Using first language in English as a Second Language (ESL) Classroom

Identify the advantages and disadvantages of using the first language in classroom. Theoretical Arguments against L1 Use. Methodology of teaching of first language students in universities. Teaching English through TPR (Total Physical Response approach).

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leyman Demirel University




05B011900 Foreign Language: Two Foreign Languages


Title: Using first language in English as a Second Language (ESL) Classroom

[ TFL 305 ] Contemporary Methods of Foreign language teaching

(A three-credit compulsory undergraduate course of teaching English as a foreign language)

WRITTEN BY: Meruyert Zhenisbayeva




The purpose of this research is to identify the advantages and disadvantages of using the first language in ESL classroom. The goal is to show that a native language affects language learning to a certain degree. This has been done by observations and questionnaire among TFL students and teachers in the University of Suleyman Demirel. Upon examination of these events, it becomes clear that the best way is “judicious use” of a native language. This paper highlights that the use of native languages may increase a student's sense of efficacy for learning English by: facilitating vocabulary acquisition, aiding learners in comprehension, encouraging self-regulation, making routines and explanations clear so as to direct attention and free up working memory for tasks in English, modeling communication in environments where students may be reluctant to initiate conversation, and setting the tone in situations where students have come to view English as exceedingly difficult.

language classroom methodology teaching


The use of first language in ESL classrooms has been debated for a long period of time. The use of native language is not a problem but the English teachers are worried about its appropriate use and when it is should be used. Should teachers use the students' first language in the English classroom? The native language is often seen as a complex feature of the English classroom and there are many dilemmas whether to use native language in ESL class or not. Many teachers' experience suggests that mother tongue can make positive contribution to English learning while some other teachers of second language continue to believe that English should be taught through English, and not by the use of native language, which has to be avoided in the classroom. According to Ellis (1994) the second language learning environment encompasses everything the language learner hears and sees in the new language. It may include wide types of situations such as exchanges in restaurants and stores, conversations with friends, reading street signs and newspapers, as well as classroom activities, or it may be very sparse, including only language classroom activities and a few books. Regardless of the learning environment, the learner's goal is mastery of the target language. The learner begins the task of learning a second language from the very bottom and, through the steady accumulation of the mastered entities of the target language, eventually amasses them in quantities sufficient to constitute a particular level of proficiency (Dulay, Burt & Krashen, 1982and Ellis, 1984). But there are other, also strong arguments for using students' native language, thinking that first language is helpful in explaining complex structures and grammar rules and also helps students learning new vocabulary more effectively, and stopping the waste of time in explanations and instructions. However, the idea of avoiding native language is too stressful for many students and it is teacher's responsibility to create a comfortable class and help students feel confident and interact independently. What is the best way to learn a second language? What is the best way to teach a second language? There are no instant answers keys. No quick and easy method is guaranteed to provide success. Every learner is unique. Every teacher is unique. Every learner-teacher relationship is unique, and every context is unique.

Chapter one. Literature review

The problem is important in monolingual classrooms, where the teacher speaks the language of the students. The use of learners' L1 remains a controversial issue in EFL/ESL education. It has a long history surrounded by controversy and on-going debate over its role and value. The debate is generally traceable to the “Great Reform” of the 20th century during which the Direct Method in English teaching was introduced and implemented.

The Direct Method promoted a monolingual approach to language teaching, or “English-only,” as the ideal method of teaching and communication in the classroom, thus forming the foundations of language teaching that dominated the 20th century (Cook, 2001a). This approach affected many generations of students and remained unchallenged for many years. However, some started to question the reasons behind L1 avoidance and interpreted it as lacking concrete pedagogical justifications and based on ideological, political, or convenience reasons (Auerbach, 1993).

The exclusive use of L2 is a form of linguistics imperialism when imposed on classrooms around the world. Yet again, despite the lack of evidence to support the issue either way, calls for L2-only continued. For example, in the 1990s the English and Welsh National Curriculum for Modern Foreign Languages strongly emphasized that English should be the medium in which class work is conducted and managed, and therefore the sign of a good modern language course involves using the target language for all communication (Cook, 2001a). Teaching entirely in L2 was justified because it makes the language real, allows learners to experience unpredictability, and develops the learners' own in-built language system.

