Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Using L1 in the classroom

In our opening meeting The Director mentioned the use of L1.  How much do you think teachers and students should use the mother tongue in the classroom?  There are two sides to this story.

Use of L2- Students here get little or no external access to English, so the classroom needs to be full of it / They need to see the target language as ‘communication’ rather than ‘rules’ /  Krashen’s comprehensible input theory /  Students can have a ‘feel good factor’ if they can understand and/or use the L2 / Translations of a word or phrase often don’t work because of the need to look at the context / When L1 is used, students come to rely on it, even if L2 and L1 are both used, and become too habituated to bother to try to understand or use the L2 / Using a lot of L1 gives the impression that the L2 is not important. 

Use of L1 - Being aware of differences and similarities between L1 and L2 can help students understand and remember the target language better / Student output may be in L2 after discussion in L1 / There are times when the teacher using L1 saves time - e.g. quick translation, classroom management, psychological guidance etc. / Using only the target language can mean students are alienated against the L2 culture and language or they may feel their own culture is belittled / Students mentally translate anyway / Where both teachers and students are from the same language background, it seems unnatural to communicate in  the target language / Students become frustrated when trying to create if they only use L2 /

See previous discussion on this blog:- http://issuu.com/steveneufeld/docs/l1_translation_survey/1?e=0 look at page 2
and also


What do you think? In which situations do you think L1 is OK or even useful for students? Post a comment.........

9 comments:

  1. Fascinating to see in the TESOL article that this debate was going strong in America back in the early 1990s. The one point they raise regards the 'politics of language', suggesting that by banning L1 in class it is perceived as being inferior to L2. This, of course, is perhaps more evident in America, in an ESL context where insisting on English only can be seen as denigrating Spanish. I wonder if the same issue applies here in North Cyprus...that is, by insisting on English only, is the message given that Turkish is an inferior language for academic study?

    ReplyDelete
  2. We all are aware of the fact that this is a controversial issue in our field. However, I want to talk about my real experiences that I had for the last two months as a new teacher. In some cases, I really feel like I should use Turkish because I see this empty look on their eyes and all the words are flying away. Reasons for this might vary; distraction, anxiety, exhaustion but at that moment, students want to hear something that they are comfortable with. They wake up for a moment and energise for the rest of the class. If using the L1 is affecting my L2 teaching positively, I can use it up to a point depending on their level and tendency to abuse this situation. Secondly, sometimes I am trying to teach them the concepts that they are not familiar with even in their mother tongue. At this point, L1 usage is a time-saver and very practical. Although I strongly defend that English classrooms are the only place that they can expose to appropriate input, this input also should be comprehensible and meaningful for the students. My point is L1 usage should not be a taboo because this is not the reality of the classrooms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In his article, Michael Druce's survey results show that many teachers have adopted a very similar approach to yours -- 61% say they try to minimize the use of L1 on principle but 85% say that they think all learners mentally translate. 83% agree that an 'eclectic' approach to the use of L1 and translation is appropriate. Aside from saving time and being practical, do you think that the use of L1 has a pedagogical value? I also wonder about the 'artificial' nature of trying to get two people who speak the same L1 to try to communicate in L2. Perhaps we should try to find ways to encourage them to find opportunities to practice their L2 with people who don't speak their L1? I have had classes with students from different countries, and English became the common language n class. But, technology nowadays might offer similar environments, such as SKYPE EDUCATION. Perhaps we should concentrate more on providing opportunities in and out of class to interact with English speakers, and use L1 judiciously in class for the specific purposes you point out. What do you think?

