First Language - to use or not to use
Using L1 in the classroom - for teachers; Opinions about using native language to learn a foreign one - for students; Personal Experience - Nadezhda Khvorova
USING LANGUAGE 1 IN CLASS
For many years the most common position in the language teaching community has been that teachers should refrain from using students’ first language at all costs or only as a last resort. This stems from the criticism of the grammar-translation method so popular in the previous century. However, evidence shows that a lot of teachers still use L1 in class, sometimes extensively. We have already discussed how to get your students to use the target language in the classroom, and now let’s study the dilemma of using their native language.
The benefits of using L1
Many teachers point out that using L1 can prevent them from having to give lengthy explanations and generally saves time. With students at lower levels, this may be of greater benefit, as they focus more on the language patterns they should learn instead of trying to understand instructions and what the teacher wants them to do. This also reduces stress levels and helps teachers keep the desired pace. In teacher-initiated exchanges, the teacher may use L1 to explain specific aspects of the language, especially when miming or other tools haven’t worked. In one study, the majority of students indicated that they will reverse to their native language if they lack sufficient vocabulary or grammar to understand what is required of them, or what they want to say. This is generally seen as advantageous to students, however, teachers seem to keep the decision to themselves leaving students little to no control over which language will be used.
Many teachers point out that using students’ first language helps them create a friendly, relaxed environment and build mutual trust and understanding. Rapport is important in establishing empathy between teachers and students, and using L1 is one way to do it. Making jokes and exchanging small remarks puts students at ease and promotes a better teaching-learning environment.
One interesting note is that teachers will often use L1 to share their personal struggles with learning to help students feel understood and supported. What’s more, this particular purpose for using native language may arise at different stages of the lesson, but most frequently at the very beginning or end.
Students learn a lot by comparing their native language with their target language, and they will do it no matter what. So, instead of forbidding this, teachers often encourage students to find similarities and differences between the languages. One possible benefit of this is that it raises students’ awareness of L2 and helps them understand rules, vocabulary, and culture much faster. Comparing aspects of both languages by using their own language helps students better their learning experience and cognitive skills to help in the acquisition of the target language. Thus, translation activities help students think more carefully about the language they are learning.
The drawbacks of using L1
Less L2 practice
The more native language they speak, the less target language they speak. Our main goal as teachers is to make students use the language as much as possible and get accustomed to doing so. Students usually have very little opportunity to use L2 outside of the classroom and using L1 deprives them of doing that in the lesson, and it doesn't teach students to THINK in English. The situation will often cause frustration on students’ behalf, as they may see it as “useless” and “wasting their time”. Naturally, they do not come to the lesson to speak their first language, but to learn to use a foreign one and teachers should keep that in mind.
At last, students learn by communicating. If they do not learn to use L2 in different situations, as in student-student or teacher-student communication, it will hinder their learning process.
When the teacher uses L1, students get less exposure and less comprehensible input in the classroom. Teachers will usually grade their language and may reuse and re-expose students to the language units they have already learned or are familiar with. It may be necessary to reflect on yourself and think about why you resort to your students’ first language - is it better for them or easier for you? You can spend one lesson teaching your students basic instructions and plan what you are going to say in advance.
Moreover, it doesn't help to create the environment. One of the most popular goals for students is to move to the country of their target language, and using L2 exclusively will help them get used to hearing and using it all the time. Immersion in the language and culture happens naturally when you travel abroad, but we can artificially create it in the classroom.
In conclusion, we can see that teachers may see the use of L1 as a teaching tool in different situations, but it should be conscious and well-thought through. The benefits of it are meager in comparison to how much students will gain from using L2 exclusively. Our suggestion is to only resort to the native language when all other tools have expired and the students are getting stressed, or when explaining and miming may take too much of the precious lesson time. However, when this happens the teachers should reflect on their lesson planning, the relevance of materials they chose, and on how they present information and give instructions.
What are your thoughts on the use of L1 in the classroom? Do you advocate for or against it? Share your thoughts with us!