While many people have begun to recognize the importance of L1 in the classroom, the absence of a systematic approach that deals with the issue of L1 use has its effects on teachers who are left reluctant and wondering when, why, and how to use L1. Despite L1 prohibition in the L2 classroom, teachers might use L1 at times leading to inconsistency in their approach, and may lead to other problems such as overuse. Therefore, it is important to address this issue so that L1 is carefully managed. The use of learners' L1 in English language classrooms is one of the controversial issues in ESL/EFL education. In general, language learners and educators are discouraged from using L1 in their classrooms. There seems to be an on-going debate on this issue and a wide range of opinions.

A review of the literature reveals two opposing views: On one end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the primary language of instruction should be exclusively L2 and thus call for L1 prohibition (e.g. Ellis, 1985, 2005; Krashen,). On the other end are those who believe L1 is a useful resource to students and teachers and thus promote its judicious use in education (e.g. Atkinson, 1987; Auerbach, 1993; Cook, 2001b; Harbord, 1992; Turnbull, 2001, 2002). Researchers who reject L1 use believe that a new language is acquired only through maximum exposure (Ellis, 1985, 2005; Krashen, 1981; Polio & Duff, 1994).

They believe that using L1 in the classroom deprives students of valuable opportunities to listen, use, negotiate, and process L2. Therefore, everything the teacher does or says provides an opportunity for learning. Recent findings, however, indicate that there has been a gradual move away from “English-only” in the classroom and that a judicious use of L1 may be a useful tool in L2 learning. One of the earliest voices who called for greater attention to the role of L1 in monolingual classrooms was Atkinson (1987), who strongly supported its use, and believed it has a great potential as a classroom resource which deserves more consideration by TESOL specialists.

Another recent argument that sparked attention to this issue came from Cook (2001), who argued that L1 can be valuable in the classroom to promote language learning and to help create authentic L2 users. Many more arguments were put forth in recent years (Auerbach, 1993; Harbord, 1992; Schweers, 1999; Tang, 2002; Turnbull, 2001) all justifying the use of L1 in teaching L2. This has led to the re-opening of this controversial debate on the role and value of L1 in teaching L2. Extensive research has already been done in the area of native language interference on the target language. Dulay et al (1982) define interference as the automatic transfer, due to habit, of the surface structure of the first language onto the surface of the target language. Lott (1983: 256) defines interference as 'errors in the learner's use of the foreign language that can be traced back to the mother tongue.

Ellis (1997: 51) refers to interference as `transfer', which he says is 'the influence that the learner's L1 exerts over the acquisition of an L2'. He argues that transfer is governed by learners' perceptions about what is transferable and by their stage of development in L2 learning. In learning a target language, learners construct their own interim rules (Selinker, 1971, Seligar, 1988 and Ellis, 1997) with the use of their L1 knowledge, but only when they believe it will help the min the learning task or when they have become sufficiently proficient in the L2 for transfer to be possible. Ellis (1997) raises the need to distinguish between errors and mistakes and makes an important distinction between the two. He says that errors reflect gaps in the learner's knowledge; they occur because the learner does not know what is correct. Mistakes reflect occasional lapses in performance; they occur because, in a particular instance, the learner is unable to perform what he or she knows. It appears to be much more difficult for an adult to learn a second language system that is as well learned as the first language.

Proponents of a virtual position draw on Krashen's popular comprehensible input hypothesis (Krashen, 1982) which argues for exposing learners to a flood of comprehensible target-language input to ensure mastery of the target language. The renewed debate unfolded with the appearance of two articles in two consecutive issues of the Modern Language Journal: Cook (2001) and Turnbull (2001). Cook (2001) summarizes the reasons for the long-standing tradition of rejecting L1 in the language-learning classroom. First is the belief that acquisition of the second or other language should be based on monolingual L1 acquisition. The rationale is that the presence of L1 may interfere with the acquisition of the target language, thus inhibiting students from achieving high levels of proficiency.

