Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Amount, Purpose, and Reasons for Using L1 in L2 Classrooms

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Amount, Purpose, and Reasons for Using L1 in L2 Classrooms

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study examined the amount, the purposes, and the reasons why L1 is used in L2 classrooms. Data consist of video and audio recording of samples of two instructors' L2 classes over the course of a 12-week semester in two second-year German conversation university courses, instructor interviews, and stimulated recall sessions. Results revealed that the instructors used L1 quite frequently in their classrooms and that they did it for many reasons and purposes. They also believed that L1 should be used in L2 classrooms and that its use facilitates L2 learning. Findings provide evidence that despite disagreement on the use of L1 among L2 researchers, these instructors of German as a foreign language used L1 in their classrooms for important instructional purposes.

Key words: German as an L2, L1 use, instructor beliefs

Language: German


The use of students' first language (L1) in language teaching has been an issue of ongoing debate in the field of second language acquisition (SLA; e.g., Guthrie, 1987; Kharma&Hajjaj, 1989; Nizegorodcew, 1996; Storch&Wigglesworth, 2003; Tang, 2002). Although reactions against the use of L1 have become less strict in recent years than before, according to Cummins (2007), the dominant approach in second language (L2) teaching has advocated no use of L1 in L2 classrooms. Thus, many language teaching approaches continue to assume that L2 instruction should be mainly through the L2 and that if there is recourse to the L1, it should be minimized as much as possible (Turnbull, 2001). Some even may believe that instructors should avoid using L1 altogether and that those who use it may be inadequate pedagogues (G. Chambers, 1992; Cook, 2001). This study examined the use of L1 in two second-year German conversation courses at the university level. The aims were to find out whether these instructors used L1 and if so to what extent and for what purposes. The study also examined the specific reasons why the instructors used L1.

Literature Review

The use of L1 in L2 classrooms has long been a controversial issue in the field of L2 teaching and learning. Although the use of L1 is gaining more support from some L2 researchers, there are many who have argued that the use of L1 should be limited in L2 instruction. These opponents of L1 use make a number of arguments to support their position. They argue that the use of L1 may have detrimental effects on the instructors' use of L2 because if instructors use L1, the quantity of comprehensible L2 input decreases, which is thought to hamper learners' L2 learning. They argue that adult L2 learning should take place in the same fashion as child L1 learning and that the L2 should be "largely acquired rather than consciously learned, from messageoriented experience of its use" (Mitchell, 1988, as cited in F. Chambers, 1991, p. 28). These arguments may stem from beliefs in naturalistic approaches to language teaching that emphasize a focus on immersion of the learner in the L2 and providing abundant opportunities for exposure to the target language (e.g., Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Therefore, these people may view the use of L1 as characteristic of the oldfashioned grammar translation method, which largely focused on translating from L2 to L1 as a way of learning the L2 (Polio & Duff, 1994). In other words, opponents of L1 use believe that L2 teaching should take place without interference from L1. They also believe that L1 use is a sign of insufficiently trained, nonnative speaker instructors succumbing to pressure from students and colleagues not to use L2 all the time (Harbord, 1992). Therefore, opponents of L1 use view exclusive use of L2 in the classroom as the only way in which language should be taught and hence consider "no L1 use" an undisputed premise (e.g., F. Chambers, 1991; Franklin, 1990).

There are, on the other hand, researchers who argue that L1 should not be abandoned in L2 classrooms, and they provide both cognitive and sociolinguistic reasons for their position. …

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