Is it better to learn a new language in your native tongue or in a second language?
Quora users share their opinions:
Luke Proctor (Answered Jan 21, 2016)
I would say that what you're doing already is the right approach if you already speak two languages, even if one is stronger than the other. Partial learning from both languages increases cross-learning and identification far better than if you learned only through one medium. It also makes it easier to think in the 3rd language alone once above a basic level, as you're less reliant on translation and are more thinking of the 3rd language in ideas, as is most practical. Keep going the way you are is my advice, along with ensuring you interact with native German speakers, and get yourself a monolingual German dictionary once at an intermediate level, and use that to improve and further your knowledge from thereon.
Anecdotally I learned Dutch from a combination of German and English resources, and Portuguese from Spanish, English, and German resources, whereas I only ever learned Italian and Welsh from English. My language attrition blights me far worse in the latter two over the former two, probably because it has less of an imprint in my brain and modes of thought.
José Miguel Arroyo - Software Engineer at PayFit (2017-present) (Jan 9, 2015)
In my experience, it doesn't really matter if you're proficient in both languages.
I was in the same situation, only instead of German, it was French. The important point though is that once you have a basic vocabulary and the most basic grammar rules you drop both other languages altogether. In my opinion, learning a language by translation can only take you so far. As soon as you can read and understand more than 50% of a definition in a dictionary, drop your base languages.
Sure, it feels way harder and much of the time it feels like you'd progress much faster with quick google translate. But you actually get a good grasp of the language waaay faster. Forced me to do this and couldn't be more grateful for it.
Nikhil Kizhakkedath (Feb 13, 2019)
Ideally, you learn a third language in the target language. Take the help of both your first and second language for the cognates. But, don't over-rely on translation-based learning.
Ryan Boothe - Multilingual Entrepreneur (Jul 6, 2020)
How good are you at the second language? I learned most of my Italian through Spanish—and I loved it. I had been living in South America for over a year and a half and was pretty fluent in Spanish though. Plus, Spanish and Italian are related, so the book I got for learning Italian didn’t waste time on things I already understood, or could easily learn, because of my fluency in Spanish. It would have if I tried learning Italian through English—my native language.
Learning Russian through Chinese?
I’m not sure that’s the way to go unless Chinese is your native language. Chinese will offer you no shortcuts when learning Russian—even if your Chinese is wicked good. It’s possible, however, that a Chinese book or class, is better at teaching you Russian than what you have available to you in English. In that case, go for it.
But that has everything to do with teaching strategies and nothing to do with the languages themselves.
Hi guys! I am Nadia, 32. I've been teaching for 11 years so far. I 'm a lucky person- i never work as my work is my hobby!) Some of my students have become my good friends, which makes me very happy. When i don't work I take care of my son,6, have fun or quarrels with him )) I adore driving! Dont care where, for how long , just DRIVE!)
So, I truly believe we (teachers) should/need and sometimes even have to useL1. And I honestly don’t see a reason why not to do it. The question is in the amount of L1 and the student’s needs and requirements. In my teaching career, I’ve met plenty of different students with pretty weird requirements. OK, the customer is never wrong. If he/she asks me to explain grammar topics in Russian I will do it. But! I will offer to try using English first. Usually, those who offered Russian once never ask to switch to English))
L1 is essential for beginners and elementary, I assume. If a student is an imaginative one and my explanations of a word in English help him/her to build nice associations and get the meaning of the words without L1- awesome! But it doesn’t happen regularly. My students are adults with everyday tasks, responsibilities, and kids even!)) which makes learning sometimes so hard that they would prefer to avoid boring grammar monologues in English) I might be wrong but that is what my experience has shown.
L1 is almost unnecessary for higher levels, that’s true. But I have to admit that I did face the cases when even advanced guys would ask me to clarify this or that in Russian. Why should I reject?
Put it in a nutshell, we ARE Russians learning English. That’s not a surprise we sometimes switch to our native language to clarify some vague grammar/vocabulary points.