After all, when acquiring the first language, monolingual L1 learners do not have another language to rely upon; yet they reach native-level proficiency. Such arguments rely on the idea that TL learners should follow the same route. Second, convention dictates that L1 and TL should be kept separate since the former will interfere with the learning of the latter. And third, time spent using L1 will decrease the available engaged learning time in TL. Arguing that the TL acquisition process is different from L1 acquisition and presenting how L1 can be actively and strategically used in TL classroom, Cook advocates the careful and systematic use of L1 in the TL classroom.

According to him, maximizing TL input does not exclude the role of L1 in learning and teaching. Cook believes that L1 deserves a place in TL learning. Compared with Cook, who sees the advantages of the use of L1 in TL classroom, Turnbull (2001) is more conservative in embracing L1 use. Although Turnbull agrees with Cook that there is a place for L1 to be used in TL teaching, he strongly warns against the teachers' over reliance on L1, and advocates for maximizing TL use along the traditional line. Discussing SLA theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence, Turnbull highlights some pitfalls of extensive use of L1 and analyzes the disadvantages of such extensive use. Citing his own empirical studies and others, Turnbull testifies the benefit of teachers' use of TL in second- or foreign-language classes.

The pitfalls of over using L1 include: a waste of class time, demotivating students, leaving very limited classroom functions to be conducted in TL, etc. Some of these pitfalls were also revealed in other studies (Rolin-Ianziti, & Varshney, 2008). Instead of “licensing” teachers to use L1, Turnbull warns the teachers to “make principled decisions to make judicious use of L1, while maximizing their TL use” to “make principled decisions to make judicious use of L1, while maximizing their TL use” (537). Although Cook (2001) and Turnbull (2001) place a different emphasis on the role of L1 in their arguments, we do not see them standing at the two extreme poles. They both note the place of L1 in TL acquisition and both agree on the need for judicious use of L1. This commonality the two theoretical papers share has become our basic position for this paper--that the students' native language plays an important role in acquiring TL. Specifically, the judicious use of L1 in the classroom strengthens students' confidence in their abilities, and in turn, results in higher achievement and higher levels of proficiency in English. We will begin by illustrating how the beliefs students bring to the classroom impacts their learning. We will then examine how self-efficacy beliefs impact achievement. Lastly, we will describe how the use of L1 can result in mastery experiences leading to increases in students' perceived efficacy for learning English.

The Place of L1 in Methodology

Some methods gave L1 a central role in the classroom while others doubted its importance or questioned its role. For example, L1 was the language of instruction during the Grammar-Translation Method because language teaching placed heavy emphasis on the written word. However, in the 20h century the trend reversed itself to meet the goals of language teaching which shifted toward an emphasis on the spoken word. Therefore, L2 was the only medium of instruction during the Direct Method. Therefore, according to Kharma and Hajjaj (1989) the role of L1 was emphasized according to the theory of language teaching, and the theory of language learning underlying each approach. The Grammar-Translation Method (GTM) was the oldest method which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. It was also called the classical method because people wanted to learn foreign languages such as Latin and Greek. Teaching was based on comparisons between two languages; therefore translation was considered the best technique for learning a foreign language. Its focus was on linguistic description of ancient languages and on explaining grammar. The students' native language was used as a reference point to make sure L2 grammatical rules and vocabulary were fully understood. Teaching grammar of the new language received maximal attention, while speaking and listening were not given much attention. Later, the Grammar-Translation Method became the focus of heavy criticism and was regarded as responsible for the failure of foreign language learning. According to Brown “it did virtually nothing to enhance a student's communicative ability in the language”. The Direct Method emerged in reaction to the Grammar-Translation Method. It gained immediate popularity because the goal of instruction was to teach a foreign language to communicate. According to Larsen-Freeman (2000) it was founded on one basic rule: “No translation is allowed” (p. 23).

Larsen-Freeman added that the Direct Method received its name from the fact that meaning was to be conveyed directly in the target language through the use of demonstration and visual aids with no recourse to the students' native language. According to Brown (2001), the Direct Method drew on the assumption that “second language learning should be more like first language learning - lots of oral interaction, spontaneous use of the language, no translation between the first and second languages, and no analysis of grammatical rules” (p. 21). These two approaches presented two extreme positions. To sum up, the role and value of L1 in the L2 classroom had many ups and downs depending on the prevailing methodological framework of different periods. While the Direct Method saw no place whatsoever for L1 in the classroom, and the Audio-Lingual Method thought L1 was a source of interference with students' attempts to learn the target language, other methods especially the Grammar-Translation Method and the designer methods regarded L1 as useful. In fact, the designer methods of the seventies gave a clear role to the use of mother tongue in the classroom, which was regarded as a source to overcome negative feelings and anxiety caused by learning a new language. Recently, the Natural Approach became predominant and the use of L1 was not encouraged.

