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The use of L1 in an ESL class

By LauraMancera Apr 27, 2014 1283 Words
This essay aims to discuss whether L1 (mother tongue) should be used in an EFL/ESL (English as a Foreign or Second Language) classroom. To do so, the term ESL must be defined as “the use or study of English by speakers with different native languages” according to Wikipedia. Another aspect that should be pointed out is where this debate comes from. The response will lead to the unresolved debate in terms of being beneficial or disadvantageous the use of L1 in ESL classrooms. Spahiu outlines the contrasting opinions, Some argue that such use may lead to more dependence of an ESL/EFL on his/her L1 that may hinder the progress of mastering the target language. Whereas others believe that the use of an ESL/EFL learners’ L1 may ease the process of teaching and learning the target language as the teachers can explain complex ideas and rule more effectively in learners’ L1 saving a lot of time. (Spahiu, 2013) Consequently, the essay will follow the previous structure presenting the two perspectives: the former will point out the main advantages, whereas the latter will focus on the English-only use and state some drawbacks of the L1 use. The first key aspect of the use of L1 in an ESL classroom is that if any student does not understand a certain grammatical point or word can be easily explained in their own language, which helps the students to progress and get a better interpretation. They may even do a quicker association of the meaning of a certain word when being translated to their own language since it is usually clearer and familiar. Lin adds that language alternation (LA), that is, the constant shift between the L1 and the target language or second language, must be employed “in a range of functional terms such as discourse structuring, to maintain classroom discipline, frame marking, teacher-student negotiation, and vocabulary teaching….” when the exclusive use of L2 is not enough. (Lin, 1990). To illustrate this point, Perozzi and Sanchez (1992) carried through an investigation, wherein they “compared the rate of receptive acquisition of English prepositions and pronouns for two groups” of non-English-speaking children. One group was instructed by using LA, while the other received instruction only in English. The outcome shows that the subjects in the first group “acquired the English prepositions and pronouns twice as rapidly as the subjects in Group B”. (Perozzi and Sanchez, 1992). Another supporting explanation is that it provides self-confidence, and as a result, they, encouraged by the consent of L1 as the ultimate alternative of understanding, “are willing to experiment and take risks with English” (Auerbach, 1993). As a final positive aspect of using L1, it should be emphasised a research made by Auerbach that demonstrates that the level of first language has influence on the second language development, concluding that bilingual option is not “only effective but necessary for adult ESL students with limited L1 literacy or schooling” (Auerbach, 1993). Furthermore, this resource will lead the students to a cognitive academic growth. By contrast, there are some teachers that defend an English-only use classroom. Firstly, the sooner students get used to hearing all kinds of explanations in English regardless of the situation, the better, since the other people whom they may talk to might not be able to speak in their mother tongue. In addition, this kind of learning will help them to be good at expressing themselves because they may utilise some fixed phrases that their teachers used and even decoding the sense of some unknown words according to the context. In other words, the student will have no need of dependence of having everything translated to their own language, thus, their vocabulary will be widely enriched and they will have no problem in adapting to diverse backgrounds. Secondly, “learners have little opportunity to meet and use the L2 outside the classroom”, hence “it is very important that L2 use is maximised in the classroom” (Nation, 2003). Finally, the over-use of L1 may decrease the oral skills in English due to the fact that they are not used to speaking in English for a long time. Moreover, it should also be taken into account that it may lead to mispronunciations. A study conducted by Flege et al. with the aim of determining whether the amount of the L1 influences the accurate pronunciation of the second language will serve as an example. Two native Italian (NI) groups will be assessed regarding their accurate pronunciations. The research asserts that “the subjects in both NI groups were found to speak English with detectable foreign accents even though they began learning English as children and had spoken English for 34 years on average” (Flege et al., 1997). Nonetheless, those “who spoke Italian relatively often had significantly stronger foreign accents than those who seldom spoke Italian” (Flege et al., 1997), which brought them to mispronounce certain words. To draw a conclusion, the use or not use of L1 in an ESL classroom may differ depending on the pedagogical grounds, on the teacher’s own methods, and even on the learners’ age. On the one hand, the self-confidence of instructing with L1 together with the association of the meaning by means of L1 contribute as positive aspects, because of which the students are far more willing to make progresses in English. On the other hand, the English-only classrooms enhance the production accuracy as well as the oral skills. As far as I am concerned, bilingualism can be seen either as a blessing or a curse based on my own experience since the use of L1 in an English classroom has always motivated me to try to understand all the words written in a text, which helped me to enrich my vocabulary as well as to improve my comprehension skills; yet my oral skills are not as good as I would like them to be. As a final thought, “a balanced approach is needed which sees a role for the L1 but also recognises the importance of maximising L2 use in the classroom” (Nation, 2003).

Works cited
The referencing style used is APA.
Auerbach, E. R. (1993). Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. Tesol Quarterly, 27(1), 9-32. Retrieved from: Cook, V. J. (Ed.). (2003). Effects of the Second Language on the First (Vol. 3). Clevedon, Multilingual matters. Dufva, M., & Voeten, M. J. (1999). Native language literacy and phonological memory as prerequisites for learning English as a foreign language. Applied psycholinguistics, 20(03), 329-348. Retrieved from: Flege, J. E., Frieda, E. M., & Nozawa, T. (1997). Amount of native-language (L1) use affects the pronunciation of an L2. Journal of Phonetics, 25(2), 169-186. Retrieved from: Lin, A. M. (1990). Teaching in Two Tongues: Language Alternation in Foreign Language Classrooms. Research Report No. 3. Retrieved from: Nation, P. (2003). The role of the first language in foreign language learning. Asian EFL Journal, 5(2), 1-8. Retrieved from: Perozzi,

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