L1 use in L2 classroom

The debate on relevance of L1 use in L2 teaching might be one of those “holy wars” like Windows vs. Linux, BMW vs. Mercedes-Benz or vegetarianism vs. meat-eating. These will never be settled but will rather enlarge the armies of their proponents. No-one will probably provide a 100% sound proof of complete inappropriateness of either approach. It will always be up to every particular teacher (in worse case, up to someone above them who issues regulations) whether to stick to one or another side.

What I want is to present a list (2 lists) of arguments to keep in mind when making the choice.

L1 use advantages L2-rich environment advantages
For students
safe environment

  • for comfortable understanding of situation in the classroom (instructions, explanations, etc.)
  • for expressing themselves
  • for vocalized intrapersonal speech
being exposed to L2 continuously student doesn’t lose confidence and interest in L2 and therefore will not be afraid to experiment with the language
anxiety-free collaboration:

  • maintain each other’s interest in the task
  • draw each other’s attention
  • develop strategies to complete the task
  • discuss methods of solving problems
  • negotiate meaning
as L2 is supposed to be used in a range of classroom situations, this promotes spontaneous communication in different contexts (which might imitate real-life usage)
scaffolding tool:

  • for retaining semantic meaning of L2
  • for access to L2 forms
  • for translation and dictionary search
  • inevitable (sub)conscious associations with L1 occur anyway, so why not verbalize and make use of them
the more exposure students receive, the more and the faster they learn

  • present L2 in different contexts and for different purposes
  • L2 in instructions helps avoid dependence on L1
For teachers
easier and quicker to manage and discipline the class, give and get feedback (especially in mixed-ability classes) exposure in the classroom may be the only L2 input students get, thus teachers must deliver as much of it as possible

If look closer, all arguments in the right column convey quite the same idea: as we teach/learn L2, the more L2 is used, the better. However, this affirmation is largely based on belief that learners acquire L2 in the same way as L1, which to my mind is totally wrong. I haven’t performed a thorough research of this issue yet, but what seems obvious and logical to me is:

  • L1 acquisition is a genetically predefined process which occurs on a certain stage of child development when the need to socialize can no longer be satisfied in other ways
  • children never resist L1 acquisition
  • children don’t need motivation to learn L1, it’s a survival instinct that drives them

Clearly, these points are not true for L2 learning. There must me something else I missed but I guess it’s enough to feel the difference.

As for the foregoing table, I will extend it when I find new details about L1/L2 acquisition.

Please comment with your views, supporting arguments or contradictions.

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