Using the first language of ESL students while teaching them English? Watch

purplehedgehog11
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Would like to hear the thoughts of people with ESL teaching experience and anyone who has learnt English as a second (or third, or fourth...) language regarding teachers using the first language of a learner when teaching them. I'm not talking about full instruction in L1, but stuff like for example utilizing bilingual dictionaries during teaching.

I know there's a school of thought that goes 'You mustn't allow your students to speak their first language in class and it's counterproductive to talk to them in their first language', but this seems extreme? It seems to me that using a learner's first language sometimes could be helpful?

Am wondering about this because I'm going to start tutoring a woman next week whose first language is Arabic. Her ability level is Entry Level 1/A1 I believe and she's quite lacking in confidence and I think it might make her more comfortable if I incorporate some Arabic into my teaching but I don't want to hinder her learning. I know very little Arabic so even if incorporating any Arabic whatsoever into my lesson is a bad idea, the harm I am able to cause is very limited. :P
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Europhile
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I think it's detrimental to the students process of learning as it is giving them a fall back option. You should be using English only and so should they to ensure they're within a totally immersive environment whilst learning. I don't think that line of thinking is extreme at all.
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Malooka
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I don'y have any professional experience at teaching English to non-speakers, but coming from the opposite situation (English student learning Arabic) I can tell you that I never would have made progress if my teachers had never used English in their lessons. My advice is do use some Arabic, but try to use English first.
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Esmeralda4
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Think about our foreign language lessons in school - we always had some English as well!! I think immersion into the language and culture is incredibly beneficial, but so is a little of the home language. It's a tough process!
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purplehedgehog11
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(Original post by Malooka)
I don'y have any professional experience at teaching English to non-speakers, but coming from the opposite situation (English student learning Arabic) I can tell you that I never would have made progress if my teachers had never used English in their lessons. My advice is do use some Arabic, but try to use English first.
Yeah I definitely think it's beneficial to learn Arabic as a native English speaker with at least some English instructions! How are you progressing with your Arabic learning?
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Malooka
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(Original post by purplehedgehog11)
Yeah I definitely think it's beneficial to learn Arabic as a native English speaker with at least some English instructions! How are you progressing with your Arabic learning?
Quite well, thank you. I'm able to hold simple conversations and I no longer need people to repeat what they just said four times but it is definitely not an "easy" foreign language to learn.
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purplehedgehog11
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(Original post by Malooka)
Quite well, thank you. I'm able to hold simple conversations and I no longer need people to repeat what they just said four times but it is definitely not an "easy" foreign language to learn.
Where are you being taught? I haven't found any classes currently running in my area
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Sportycb
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(Original post by purplehedgehog11)
Would like to hear the thoughts of people with ESL teaching experience and anyone who has learnt English as a second (or third, or fourth...) language regarding teachers using the first language of a learner when teaching them. I'm not talking about full instruction in L1, but stuff like for example utilizing bilingual dictionaries during teaching.

I know there's a school of thought that goes 'You mustn't allow your students to speak their first language in class and it's counterproductive to talk to them in their first language', but this seems extreme? It seems to me that using a learner's first language sometimes could be helpful?

Am wondering about this because I'm going to start tutoring a woman next week whose first language is Arabic. Her ability level is Entry Level 1/A1 I believe and she's quite lacking in confidence and I think it might make her more comfortable if I incorporate some Arabic into my teaching but I don't want to hinder her learning. I know very little Arabic so even if incorporating any Arabic whatsoever into my lesson is a bad idea, the harm I am able to cause is very limited. :P
I am a true believer in only English in class. In fact, I send students out if they speak Portuguese in my lessons. (I teach English in Lisbon, Portugal)

However that is only for A2+! I would never enforce that in an A1 class. Please remember that teaching adults and children is a very different process. I never speak Portuguese to my Junior class of 9-12 year olds. They pick it up quicker and introduce language into situations and they some how pick it up. While my adult class I often translate and speak a bit of Portuguese (remembering I am only about A2 myself).