Theoretical Arguments against L1 Use

The history and philosophy behind the avoidance of L1 in the L2 classroom and the development of teaching strategies around the traditional “English-only” in the classroom can be traced to three main arguments from second language acquisition research (SLA), outlined by Cook (2001a, p. 154). These theoretical justifications include:

1. The L1 acquisition argument: L2 learning should model L1 acquisition in that children learning L1 do not fall back on another language.

2. The language compartmentalization argument: The L1 and L2 should be kept separate at all times.

3. The communicative approach: Students should be exposed to L2 and see its importance through its continual use.

Practical Arguments against L1 Use

The avoidance of L1 in L2 education was taken for granted by most teaching methods and consequently by teachers and language professionals. Given the theoretical justifications for the avoidance of L1 in L2 classrooms, which were made by second language acquisition theories, there were additional practical or ideological reasons that promoted this neglect even further. They included the following:

1. The association of L1 with the Grammar-Translation Method

2. Multicultural classrooms

3. Ideological perspectives

Arguments in Favor of L1 Use

While most would agree that the more English was used in the classroom the quicker the students learned, some argued that the use of L1 in certain situations was a justified strategy to facilitate teaching L2. Atkinson (1987) was among the first to support strongly the use of L1 in L2 teaching especially in monolingual classrooms. He offered three reasons which justified a limited use of L1 in certain situations which include:

1. An efficient use of time

2. Humanistic reasons

3. Translation as the learners' preferred strategy.

4. Nation (2003) added a fourth important role of L1 use in L2 environments, especially for teaching vocabulary.

Dangers of L1 Overuse

Atkinson (1987), who was generally in favor of L1 use, warned that excess dependency on L1 was likely to result in the following incidents of overuse:

1. The students begin to feel that they have not really understood any item of language until it has been translated.

2. The students fail to observe the distinction between equivalence of form, semantic equivalence, and pragmatic features, and thus the teacher oversimplifies to the point of using crude and inaccurate translation.

3. Students speak to the instructor in L1 even when they are quite capable to expressing what they mean in L2.

4. Students fail to realize that during many activities in the classroom it is essential that they use only English.

Turnbull (2001) advocated an open view toward L1 use in limitation, but warned against the risk of L1 overuse as well. He argued that teachers could use L1 as a resource in order to promote students' language proficiency in L2, as it could be helpful in clarifying grammar and vocabulary. However, he cautioned against pitfalls of relying too extensively on L1. Nation (2003) believed that in classes where learners share the same first language, teachers need to use a range of options to encourage learners to use L2 as much as possible. Nation explained reasons why learners used L1 when they should use L2. These reasons included: low proficiency in the L2, the naturalness of using the L1 to do certain jobs, shyness in using L2, and lack of interest in learning L2.

The circumstances of overuse cited above were often attributed to the following reasons:

Inadequate training in L2

Grammar should ideally be conducted in English. Most often however, teachers resort to L1 to explain grammar because they feel that L2 explanation is too complicated and may even feel themselves incapable of giving a clear and unambiguous explanation of the structure in question exclusively in English (Harbord, 1992). This may often be due to inadequate training in alternative L2 strategy, or to teachers' insecurities about their L2 competence and abilities, which cause them to resort to L1. Alternative techniques for teaching grammar should be encouraged such as “time lines” or “concept questions” which may be prepared in advance so that the teacher is able to communicate the meaning of structure unambiguously without recourse to L1.

