A former colleague of mine has gone on a bit of a teaching advantage, taking up a post in the Galapagos islands! He recently sent me an interesting query about the place of L1 in the classroom, particularly in monolingual classrooms. Here’s his question:
Have you got any good sources of information for the use of L1 in the classroom? There is no institutional policy against L1 here and it is very difficult to eliminate it entirely when students are allowed to use it with other teachers. Also, what about L1 in beginner classes? I’m starting to think that given the circumstances very careful use of L1 might save time and even facilitate learning and instruction giving. Do you think this is the case? If so, do you have any tips on how to do it in a way that does not hamper the students learning of communication strategies and their ability to derive meaning from context.
L1 is something we’re normally encouraged or enforced to avoid in the classroom at all costs. Although there are sound reasons for this, it seems to me that those reasons are more often than not underappreciated or even ignored and L1 is banned from the communicative classroom on ritualistic grounds as opposed to principled grounds.
Here’s my response to my colleague:
Today I finished the intensive DELTA at IH Newcastle. L1 in the classroom is a topic we looked at during the course. What they teach you at DELTA level blows everything you learn at CELTA level out of the water (including the overreliance on ritualistic practice). With my new knowledge, in short, I would say let learners use L1, especially at beginners level. Don’t force learners to speak – let them speak when they’re ready.
When you might and might not accept L1 across all levels depends on what you are trying to achieve at each stage. So, for example, if you are presenting new language or your learners are discovering it, they might need to use L1 to figure some things out or ask other Ss for support in understanding.
If you are running a stage where you want them to show you what they can do with the language (not a productive stage at the end of the lesson but a stage where you give them an activity and you are listening to see what they can and can’t do) then you really need them to talk only in English.
When it comes to productive stages, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt on DELTA is you can’t expect learners to be ready to produce new language by the end of the lesson – you have to sit back and give them the opportunity to produce the language if they feel ready to.