My teaching approach
Should teachers use mother tongue when teaching English?
and disadvantages of using L1
There are several methods used to teach a new
language. Each teaching method is based on a particular vision of understanding
the language or the learning process, often using specific techniques and
materials used in a set sequence:
Grammar Translation Method (GTM) focuses on reading and writing. Language is
taught through translation methods, contrasting and comparing the native tongue
to the learned language. GTM focuses on sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary
and direct translations of the native language to English. The method requires
few resources to teach, normally just the use of textbooks or translated
Direct Method is based on the direct involvement of the student when speaking, and
listening to the foreign language in common everyday situations. Consequently,
there are a lot of oral interaction, spontaneous use of the language, no
translation, and little if any analysis of grammar rules and syntax. The focus
of the lessons is on good pronunciation, often introducing learners to phonetic
symbols before they see standard writing examples. Lessons are in the target
There is a focus on everyday vocabulary. Visual
aids are used to teach vocabulary.
Particular attention is placed on the accuracy
of pronunciation and grammar. A systematic approach is developed for
comprehension and oral expression. Translation is completely forbidden.
Audio-lingual Method was widely used in the 1950s and 1960s, and the
emphasis was not on the understanding of words, but rather on the acquisition
of structures and patterns in common everyday dialogue. These patterns are
elicited, repeated and tested until the responses given by the student in the
foreign language are automatic. No translation is allowed.
silence way; Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or problem solves.
Students work co-operatively and independently from teacher. Very structural-
language is taught in ‘building blocks’, but syllabus is determined by what
learners need to communicate. The teacher should be as silent as possible,
modelling items just once. Language is learnt inductively. No translation is
allowed in this method either.
Physical Response (TPR). Learners will learn better if stress to produce
language is reduced. Learners, like children, learn from responding to verbal
stimulus. Also structural. Mainly uses imperative, everyday conversations are
highly abstract and disconnected; therefore to understand them requires a
rather advanced internalisation of the target language. Teachers’ role is not
so much to teach as provide opportunities for learning. The teacher is who
direct, even when learners interact with each other, usually the teacher is who
directs. This is another method where
translation is not allowed.
remember best and are most influenced by material coming from an authoritative
source. Anxiety should be lowered through comfortable chairs, baroque music
etc… Language is gradually acquired. No correction. The teacher starts by introducing
the grammar and lexis in “a playful manner”, and then reads the text while the
students follow or just relax and listen. Students then use the language in fun
and/or undirected ways. Translation is allowed.
methods that support translation from L1 to L2 are:
grammar translation method, and the suggestiopaedia.
methods against translation are:
direct method, The Audio-lingual Method, the silence way, Total Physical
& Disadvantages of using mother tongue when teaching English
Teachers who are not fluent in English (but
fluent in the other language that the students primarily use) can teach English
using this approach, as the emphasis is not on the spoken word but on
translations. Communication between student and teacher is reduced with this
method, which avoids misunderstandings and prevents language barriers that may
occur in a method that focuses on teacher-student communication or verbal
Unlike a verbal approach to language learning,
GTM focuses on the application of grammar and correct sentence structure. Word
meanings are also easily learned through direct translation---a foreign word
can be compared to the native language quickly. The method of
comparing/translation of the learned language with a native language provide
reference for students.
When learning another language, translation is
a natural phenomenon. Even the student who went abroad to learn another
language began the first few months translating everything into his/her mother
tongue using a bilingual dictionary to acquire a knowledge base of
vocabulary. In fact, research has shown that switching between languages
and translation happens instinctively to all language learners and the L1 is
actually an important resource in second language (L2) learning (Cook, 2001;
Woodall, 2002). These are positive reasons, that teachers should bear in
mind, in order to try to work with this innate tendency rather
than against it. Furthermore by allowing L1 use, students would get
the sense that learning another language is a positive experience because they
can have access to a valuable resource that supports them, and they do not have
to feel guilty for doing what comes naturally.