Inability to maintain communication in L2

Dealing with class administration in L1 is one of the most genuine opportunities for teacher -student communication in the classroom that most think should not be sacrificed. Asking or giving administrative information such as a timetable change, or allowing students to ask or answer these in L1, is a strategy usually used by non-native speakers who feel unable to maintain such communication in L2 (Kharma & Hajjaj, 1989) . This is an unfortunate decision which is likely to reflect negatively on the status of English as a means of communication. Teachers may need help in this matter, and to be encouraged to carry on in L2, in the hope that students will become confident using L2 themselves. Similarly, using L1 to check comprehension of listening or reading seems to be an unfortunate decision to throw out a great opportunity for communication in L2. Nevertheless, this is a common practice among teachers to save time. In general it should not be recommended on any grounds.

Conversation among learners

Students are like ly to get into the habit of explaining to each other any concept that has not been fully understood. This habit usually occurs with weak students and without encouragement from the teacher. Giving special treatment to weak students who do that may reinforce their reliance on L1. Krieger (2005) reported from his personal experience as a teacher that students will use their L1 whether teachers permit it or not. He added that the goal of the teacher should be to organize and structure L1 usage so that it can be used only in pedagogically beneficial ways. He concluded that “It is the teacher's job to try to preempt L1 usage, that does not serve some purpose by making absolutely clear what constitutes acceptable L1 usage and what does not” (p. 5). While teachers and theorists may disagree about the role of L1 in the L2 classroom, most agree that in the interest of the development of language as a communicative tool, communication in the classroom should take place as far as possible in English. Nation (2003) described ways to encourage L2 use in the English language classrooms. He advised teachers to use some tasks which cover a range of affective, cognitive, and resource approaches that can be seen as complementary rather than alternatives. Some of these tasks included: using manageable tasks that are within the learners' proficiency, encourage learners to pretend they were English speakers, use repetition tasks so they become easier, and most importantly, make L2 an unavoidable task by using certain activities such as role play, retelling, and completion tasks. On the affective domain, Nation recommended discussing with learners the value of using L2, and to avoid putting learners in embarrassing situations.

This section provided theoretical information on how the use of L1 in ELT was perceived by different methodologies, and how it was dealt with by different schools of thinking. In particular, it showed that there were two different directions toward dealing with the issue. One direction believed in a total prohibition of L1 in L2 classrooms, which was supported by proponents of the Direct Method and the “English-only” paradigm. The other believe d L1 can be used judiciously for many reasons such as in teaching vocabulary, for affective reasons, and for time saving to cover more material in the class. This section also examined the pedagogic justifications for L1 avoidance in L2, and discussed the practical and ideological arguments that promoted its prohibition even further. Counter-arguments that included those who supported L1 use were also discussed. Finally, this section provided reasons and examples of L1 overuse in the classroom and presented suggestions for encouraging L2 use in the classroom.

Chapter two. Methodology

This study was set to answer the following questions:

1. In what situations (why) do we use FL?

2. What are the advantages/disadvantages of using FL?

3. Are there any differences between “FL using class” and “only TL class”?

To answer these questions, data were collected by means of the following procedures:

1. Classroom observations were conducted to examine the practice of English in the University of Suleyman Demirel

2. Questionnaires were designed and administered to students to measure their attitudes toward the use of L1 in English language (L2) classrooms.

The collected data was then graphed and analyzed to uncover trends and patterns. The attitudes of teachers and students toward the use of L1 in English classrooms were also considered from a qualitative analysis of their answers. The following sections provide a detailed description of the locations where the research was conducted, background of participants, and materials and procedures used to collect the data.


The data was collected at the Suleyman Demirel University in Kazakhstan. This university is considered to be multicultural kazakh-turkish university. I decided to collect data here because most of the subjects (not only English) are taught in English language.



Three teachers have participated in this study. Three teachers were observed at SDU. They were selected based on the classroom levels they taught and because they have different methods in teaching. Since the research was designed to observe mostly upper-intermediate and intermediate levels, this selection was based on the assumption that if L1 were to be used in the ELT classrooms, it would be at these levels. The interviews were additional instruments used to allow the teachers to express their thoughts and attitudes toward L1 use and to allow further refinement of the classroom observations.


Three sets of students have participated in this study. One set are first grade students, the second are second year students, and the last third are those from third grade. Three groups of 30 students about were observed at years 2nd and 3nd. 30 students were given a questionnaire.

