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32680 Views 28 Replies Latest reply: 23-Feb-2012 23:17 by Ian Leahy RSS 1 2 Previous Next
ArmandoGarriazo Novice 31 posts since
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14-Apr-2010 04:55

How to deal with mother tongue in an English Class??


  • Amina Al Hashamia Newbie 7 posts since

    Mother tongue in an English classroom is a real problem for most of us as ELTs.

    I suggest that you try the following :

    1.penalise the students who use their mother tongue by reducing their points in something you agree with them before starting the lesson

    2.make an agreement with your students that they can use a definite number of words each class,and by time you reduce that amount to few words only .

    3.Assign few students to assisst with translation to help understand English so that you avoid the whole involovement of students in speaking the first language.

    All the best

  • Maurice Claypole Newbie 2 posts since

    The best way to deal with the mother tongue in an English Class is to benefit from the students' natural tendency to use it as their main point of reference. The actual techniques will differ depending on whether you are teaching a monolingual or a mulitilingual class (see separate thread) and can vary from providing L1 input to generate L2 output, using L1 as a means of consolidation to creating back translation activities. In my view it is more productive to use the students' L1 as a resource than to penalise them for using it. It is also important to bear in mind that, whatever the teacher does, students will use their L1 as a resource, either through the use of bilingual materials and dictionaries or by making notes in their own language.

  • Amir Abbass Ravayee Apprentice 210 posts since

    Dear Armando,


    You can make it easier for students to use English by:


    • Describing your rationale clearly and getting their support from the beginning,


    • Deciding where you place yourself in the classroom. The groups nearest you are more likely to use English than those further away. So take an interest in what each group is doing and move around so that groups have less chance of switching back to their own language.


    • Monitoring more overtly: for example, by having a pen and paper in your hand.


    • Making the work task-oriented. If the final product has to be in English, whether it is a story, a film review or just answering comprehension questions, a greater use of English is ensured.


    • Keeping speaking activities short until the students have more confidence and increased fluency. It is better to have a shorter time than is strictly necessary than having time to spare at the end of group work.


    • Making sure that the students have the English to do what you ask. You might find it helpful to start off with very structured activities after you have taught some essential words and expressions so students are not at a loss for words.


    • Starting with “open” pair work (a dialogue in front of the class) as a model for the “closed” pair work (every pair working simultaneously).


    • Assigning roles. If everyone knows what he or she must do, they are more likely to do it in English. You might consider giving someone the role of “language monitor” - someone to make sure English is used in the group – or “evaluator” - someone who will report back on the of the group overall, including their use of English and of their mother tongue.


    Finally, don’t be too concerned if your students resort to their mother tongue in group work or pair work activities. Sometimes it saves time in the long run, as when they are clarifying instructions before they begin the task. It is worth remembering that if you are doing group work as an alternative to whole class work, then even if only 2 people are using English simultaneously you have doubled the amount of student talk for that time.

  • Teresa Costa Newbie 1 posts since

    I also believe it's best to motivate the use of English, not punish the use of the Mother Tongue.


    Many students, specially younger ones, will lose interest if they can't give details over something they just thought about and  would like to share (related to an open discussion). My weaker students will ask to speak in Portuguese, and after I help them repeat it in English (which allows for new structures and vocabulary or simply revision of those).


    Also, the lowest classes, with adults or young adults, usually get very stressed if grammar is explained in English (because they feel better if grammar rules are precise and understandable, even if it's just an illusion and I say the rule functions only in some situations) so I use Mother Tongue to make them happy and relaxed. After the first classes (when the new grammar is explained in the Mother Tongue) I start referring to it in English and asking them to translate. Slowly and surely, they'll end up understanding my English grammar explanations and accepting without stress newer never-heard of rules explained in English when I introduce other grammar topics .


    The same goes for new vocabulary, some low-level students will not be able to understand the meaning of new words until they have been translated, and they must get a bit more confidence in themselves until they get used to dealing with English definitions.


    Basically, the Mother Tongue is useful in translation and fully understanding definitions, rules, activities, etc, with low-level nervous students.

  • Suzanne Nelson Newbie 2 posts since

    After teaching ESL for many years, I suddenly found myself in a 100% Spanish speaking class.

    At first, I thought..."Wow! All I have to do is translate words, etc. into Spanish and voile!"  I really got lazy and I hated myself for it.


    It got so out of hand, that even I was looking up Spanish and (heaven forbid) writing translations on the board.  After a few months of this, I realized that this has to stop and stop NOW!


    So, I began by writing a list of easy vocabulary words on the board (my classes are high intermediates).  I asked volunteers what these words mean, and when a student would slip and translate the word, I obviously pretended that I had no idea what he was talking about.  Little by little the English began to overtake all Spanish words and phrases.  I began using this as a warm-up activity, too, and it has had great success.


    Secondly, I wrote on the board examples of simple grammar constructions like:  A third person simple tense sentence.  I ask the students to explain the grammar rule.


    Thirdly, we have played a little game:  I designated everyone in my class to be from a different country.  There are no two students who speak the same language.  If there are too many students, then several of them are from Mars, or any other place in our universe.  Obviously, there can only be English-only in this situation.


    So, what I am saying is this:  For me, there has been no little game, etc. (like charging a quarter everytime a student speaks in his own language), but instead a gradual cultural change.  There is no quick remedy for this, but a teacher needs to begin to create the proper English-only environment.  Now, when my students enter the classroom, they know that their first language is left outside the door.

    This has been a long road from my earlier mistake, but it has been well worth it.

  • Behnaz Pourafshari Newbie 5 posts since

    I have a adult students who start learning English.


    They are false beginners and hardly understand English.


    I ask the to speak as much as they can  English  and if they cannot find a word or structure they can use Their L1.


