This is my second article in a three part series about the use of the L1 in the L2 classroom. In my opinion, the current pervasive use of the Immersion Model has gone unquestioned for far too long. L1 has an important and useful role in the L2 classroom and research has proven that. For those who might now know L1 refers to the student’s native language and L2 refers to the target language.
It is important that the ESOL teacher make conscious and informed choices about when to employ the L1 in the L2 classroom. The use of L1 in the L2 classroom is appropriate, beneficial and practical when you are teaching students that all speak the same L1. This situation occurs most when teaching overseas in the ESOL classroom. When teaching ESOL to immigrants for instance, oftentimes you have students with differing native languages rendering the use of all the L1´s represented impractical or perhaps impossible for the ESOL teacher.
The question then is when is it appropriate to use L1 in the L2 classroom? Here is an answer:
1. “Teacher use of LI to convey and check meaning of words or sentences” (Cook 2001): When presenting L2 vocabulary, if there is a L1 equivalent (which is not always the case), it is very efficient to use the L1. Additionally, the teacher can check the students understanding of words or phrases using the L1.
2. “Teacher use of LI for explaining grammar” (Cook 2001): With the recent comeback of Focus on Form, L1 is a useful tool to explain any grammar points that may arise during the lesson.
3. “Teacher use of LI for organizing tasks” (Cook 2001): If you have ever tried to explain to your beginner EFL class the rules of a game or the steps of an activity in English, you know how frustrating it can be. This is a great time to use L1 in the classroom.
4. “Teacher maintenance of discipline through LI” (Cook 2001): If you have ever had the pleasure of teaching children overseas you know how valuable L1 is for maintaining decorum in the classroom. When you tell a child to “Be quiet!” in the L2 you get little to no response. In contrast, if you use the L1the children cannot help but to listen as that is the language their authority figures use.
5. “Teacher gaining contact with individual students through the LI” (Cook 2001): Providing feedback (or washback) to students is a good time to use the L1 in the L2 classroom. In fact, 84% of English teachers try to provide feedback in the L2 (Macaro, 1997). This feedback may be constructive or positive and is crucial to the L2 learning process.
*If you enjoyed this interesting and informative article on using L1 in the L2 classroom,, please view my other articles in this series by clicking on my name “Tesl Goddess” to read more of my expert advice.
1) Cook, V. 2001. Using the first language in the classroom. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 57, 3, 402-423.
2) Macaro, E (1997) Target Language, Collaborative Learning and Autonomy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.