Materials and Procedures

The instruments for collecting data for this study included the following:

1. Classroom observations

2. Questionnaires for students

Classroom Observations

Classroom observations were chosen as the most appropriate means for investigating teaching and classroom practices. Their main purpose was to investigate teaching and learning practices inside the classroom and how the teaching of English language was accomplished. Classroom observations were set to investigate whether or not L1 was used in the English language classroom. For this purpose a “participant observation approach” was attempted. Brown viewed the observation forms and lists as “resource rather than constraint on comments; teachers should feel free to add anything that they find pertinent” (Brown, 2001, p. 197). The two groups were observed for one week; a total of 10 observations. Each group met for a 50-minute session. The observed classes were not recorded to avoid disturbing the classes, but notes were taken during the observations. Based on initial observations L1 was not used in the L2 classroom of 2nd year students. Instead observations were resumed with a new modified focus; specifically the focus was on how the teaching of L2 language was accomplished without reference to students' L1. The techniques used by teachers to teach English without reference to L1 were noted. These techniques included the use of visuals, realia, role play, repetition, use of examples, use of definitions, and extensive use of the blackboard. But in 3rd year students' classroom L1 was used in some cases. For example, to give sentence samples of grammar; to tell a joke this sounds different in target language; to give clear instructions. There was a judicious use of L1 in this group. It was clear that students felt uncomfortable with only-English method.


The questionnaires, as shown in Appendices 2, were prepared for students. The questionnaires were distributed to 30 students. All 30 students responded. Questionnaires were used to obtain information about beliefs and attitudes of students toward using L1 in English language classrooms. Questionnaires were designed in two parts: Part 1 included closed questions, and part 2 included responses to open-ended questions to allow subjects to reflect freely on their experience. New questions to examine vocabulary teaching techniques which avoid the use of L1 were added. The techniques listed in the questionnaire included actual techniques used and practiced by the two teachers who were observed. The questionnaire was piloted and administered to 30 students. After that, more modifications and refinements to the questionnaire took place. The finished questionnaire form was the result of my readings in the literature, combined with my own reflections and understanding of the issue. The usefulness of the questionnaires as a research instrument stems from being quick and quantifiable. According to Hopkins (2002), “the main advantages of questionnaires in research are to obtain quantitative responses to specific predetermined questions; they are easy to administer, quick to fill in, and easy to follow up”. Also, questionnaires are ideal for providing feedback on attitudes. They provide instant data that can be usable and they provide generalized data as well. They can be valuable if the questions are structured properly and asked in a specific way. They are also appropriate for obtaining broad and rich information from participants. On the other hand, there are many disadvantages of using questionnaires. They are very time consuming and they lack the necessary depth. The effectiveness of questionnaires depends on developing questions that explore the issue in depth. Some participants focus on trying to answer “correctly” rather than telling their true opinions, and that is why questionnaires should be anonymous. Also, because questionnaires lack the necessary depth, it becomes quite essential to “triangulate” in some other ways. The use of questionnaires as a research instrument seemed appropriate to explore students ' attitudes toward the role and use of L1 in teaching English, both quantitative and qualitative data analysis were used. They are essential methods to verify objective data. As Wallace pointed out “the quantitative data is broadly used to describe what can be measured and can therefore be considered “objective,” and qualitative is used to describe data which are not measured in an objective way and are therefore considered “subjective” (Wallace, 2001, p. 38). In this study, the qualitative data is obtained from classroom observations and teachers interviews. Quantitative data, on the other hand, is obtained from the questionnaires. Qualitative data is reported by means of quotations, and quantitative data is reported by means of graphs and tables.

Chapter three. Data analysis

Classroom Observations

The research question which was aimed at investigating situations when we use L1 was pursued through classroom observations.

The English language groups usually meet 3-4 times a week for 50 minutes period. Classroom observations revealed that teachers used an eclectic approach which relied on the Audio-Lingual Method (ALM) and the Total Physical Response (TPR) to teach vocabulary. Principles of ALM, which advocate repetition models of learning, memorization, and no use of L1, were practiced. Also principles of TPR, which are based on listening and the use of demonstration, were also observed in the classrooms of both teachers.

