Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Exploring When and Why to Use Arabic in the Saudi Arabian EFL Classroom: Viewing L1 Use as Eclectic Technique

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Exploring When and Why to Use Arabic in the Saudi Arabian EFL Classroom: Viewing L1 Use as Eclectic Technique

Article excerpt


This study aims to investigate when and why to use Arabic as L1 in the Saudi Arabian EFL classroom. For this purpose, 45 classroom observations were performed for beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of students. 5 classes were chosen randomly for each level and each class was observed three times. Based on the classroom observations, structured interviews were conducted with 94 students as well as 15 teachers. Analysis of the data shows that Arabic can be used as eclectic technique in certain instances regardless of what teaching method is employed. For example, teachers sometimes used it as long as they talk in English for a long time so as to avoid as grammatical mistakes as possible. This reflects the teachers' cultural norm, namely, it is shameful to commit mistakes in front of the students. In addition, it is apparent that learners follow certain language strategies such as literal translation and substitution. Despite the use of these strategies, L2 speech produced by some learners is sometimes difficult to understand because of their bad command in English particularly at the beginning and intermediate level. Thus, the teachers or the learners resort to use Arabic forms or translation as a way to explain what wanted to be conveyed in English. Besides, Arabic is used when students are not able to express difficult L2 constructions at time they could not be disallowed to use Arabic counterparts as they are dynamic individuals. On the contrary, some advanced students insist to use specific Arabic concepts although they can translate them into English because, as they believed, such concepts miss their cultural and religious value if translated.

Keywords: L1 use, EFL classroom, TESOL, Teaching methods, Code- switching, Techniques eclecticism

1. Introduction

There are two ways to use the first language in language learning classroom. The first is through translation from the target language to the first language and vice versa. An example of this is the learners' search for L2 word or expression of L1 counterpart by using dictionary or direct translation by teachers. Secondly, the mere use of the first language forms without translation, i.e. learners or teachers resort to produce some L1 forms or ideas without translating them to the target language.

Exploring the techniques employed by different methodologies in language learning classroom determines that L1 use has been viewed and emphasized differently. In the Natural Approach, only little L1 use is encouraged via dictionary particularly when learners face very difficult L2 words and phrases. However, Community Language Learning method, Concurrent method, Dodson's Bilingual method and Grammar-Translation method have all been designed to depend mainly on L1 use in most, if not all, procedures.

In fact, ignorance of L1 use started from the fall and criticism directed to The Grammar-Translation method. Therefore, as Richards and Rogers (1985) indicate, several methods that emerge directly after it might avoid L1 use in their contents, i.e. the Oral Approach, the Audiolingual method, the Communicative Approach, the Silent way, the TPR and Suggestopedia all have not been concerned with employing L1 in language learning classroom. Nevertheless, these methods have been criticized regarding the inapplicability of other different techniques (e.g. Swan 1985, McLaughlin 1987, Estarellas 1972).

Even though all the methods are criticized, they may be partially accepted on the ground that certain technique(s) may be supportive and facilitative to learners' L2 comprehension. That is to say, the absence of L1 use according to some methods may be true if the teaching context does not require its use. It is true; on the other hand, that L1 use may be facilitative when another teaching context creates its need. Prabhu (1990, p. 166) comments that

Different methods are best for different teaching contexts. A different form of substantiation is also heard fairly frequently, namely, that there is some truth (or value or validity) to every method-or, at any rate, to several different methods-even though the methods may be conceptually incompatible. …

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