Debate:L1 in the classroom

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This is a Teflpedia debate page started by User:Technopat. Debate pages are used for discussing issues in English language teaching. Please be civil. No matter how much you may disagree with another user, please criticize what has been said and not the person saying it.

The use of L1 in the classroom is one of many ongoing debates among language teachers, and indeed, students. Obviously in the case of classes with students from different countries, it would be unnacceptable for a teacher to show some sort of preference to certain students just because he/she happens to speak their language. But in classes where all the students - and the teacher - speak the same language, both teachers and students may find themselves asking questions or giving explanations in the common language. It may simply be the result of a spontaneous situation, the reality of the context or a specific strategy of the teacher.


Among the arguments used by those who support use of L1 is that it helps save valuable time, especially when giving explanations, it reduces student stress by lowering the affective filter and generally makes the language learning process more effective and efficient.


Those who disapprove of classroom use of L1 claim that students should be exposed to as much target language as possible at all times, because it reproduces situations in which students have to cope with language beyond their actual linguistic abilities.

Your opinion

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  • Just to set the ball rolling, and not strictly classroom use of L1, but illustrative, nevertheless. Hot off my teacher training course, oh so many years ago, I dogmatically applied the no-L1 line - even to the extent of insisting on use of English in the lift before or after class, or when I happened to meet a student at the bank, in the street, etc. At first, many students accept it as a challenge and try to rise to the occasion and/or humour the teacher. But on a Friday evening, after class, going down in the lift, a "normal" human being likes to make some sort of off-the-cuff, spontaneous comment to another human being who speaks the same language. Not responding in kind may, with certain students, create a negative reaction which may affect the teacher-student relationship, and thus the learning process.--Technopat 10:25, 17 September 2009 (UTC)
While it is certainly true that it is best to get students talking, listening and in thinking English at the earliest possible stage, the idea that the teacher should always communicate in English seems to have become a matter of faith rather than logic for some. In my experience, if you are teaching adults, after a long explanation when they finally get the idea they will frequently search their minds for the nearest similar word in their native language. I speak Spanish reasonably well and when I'm talking in or listening in Spanish I think in Spanish - but if some new technical word comes up I will think, "Ah, so that's how you say X in Spanish."
Sometimes, after an explanation a student will say in English "Ah, so that would be the same as Spanish "Y". Usually that are right but sometimes they are not. I can either say "Actually, it's more like Spanish 'Z'" or I can spend a lot more time trying to get there in English.
The route I take depends on the class and the student. Sometimes I'll translate the word and sometimes I won't.
With children I think it's a bit different. If you let on that you speak their language they may fail to see the point in communicating with you in English.--Bob M 09:35, 18 September 2009 (UTC)
Agreed. I've also found it gives the students even greater confidence in the teacher if they discover s/he has a good command of their language - not only the everyday language (and different registers), but also technical terms, cultural aspects and idiomatic expressions, etc. Obviously this only applies to classes where all the students share a common language. Interesting point abt kids. I have never taught - an' will never teach - the little blighters, but I can see how they'd apply their logical conclusion to their actual situation. --Technopat 10:01, 18 September 2009 (UTC)
Update: How does that saying go? "Never say...". Have recently survived a two-week summer camp with kids aged 9-13 and was pleasantly surprised to find that, with very few exceptions, they all delighted in every opportunity of speaking to a real native English teacher. --Technopat 15:01, 21 September 2012 (CDT) Ps. I did it as a sort of bet/favour for a colleague/friend, but it was very much a one-off... no way will I repeat.

Agree with everything that has been said before. Just a bit of personal experience. Teaching in a monolingual class and sharing the same L1 with students is not exactly what was initially implied by CELTA and other similar qualifications. It's simply another reality. I don't find it difficult to teach a lesson solely in English, young learners included (but that's a different kettle of fish and probably later on). The real problem is whether to reply to students' speaking in L1 or not. With intelligent adults it seems somewhat stupid not to, and it doesn't really matter that I am answering in English - so, L1 IS used in class for communication. Another headache is teaching new vocab. I can spend half the night surfing for pictures and composing thought-provoking CCQ's just for one shrewd student to translate the words to the whole class. The same applies to working the meaning out of the context. We can talk about a learner-centred class, the question, however, is who is that learner. Don't get me wrong - I was a wholehearted proponent of English and English only in the classroom, not so sure about it now and would like to know how others manage L1 in the lesson. ps. please, bear with a newbie here, will you?--Esgaleth (talk) 15:47, 15 June 2013 (CDT)

I reckon (hope!) that experience helps us become less dogmatic and more flexible/eclectic. I very much believe in the "here and now" of language teaching - as opposed to teaching other subjects or even ESP, that may possibly need to be taught along more structured lines. In other words, I'll usually go with the flow and if a student spontaneously asks me something in L1 that requires a complicated explanation and/or a nuance, I'll often reply in their L1. Not always, though. It will depend on relevance, timing, etc. If the mood is right, and I know the student won't get embarrassed in front of the others and actually has it in him/her to sort it out in English, I'll play around and start off with a Pardon? and let him/her practice getting out of a fix - in a "safe" environment. Part of the process of building up that "safe" environment involves making the students at ease knowing that their teacher is red hot and can help them solve their doubts. Talking strictly monolingual classes here: it would have the opposite effect if we used L1 with certain students in a multilingual class and were not able to do so in another student's L1. Going off-topic here, it's also important to know when to say "I don't know" to questions, and offer to check it out rather than try to bluff your way through :) - and, of course, to remember and get back to them on that one. And going only slightly off-topic, I have an amazingly advanced group, based mainly around translating, with two Spaniards and an Argentine and it's funny how in almost every class a word will crop up that has a different translation depending on the version of Spanish each student uses - words that are not mutually intelligible to the other student (s). "Beware the Jabberwock, my son... and the false friends!" Hogging too much of the conversation here, so over to y'all - swimming pool is calling out to me. Cheers! --Technopat (talk) 04:33, 16 June 2013 (CDT)

I agree it depends. It may be efficient just to translate a specific term like 'carburettor', for example. However, there's a risk if we start using students' L1, the lesson becomes 'about English', rather than an opportunity to use English.James Jenkin (talk) 15:39, 27 November 2014 (UTC)

See also