Teaching English through TPR

Teachers approached the teaching of English by relying on certain principles of Total Physical Response approach (TPR). TPR was developed by Asher (1977) who noted that children learn their first language by listening first accompanied by physical responses such as reaching, grabbing, moving, and looking (Brown, 2001). According to Larsen-Freeman, “students can learn through observing actions as well as by performing the actions themselves; it is very important that students feel successful because feelings of success and low anxiety facilitate learning. Following TPR principles, the teachers attempted to teach words by using pictures accompanied by theatrical performance such as performing certain actions, being expressive and giving commands. The students learned the meanings of the words through observing the teachers' actions and through performing the actions themselves. Both teachers emphasized pronunciation over the written words and they showed tolerance when students made errors in saying the words. There was a little use of the students' first language.

The Questionnaire

The questionnaire was developed for students of TFL at SDU. The questionnaire was used to examine the attitudes of students toward the use of L1. It was meant to find out in which situations teachers and students believed L1 might be useful. It was also meant to find out the reasons why teachers and students thought L1 use might be necessary in the English language classroom. Following is a description and analysis of findings of the questionnaire results.

Analysis of Students' Responses to Questionnaire

The students' questionnaire, as shown in Appendix 1, was distributed to 30 students in TFL faculty of SDU. All students responded to the questions by completing and returning it. All of the participant students spoke Kazakh and Russian languages as their first language. The questions dealt with whether or not L1 should be used in the English language classrooms and to what extent L1 should be used in L2 teaching. Also the questions sought to elicit when and why students thought L1 was necessary. Questions attempted to find out students' attitudes on whether L1 would be helpful to facilitate their learning of English and whether they wanted their teachers to use L1 in the English language classroom.

In their response to question which meant to find out whether or not L1 should be used, 56.6% of the students did not think L1 should be used in the classroom, whereas 43.4% of the students thought it should be used “sometimes.”

Q: Should we completely avoid using L1 in ESL classroom?

In addition to their negative attitude toward L1 use, the students also responded to Q5 which meant to find out whether students feel comfortable if teacher uses only target language. The majority of students, 76% of the respondents, said that they feel comfortable when their teacher uses only L1. However, 20% responded that they don't feel comfortable at all, and only 4% thinks that it's comfortable or not according to situations.

However a response to Q12 “Does strictly avoiding L1 during the lesson increases anxiety?” doesn't show that majority feels comfortable. 6.7% of students agree that it increases anxiety, 70% partly agree which means that they feel anxiety to certain degree (sometimes maybe), 16.7 % partly disagree and only 6.7% disagree.

Questions two and fifteen are used to tell about students' attitude to purpose of using L1. In their response to Q2 “Do you use L1 to explanation by translating?” 43% of the respondents use it, 40% don't use, and 17% use it sometimes.

Discussion of Students' Responses

Analysis of students' responses to the questionnaire revealed that the students were not keen on L1 use in English language classrooms, and they had negative attitudes toward it. The students disapproved the use of L1 in English language classrooms and they disapproved its use by their teachers. The students' negative attitudes and their disapproval of L1 use in L2 teaching were strange. Generally speaking, the students were not enthusiastic about using L1 in L2 teaching.


Findings from classroom observations and questionnaires regarding teachers' and students' attitudes toward the use of L1 in ESL classrooms revealed that L1 is being used judiciously in ESL classrooms. Native language use is not strictly prohibited in English language classrooms in SDU, only few of teachers don't allow to use L1. Accordingly students are taught and teachers are trained not to use L1 in English classrooms.

However, classroom observations unveiled alternative teaching practices that teachers use to teach English without recourse to L1. Both teachers and students appeared satisfied with these practices. The teachers' alternative techniques included the use of simplified language, a variety of examples, giving clear definitions, role play, repetition, use of visuals, animation, and extensive use of the blackboard.

According to responses to questionnaire majority of students were against the use of L1 by teachers. However Auerbach (1993) criticized arguments in literature which discouraged the use of L1 in teaching ESL and claimed that the strong dominance of the English-only movement was responsible for this discrepancy between attitudes and practice toward L1. She argued that “The axiom underlying the English-only practice which regards English as the only accepted practice among ESL educators is so strong and widely accepted among ESL educators that…teachers assigned a negative value to `lapses' into the L1, seeing them as failures or aberrations, a cause for guilt, but it needs to be reexamined” (Auerbach, 1993).