      Delete
  3. As someone who cannot really use L1, apart from a vocab word or occasional grammar comparison here or there, I'd still argue there's a definite place for L1 in the classroom at some levels. Intermediate students don't need it at all really, but I agree with Belgin that there are some things that students may not understand without using L1, particularly in the beginner levels. It's very difficult to explain some grammar in L2 when they are absolute beginners. You can do examples, and of course I do, but in the first month it might be difficult for the SS to comprehend the grammar even with a million examples and very carefully graded language. There is also the emotional aspect of only using L2, in that some students are so overwhelmed by hearing only L2 that they shut down. I know some of my students are terrıfıed of me in the first month or two until they learn enough to generally follow along. The weakest students often end up essentially saying 'I can't understand the teacher so I won't try and I'll always get my friend to translate everything'. Once they do this and fear/intimidation keeps them from attempting the language early, it's often a death sentence. They tend to lag behind unless they can overcome their initial trepidation. While most of my students end up ok with speaking and listening in English, there are always one or two who I worry about and wonder if they wouldn't have been more successful if they had some L1 in the classroom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As another non-Turkish speaker, I agree with your observations about entry-level language learners. :) However, I think that L1 is even more of an important asset with more advanced levels, as there are many nuances of meanings or differences in register that are quite difficult to explain in English only. An E He refers to studies by Creese and Blackledge, 2010, and Swain & Lapkin, 2000, which show that "L1 is not only a medium for communication, but also the most powerful mediating tool for thinking." It seems to me than an 'eclectic' approach is warranted, but that the traditional view of 'never L1' in class really needs to be challenged. Do you think that there could be a more systematic approach or methodology that guides the use of L1?

      Delete
  4. I agree with Robert and Belgin in that I also believe L1 has a place in the classroom. We can use it to diffuse tension or to save time. The real question is how we use that space. L1 is a tool that is available for teachers, and like any tool, exploiting it to the point that using it becomes meaningless and redundant is what we should be avoiding. Especially with grammar structures and vocabulary I find it quite risky to use L1. It is risky with grammar since translating it could lead to confusions due to the differences and inconsistencies between L1 and L2. With vocabulary, I believe, the sooner SS get used to using monolingual dictionaries, synonyms/antonyms or neighboring sentences within texts to guess the meaning, the better. Of course there are vocabulary items that cannot be understood by using these means, in which case we can - and should - turn to L1 to save time.
    While I was reading the entries, I remembered Melek hoca's presentation in the workshop festival. I think that was an excellent way of using L1 in the classroom. It was a brilliant idea to use an L1 text to communicate the logic behind cloze tests to SS. In that case L1 became a tool for SS as well since they were expected to transfer their L1 skills to L2. So, yes, there is definitely a place for L1 in the classroom; but, as a novice teacher, I often find myself ignoring it completely.

    ReplyDelete
  5. L1 is certainly a valuable tool in a classroom - more so in monolingual situations. However, I think it is important to remember that each context and each class is unique and so having a golden 'rule' for this is counter productive. It is ultimately for students and teacher to agree on the most productive use of L1 for a group and to stick to this. The danger is over-reliance, on L1 which results in L2 rarely being used in meaningful communication, and only in doing 'exercises' or providing 'answers', hence becomes contrived. Meaning is produced within language and so students need to be encouraged to produce as much as possible, and become comfortable expressing themselves and responding naturally in L2.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I also believe that the use of the mother tongue can be helpful in several ways if it is used judiciously: First of all, it gives a sense of security thus language learners minimize the stress. Learners with a low affective filter benefit more from the provided input. Besides, L1 can be a potent resource for new vocabulary items and explaining some complex grammar rules. However, because of the syntactic and pragmatic differences, translation from native language into the target language, most of the time, doesn't work. Briefly, it is practically impossible to ban the L1 and its culture in EFL classes. A judicious use of L1 in EFL classes can boost the learning outcomes, so it shouldn’t be considered as a bogyman:)

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am a strong advocate of using the target language in the classroom envrionment as it is the only place where students are actually exposed to English. Therefore, I try to use L2 in the classroom and promote it among students. However, taking the fact that input provided by the instructors needs to be "meaningful" (Krashen, 1977) into consideration , there is a need and place for L1 in the classroom if it is going to make things clearer because without meaningful input and instruction, language learning might be an unbearable process for the students, especially for those beginner levels. Besides making the input meaningful and being a great time saver, L1 can also serve as a humor-medium in the language classrooms since L2 humor is hard to achieve and may not be meaningful in the beginner levels. Although L1 can serve multi-dimensionally in the classroom depending on the needs of the classrooms and students, teachers and students should not rely on it much. Seeing and using it as a spice for the language learning process might be good attitude towards how to exploit L1 in the classrooms.

    ReplyDelete