L1 Usage in the English Classroom

Former Kevin`s English Schools teacher, Stephen McAtamney talks about L1 usage in the classroom in the following article.

Teach English Asia: how to teach English and some opinions on L1 usage in the English classroom. If you end up teaching English in Japan, how much should you allow Japanese students to use Japanese in the classroom? A sobering question I think. Stephen McAtamney explores this below.

On Students Use of their First Language in the Second Language Classroom

by Stephen McAtamney

A short time ago a discussion point was submitted regarding students use of their first language in the second language classroom. I recently read a comment in relation to this point,connected with ‘task-based learning’, which is often how teachers present classroom activities to their students. The comment reads as follows:

“One of the problems connected with task-based learning is that students very often resort to use of their first language. How should you react to this? It depends of course on what they use the L1(FIRST LANGUAGE)for. They may use it to exchange information quickly on the lexis required for the task, with one student saying to the other “please, how do I say ‘X’ in English?’

They may use it to help organise and stage the task, saying things like ‘You go first’.I don’t think you should worry too much about this. By all means encourage them to use English, but do not insist on this if you risk demotivating them altogether. When you first introduce tasks into the classroom you may find that the use of L1 predominates, but students will soon learn that it is very difficult to carry out a task in L1 and then report that task in English. They will probably come round to using English because, if you take the task cycle as a whole, this is the most efficient way to do it”.(Birmingham University: 2001)

I have at times worried myself at the escalating use of the students’ first language in the classroom after having been assigned a task, however, as the article quote suggests, this is usually used just to get the task underway. Students are well aware that they have to eventually produce English to complete the task so will alter their language accordingly.However if students, in the process of discussing a task, wander off the subject and begin general conversation in their first language then this of course is a different matter that needs to be approached with cautionary classroom management skills.

About the Author:

Stephen McAtamney a former teacher of Kevin`s English Schools. This article was originally posted at Kevins English Schools`s Yahoo Group — our main forum. See more articles on teaching English in Japan.

About kintaro63

Writer and teacher in Japan
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