    But L1 is the last item they use. they try to make me understand by just few words they know and miming.


    in my pre-intermediate class , if someone use L1  he/she should buy an ice cream . by this job students monitor  each other.


    and the class become so sharp, instead of L1 they use dictionary to find the suitable word they need.this make students responsible for their learning.

  • Zoitsa Newbie 1 posts since

    Hi Armando,


    I teach B2 level classes and my Ss are teenagers and adults. My Ss and I have the same L1 however, in the first lesson I make clear to all of them that from the moment they step into the school the should use English. I am the one who gives them the example by using the L2 every single minute. In case one Ss uses the L1 during the lesson, all I do is to reply with 'Excuse me? I don't understand? Could you speak in English, please? / Could you repeat that again, please?' ,etc.  So, after a couple of times they all get used to this and sometimes they even say to each other:  'Speak in English! 'She doesn't understand Greek' (although I am Greek, too)  ...and that's funny  because I'm not the one who keeps telling them 'use English in the lesson' all the time.

  • Jamie Keddie Guest Contributor 118 posts since

    Hello Armando and everyone


    An interesting question. I think that when you read through the comments that people have left it becomes apparent that there are lots of diferent ways of addressing the mother tongue issue. For example:


    • Are we considering the teacher's use of the mother toungue in order to clarify instructions, grammar, etc? (Teresa mentioned this - it is always a point that seems to divide teachers!)
    • Are we considering students speaking in their mother toungue when they should be speaking in English? (Generally to be avoided)
    • Are we talking about students speaking in mother tongue when they are doing a collaborative reading task? (Possibly quite helpful - Amir mentioned this in his last paragraph above)
    • Are we talking about students translating words, expressions, ideas in order to understand them? (Necessary for some learners)
    • Are we talkling about the use of mother toungue as a resource (Maurice mentioned this). It can be very useful to incorporate mother tongue in some activities.


    Two things that I would like to add:


    Different people learn in different ways. I know that some of my students and colleagues have successfully learned a new language by "thinking in it" and forgetting about their mother tongue. On the other hand, this is useless advice for someone like me. I always need to be able to switch in and out of English when I am learning Spanish or French. I love to compare new structures in a new language with the equivalent ones in English.

    The other thing is that Sheelagh Deller and Mario Rinvolucri recently wrote a book titled: "Using the Mother Tongue" It sugests lesson activities and techniques in which the teacher can make use of the mother tongue both in mono- and multilingual classes. Not long ago, Mario wrote in an article that the book has sold incredibly badly. I wonder if this means that teachers, in general, are sceptical that the mother tongue has a valid lace in the language classroom.



  • Nick Dawson Pearson ELT 202 posts since

    "How to deal with the mother tongue in an English Class?" - The question is phrased as if the mother tongue was an infection or virus introduced to the English classroom. "Knowledge of the mother tongue is the greatest resource which students bring to the English class." Rod Bolitho.

    We treat the mother tongue as a problem because of the stupidity of our immersion methodology. See the handout attached from my recent talk at IATEFL.

    Nick Dawson

  • Amir Abbass Ravayee Apprentice 210 posts since

    Dear Nick,


    There is something we have to pay attention to and that's the culture of the students who take part in your class. In some countries, students get really angry when you let them use the L1. It is as if you have committed a crime.

  • ana maria mari Newbie 1 posts since

    Dealing with mother tongue is an issue most teachers have to face around the world. No matter what nationality you are Mother tongue is always there interfering in our lessons.


    I have always applied to what we call the sandwich technique, which is English - Spanish - English, so the last input the students will get would be English. However, there is still a tendency of students to  resort to Spanish whenever  they want to say something, although they know the English word or phrase.


    So I have recently  applied to a sort of deal with them and this is whenever we speak Spanish in class we will get a cross. Once anyone gets to the total amount of five crosses, gets extra homework. I am also included in this sort of cross score game, in this way if I get to the five crosses , then they will get no homework at all.


    They really make an effort to get to know every single word or expression in order to express their feelings and moods. At the end of the class they copy out the list of new words they 've learnt and keep it in their fowlders for future reference in future lessons.


    Ana Maria

    from Argentina

    EFL teacher

  • Emine Bulur Newbie 1 posts since

    Hi everyone!


    I work at a university prep school where using the mother tongue is forbidden but most of us use our mother tongue time to time as we feel the necessity of it.


    From my experiences I can tell that it is sometimes necessary for low levels but there is a danger that students get used to it and they expect you to use it whenever they have a difficulty. I can say that in a way using mother tongue may make our students stop challenging themselves. On the other hand most of the time I use the mother tongue to do some translations with them. I give Turkish sentences to them and they translate them into English to practice new vocabulary or grammar. Sometimes I do this as a competition between two groups which makes it more enjoyable.


    Finally, I think that there is no clear right or wrong on this matter. Nobody can ignore the necessity to use the mother tongue in a language class.



  • Gabriela Modroff Newbie 1 posts since

    Very good suggestions, But I would change penalization into someting more positive.  Instead of penalizing, why not trying to award the students that make an effort in using the English language to communicate.

  • Audry Hawkins Newbie 1 posts since

    I think it is a terrible idea to penalize studens with extra work or homework.  We should encourage students to want to work, not make learning a punishment.  There are certain times that I allow the use of the mother tongue in my classroom.  When there is peer teaching, I allow the students to help each other UNDERSTAND the concept in their native tongue so that they can conceptulize the idea, then we go further and get a better understanding in English.  I dont want my students to feel that their langugage is not as good as English or any other language for that matter.  I let them know that English is a tool that is necessary in certain communication situations.  If they want the proper outcome, the correct tool must be used.  They understand this, and I have very little problem with the use of mother tongue.

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