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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > Use of first language in English lesson    

Use of first language in English lesson


Use of first language in English lesson
Hello everyone! Do you use your mother tongue during English lesson? If yes, in which situations? Do you think it is appropriate and why? This will be very useful for my future study.

17 May 2018      


Opinions on this seem to cause heated debate.
In an immersion class, both student and teacher are supposed to use only the target language.
I studied Japanese in Japan for two years full time (all day every weekday).
Teachers and students spoke only Japanese from the very first moment.
No exceptions were allowed.
At the end of the first term (3 months), the result was not that I spoke perfectly, but rather that I had fully accepted that there would be no English (language other than Japanese) and therefor I had no crutch to walk with / arm-band to keep me afloat, as it were. Sink or swim.
On the flip side.
I now work as an assistant language teacher - commonly referred to as ALT - in Japanese public schools.
The Japanese teachers of English routinely use a lot of Japanese in the class.
I use a small amount when I feel it is unavoidable.
I chose, as an adult, to study in Japan where I would need to survive, as it were, with no English. Very few adults here can speak more than a few words (in my experience).
The kids I now teach, however, are not in English class out of a need to survive in an English-speaking country.
I hope this is not irrelevant. 

17 May 2018     


Very interesting! Thank you for sharing your experience. 
This is true - teachers nowadays have completely different attitudes towards using students� first language. I also noticed that in public state schools teachers tend to use L1 more often than in private schools - perhaps because in state schools classes are bigger and it is easier to manage the classroom, give instructions in L1, manage group work, discipline students etc. This is quite obvious. There are, however, also some interesting uses of L1, which are consciously used by teachers to e.g. build rapport with students, talk about their learning process, joking with students. 
I sometimes find myself using L1 when I want to make a comparison or contrast students � native language and foreign language.  

18 May 2018     

Antonio Oliver

Both of you made very interesting points, I agree with everything.
Please let me tell you about the system I use. I work at a small private school in Spain where the theory is NO L1 ALLOWED. In practice, when the door closes, this is not always the case. I found through the years that native English teachers tend to use L1 more than non-natives.
I am among the latter, and my own approach to it is:
- L1 may be used only in dire straits, i.e. health problems / urgent messages from outside the classroom / serious misbehaviour -in that order!
- Teacher must never use L1. There are a number of "tricks" to achieve this:
- - Teacher can appoint an interpreter who will convey specially relevant messages. The student being given this job may get a reward for performing well, or may be replaced when not
- - Teacher can use dictionaries, online translation (very useful as you can translate whole sentences and you have the audio tool), etc 
- - Other ways to make yourself understood only in English are: mimic, drawing on board, giving examples, pointing to objects / people, showing images (my laptop is always with me), breaking words into syllables, word association... whatever, but no L1
- If all the above fails, Teacher may use L1 BUT make sure to mispronounce / confuse words -make it funny, let them correct you. An example: the word "circle" in Spanish is "c�rculo"; if you mispronounce it, it may sound something like "s�-cu-lo" ("yes, butt"). They always laugh at this
It may take longer at first, but then it �s a healthy routine -it pays when my little  ones do think I don �t speak L1!

19 May 2018     

United States

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