#AusELT chat summary: Using L1 in the classroom (6/3/14)


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The March #AusELT chat was about using L1 in the classroom and was skillfully moderated by @forstersensei and @SophiaKhan4.

Currently, there is much emphasis on the communicative learning and task-based approaches to language teaching, which both encourage students to communicate in English the majority of the time. These approaches saw a big move away from the grammar translation method of the 1960s, which some of us, at some point, might have been subjected to in school. However, more recently there has been a shift, or at least discussion, on the use of translation in our communicative classrooms and how it might be useful. This is not a regression towards grammar translation but rather a question of using students’ L1 at certain points in the lesson to aid communication and learning.

This is also a hot topic among English language teachers. Some believe that allowing students to use their L1 in the classroom in certain learning situations, such as translating difficult concepts or arranging and organising activities, can improve the flow of a lesson and increase students’ confidence in using English. On the other hand, some teachers are totally against any language apart from English being used in the classroom. The biggest reason for this is that they are faced with multilingual classes, and while translating and preparing activities in their L1 may work for some of the students, others will be left out if they are the sole speaker of their L1 in the class.

During this #AusELT chat, there were lots of suggestions for how teachers can use students’ L1 to aid learning but also some cautions about making sure that L1 use is appropriate and monitored closely by the teacher. The question of English Only policies in English language schools was brought up and there was serious opposition to the idea of teachers having to monitor and enforce these kinds of policies, as well as reasons why allowing students to use their L1 outside the classroom could be seen as a positive thing.

L1 in the classroom

The chat started with @forstersensei’s question: Is it ok for sts to use L1 in the classroom in an Australasian context? Why/why not?

There were mixed responses to this, with @Penultimate_K saying that ‘it’s unreasonable to expect them to exclude their L1 if they use it to access learning’, although the point was made by some that using L1 to help with learning doesn’t work as well when the class is mostly multilingual.

@SophiaKhan4 thought that in multilingual classes, the ‘use of L1 can make sts with other mother tongues feel excluded’. Controlling student use of L1 in the classroom was thought to be difficult for teachers and some suggestions for helping with this were mixing nationalities on tables in multilingual classes (@Penultimate_K), and @forstersensei has used a demonstration to multilingual classes of ‘how uncomfortable it is for others when L1 is used’ by teaching part of a lesson totally in L1.

English Only Policies

The conundrum of whether or not to allow students to use their L1 in class contrasted to the overwhelming consensus about the controversial issue of ‘English Only’ policies in schools when the next question was raised: How do we feel about insisting on an “English only” policy in class/at school? Responses were very much against forcing students to speak English outside of the classroom:

I am very much against it – especially when they are in the school but not in class.’ and ‘Don’t get me started: fines, red cards, other humiliations like singing in front of the class’ (@Penultimate_K)

‘Don’t feel right doing this with adults. In my class it can be my decision but at school??’ (@SophiaKhan4)

‘And break time could be when ss talk about what they’ve learned in L1?’ (@thesmylers)

After some more discussion of whether or not teachers should ‘police’ English Only policies in their schools, the chat moved on to the usefulness of L1 in the classroom. Most teachers seemed happy for students to use L1 in class in certain situations. For example, @cioccas said that she is ‘happy for Ss to use L1 in class if it helps them with something that they can’t quite grasp with my explanation in Eng’, and @SophiaKhan4 thought ‘we need a better, deeper discussion of the issue with sts’ and that we need to ‘talk to Ss about when and how L1 is of benefit in L2 acquisition #evidence-based #respectful’. @cioccas took this a step further by relating the responses she got from her students when she asked them about using their L1 during lessons

Tips for L1 use in class

The next question for discussion was: Assuming we can somehow abolish “English only” on school premises – any practical ideas for encouraging (not policing) L1 in class? Participants responded with lots of useful tips:

‘in multilingual class I get Ss 2 teach each other 5 things in L1. Then the explain what they are saying in Eng. FUN’ (@forstersensei)

If S uses L1 to get help with something from another S, I often ask them to then try to explain in English, so I can clarify’ (@cioccas)

‘Supply lexical items to SS who are having difficulty understanding’ (@Penultimate_K)

‘I believe @breathyvowel is fond of having SS do pairwork in L1 the first time before shifting to English’ (@michaelegriffin)

‘Having Ss explain to you what they are talking about when you hear L1 makes them explain in L2…they feel like teachers’ (@forstersensei)

Recommended reading and useful sites

http://www.amazon.com/Linguistic-Imperialism-Oxford-Applied-Linguistics/dp/0194371468 – explores English as an international language, and how and why it has become so dominant

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Translation-Language-Teaching-Applied-Linguistics/dp/0194424758 – ‘A groundbreaking reconsideration of translation in English language teaching, this book is a survey and critical assessment of arguments for and against translation in different teaching contexts.’ (from amazon.com Book Description)

http://itdi.pro/blog/2013/06/03/breaking-rules-scott/– Scott Thornbury’s experience of teaching using translation

http://www.alienteachers.com/1/post/2012/06/at-what-point-if-ever-is-it-right-to-implement-an-english-only-classroom.html – for a blogger’s question about whether they should change to an English Only classroom with lots of good ideas in the comments

http://breathyvowel.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/asking-students-to-assess-your-l2-output/ – interesting article on a teacher’s experience with getting his students to assess his L2 (Korean) with the idea of encouraging students to give each other feedback on their L2 (English) in class

http://keltchat.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/keltchat-summary-l1-use-in-the-language-classroom-7th-october-7th-2012/ – #KELTChat summary on using L1 in the classroom

http://shaunwilden.com/%E2%80%9Ccan-translation-and-translation-tools-facilitate-language-learning-and-how-can-it-be-used-to-best-effect-a-summary-of-eltchat-120111/ – #ELTChat summary on translation with lots of positive ideas for using L1 in the classroom

http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/usia/E-USIA/forum/acrobat/P6.pdf – article on some research conducted on using L1 in the classroom

http://throwingbacktokens.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/losing-it-at-school-bridging-reflective-inquiry-and-nonviolent-communication/ – one teacher’s reflection on L1 use in the classroom

http://isabelavillasboas.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/l1-in-the-l2-classroom-from-a-sin-to-a-possibility/ – blog post about reasons for changing from no L1 in class to judicious use of L1

http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_ryan_ideas_in_all_languages_not_just_english?utm_source=l.facebook.com&share=1ac5ad4b0&utm_content=roadrunner-rrshorturl&awesm=on.ted.com_c08VT&utm_medium=on.ted.com-none&utm_campaign= – a TED talk on how we should be more accepting of the native languages of our students

www.speechyard.com – uses Google Translate to translate individual words in the subtitles of movies and TV shows

This summary by @thesmylers 

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