The Effect of Instructional Method on Second Language Acquisition: An Examination of

    Some Contributing Factors, viewed 29 Mar 2011,

    Mouhanna, M 2009, Re-Examining the Role of L1 in the EFL Classroom, UGRU Journal Volume 8,

    Spring 2009, viewed 10 Mar 2011,

    Nation, ISP 2003, Effective ways of building vocabulary knowledge. ESL Magazine6, 4 14-15.

    Piske, E & Young-Scholten 2009, Input Matters in SLA,viewed 28 Mar2011,

    Prins, J 2011, L1 as language of instruction in L2 acquisition, viewed 28 Mar2011

    Simsek, M R 2010, The effects of L1 use in the teaching of L2 grammar concepts on the students

    achievement Journal of Theory and Practice in Education 2010, 6 (2):142-169, viewed 29 Mar 2011

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