Nation argued that L1 needs to be seen as a useful tool that can be used where needed, and just like any other tool it should not be over-used. He argued that L1 use should be seen as important as the use of pictures, real objects, and demonstration. He added that L1 provides a familiar and effective way of quickly getting into grips with the meaning and content of words. He recommended establishing a balanced approach that recognizes a role for L1, but also recognizes the importance of maximizing L2 use in the classroom. He asserted that “it is foolish to arbitrarily exclude this proven and efficient means of communication, to do so would be parallel to saying that pictures or real objects should not be used in L2 class” (Nation, 2003).

There are more reasons to recommend a judicious use of L1 in teaching L2. Lowering students' anxiety is an important part in teaching because many of the students have not used it as a real language for communication. So they needed a lot of encouragement, motivation, and the use of L1 is helpful for them. Also, the use of L1 with students saves a lot of time.


Atkinson, D., (1987). The mother tongue in the classroom: a neglected resource? ELT Journal, 41(4), 241-247.

Auerbach, E. (1993). Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarter Brown, H.D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). New York: Longman 27(1), 9-32.

Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd ed.)Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baljit Bhela; Native language interference in learning a second language: Exploratory case studies of native language interference with target language usage; International Education Journal Vol 1, No 1, 1999 Final thesis_June_11

SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION Series Editor: David Singleton: First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning, edited by Miles Turnbull and Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain

Keeping Native Languages in ESL Class: Accounting for the Role Beliefs Play Toward Mastery, Michael S. Yough Ming Fang, The Ohio State University

Appendix 1

Students' Attitudes toward the Use of L1 in the English Language Classroom: A Questionnaire

Dear Student,

The purpose of this questionnaire is to find out how you feel about the use of L1 in your English language (L2) classroom. Please complete this survey according to your experience and believes. Your answers will be used for research purposes only. You do not need to write your names.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Please mark your answer by circling the answer that is applicable to you.

1.Teacher uses L1 in your ESL classroom

a)Yes b)No c) Other

2.You use L1 to give explanation by translating

a)Yes b)No c) Other

3. It's hard to avoid using L1 during the lesson

a)Yes b)No c) Other

4. You don't use target language outside the classroom at all

a)Yes b)No c) Other

5. You feel comfortable when teacher uses only target language

a)Yes b)No c) Other

6. Teacher uses mime and gestures to explain a new word

a)Yes b)No c) Other

7. Teacher provides a new vocabulary with translation

a)Yes b)No c) Other

8. Dictionary is used by students to translate

a)Yes b)No c) Other

9. What type of dictionary do you use?

10. it's completely prohibited to use L1 during the lesson

a) Yes b) No c) Other

11. If yes, is it comprehensible enough?

a)Yes b)No c) Other

12. Strictly avoiding L1 during the lesson increases anxiety

a) Agree b) partly agree c)partly disagree d)disagree

13. Teacher sets an ultimatum “if you use L1 minus 1 point”

a) Yes b) No c) Other

14. If yes, does it motivate you or demotivate?

15. Grammar or game (any activity) instructions should be taught in L1

a) Agree b) partly agree c)partly disagree d)disagree


Целью данного исследования является выявление преимуществ и недостатков с использованием первого языка в классе английского языка. Цель состоит в том, чтобы показать, что родной язык влияет на изучение языка в определенной степени. Это было сделано по наблюдениям и анкетам среди студентов факультета двух иностранных языков и преподавателей в университете Сулеймана Демиреля. После изучения этих событий, становится ясно, что лучше всего "разумное использование" родного языка. В этом документе говорится, что использование родного языка может увеличить чувство уверенности студента для изучения английского языка с помощью: упрощенного словарного запаса, помощи учащимся в восприятии, поощряя саморегулирования, что делает процедуры и объяснения четкими таким образом, чтобы направить внимание и освободить рабочую память для задач на английском языке, моделирование связи в средах, где студенты могут неохотно начать разговор, и задавая тон в ситуациях, когда студенты понимают английский язык чрезвычайно трудно.

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