Also I will always describe a word in English if I can, or demonstrate it by actions or drawing if I can. I only ever say the word in Portuguese if we are getting absolutely no where. If they say the word in Portuguese (at any level), I will nod and let them know that is it. Of course the other reason it is better to not translate is sometimes it doesn't translate directly as there is no direct translation or they are multiple uses of the word in the language. English seems to have so many words compared to other languages where the translation only works in certain situations. For example 'answer' is 'responder' in Portuguese, but the same verb in Portuguese is used for 'reply', 'respond', which doesn't work in English. Or I can teach the word for 'rob' in Portuguese is 'roubar', that is fine but it is also the same word as 'steal'. That is common in many languages as I have heard from many nationalities; "my friend was stolen last week" ) Rather than "my friend was robbed last week".
Or a different example is 'ja' in Portuguese translates as 'already', but that is also the just the way they do present perfect. So 'ja fui' translates as 'I have already done it', but can also just be 'I have done it'. So it confuses them a little and is why some students translate word for word and use it in every present perfect sentence; like if you ask: "I love Italy, have you been?", they might reply "Yes, I have already been".

...anyway in conclusion I would definitely use L1 for A1 students but be careful. Plus, don't use it throughout as there is lots of research that shows it is not benefical. I can say from experience too that it is better to learn through the language. And also remember people want a native speaker so they can use the new language more, if they just wanted A1 throughout they wouldn't look for a native.
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purplehedgehog11
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(Original post by Sportycb)
I am a true believer in only English in class. In fact, I send students out if they speak Portuguese in my lessons. (I teach English in Lisbon, Portugal)

However that is only for A2+! I would never enforce that in an A1 class. Please remember that teaching adults and children is a very different process. I never speak Portuguese to my Junior class of 9-12 year olds. They pick it up quicker and introduce language into situations and they some how pick it up. While my adult class I often translate and speak a bit of Portuguese (remembering I am only about A2 myself).

Also I will always describe a word in English if I can, or demonstrate it by actions or drawing if I can. I only ever say the word in Portuguese if we are getting absolutely no where. If they say the word in Portuguese (at any level), I will nod and let them know that is it. Of course the other reason it is better to not translate is sometimes it doesn't translate directly as there is no direct translation or they are multiple uses of the word in the language. English seems to have so many words compared to other languages where the translation only works in certain situations. For example 'answer' is 'responder' in Portuguese, but the same verb in Portuguese is used for 'reply', 'respond', which doesn't work in English. Or I can teach the word for 'rob' in Portuguese is 'roubar', that is fine but it is also the same word as 'steal'. That is common in many languages as I have heard from many nationalities; "my friend was stolen last week" ) Rather than "my friend was robbed last week".
Or a different example is 'ja' in Portuguese translates as 'already', but that is also the just the way they do present perfect. So 'ja fui' translates as 'I have already done it', but can also just be 'I have done it'. So it confuses them a little and is why some students translate word for word and use it in every present perfect sentence; like if you ask: "I love Italy, have you been?", they might reply "Yes, I have already been".

...anyway in conclusion I would definitely use L1 for A1 students but be careful. Plus, don't use it throughout as there is lots of research that shows it is not benefical. I can say from experience too that it is better to learn through the language. And also remember people want a native speaker so they can use the new language more, if they just wanted A1 throughout they wouldn't look for a native.
Thank you! That was a helpful response.
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username892469
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I'm not an ESL teacher or learning English, but I've learned 4 languages using a variety of techniques. The classes I improved quickest in (or picked up from scratch fastest) were certainly those who didn't use any English with me. We learned Italian using a textbook (for beginners) written entirely in Italian, and it was such a help.

Using the target language to teach is such a valuable tool, in my opinion. It really encourages broadening the students' vocabularies. If they don't understand a word or phrase, finding a different way to explain it in the target language exposes them to completely new vocabulary and helps them express themselves more precisely by knowing which words are synonyms, or how to express nuances between concepts which are similar but not the same.
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martyncooper
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In my experience it's helpful to use l1 vary sparingly. I use it with older students who would really struggle if not and who, at the end of the day are there to have fun. It can also be useful in checking understanding of expressions etc, as long as your knowledge of l1 is strong enough of course. Also I agree with the school of thought that it helps learners connect with English in a more personal way. Plus I learnt Spanish to begin with using coffee break Spanish! Half scottish half Spanish! Each to their own tho innit.
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