From the teacher’s perspective, communicating
with students in their mother tongue seems to improve teacher-student rapport
(Harbord, 1992). Also, being able to use the L1 with students can be more
efficient and make time for more useful activities as well as avoiding
The GTM approach involves no learner
participation and little teacher-student relationship. Furthermore, the method
does not require students to participate in any activities or communicate with
each other, so they will not learn how to use the language in a real-life
conversation or situation and will only know how to translate one language to
Translations may also be inaccurate, as it is
not always possible to simply translate one word or phrase accurately to
another language. However, it is just this kind of tendency that could lead to
the development of an excessive dependency on the students’ mother tongue
(Harbord, 1992) by both teachers and students. Consequently, students
lose confidence in their ability to communicate in English: they may feel that
the only way they would understand anything the teacher says is when it has
been translated, or they use their mother tongue even when they are perfectly
capable of expressing the same idea in English. This can significantly
reduce students’ opportunities to practice English, and students fail to
realise that using English in classroom activities is essential to improve
their language skills.
Translation also regularly creates the problem
of oversimplification because many cultural and linguistic nuances cannot be
directly translated (Harbord, 1992). For instance, many idioms in
English, have completely different meaning in Spanish, and vice versa. For
example: the idiom: “it’s raining cats
and dogs” it would totally
confuse a Spanish student as the literal translation, does not make any sense
What about the students’ opinion?
It is also relevant to know what the point of
view of the students is, regarding the use of the mother tongue:
A questionnaire was addressed to 300 Greek
students at three levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced. They were asked
general questions to elicit their view on whether the teacher should know and,
in principle, use the students' mother tongue.
The survey revealed that, 65% of students at
beginner level and about 50% of students at intermediate and advanced level
believe the teacher should know the students' mother tongue.
The greatest differences arise when students
are asked to approve particular uses of L1 in the classroom. Overall, the
higher the level of the student, the less they agree to the use of the
mother-tongue in the classroom. For example, with regard to the use of L1 to
explain grammar, beginners are significantly in favour (31%) and intermediate
and advanced are almost unanimously against (7% and 0%).
In conclusion, students seem sceptical about
the use of L1 in the classroom, particularly at higher levels. However, the
bilingual / bicultural teachers are in a position to enrich the process of
learning by using the mother tongue as a resource, and then, by using the L1
culture, they can facilitate the progress of their students towards the other
tongue, the other culture.
The use of the L1 when teaching L2, it is a
very important matter, however, there are other theories that teachers should
be aware, as the interlanguage issue: “Interlanguage is the type of language
produced by second- and foreign- language learners who are in the process of
learning a language. In language learning, learner’s errors are caused by
several different processes. These include:
a. borrowing patterns from the mother tongue
b. extending patterns from the target language
c. Expressing meanings using the words and grammar which are already known”
I Spanish student, for example, will something
such as: “I have the hair long”, or “I eated one apple yesterday”, or “I have 30 years old”
and personal experience:
As the majority of the spanish students, I
have been taught the English language through the Grammar Translation Method.
However, I learnt the language, by living in England for some years. Based on
my experience, I can expose both, advantages and disadvantages of the GTM, with some examples:
Advantage: in order to
learn the irregular verbs, I had to memorise by heart, a never ending list
which contained the verbs in alphabetical order, in present, past simple and
past participle: awake-awoke-awaken, drink-drank-drunk, etc. This is a hard
task, but, this information will remain in my head for the rest of my life.
pronunciation is unnatural and inaccurate. Every time I think of an irregular
verb, I read it with Spanish pronunciation, as I’ve never been taught how to
pronounce them properly, as I just had to write them in a paper.
My conclusion is, that it is positive in a way
to memorise grammar, words, or verbs, because it is useful for learning the
structure, but it is also negative because a student who has been taught with
this method, will not be able to pronounce properly without making a big effort.
Something similar happens when students have
to learn new words; I learnt words like “apple” by translating from Spanish,
and because this is an usual word it was easy to memorise. However, other words
not that usual, such as “brochure”, forced me to go, over and over again to the
dictionary, searching for the translation, as I was incapable to remember it
only by translating to the Spanish language. The conclusion is that, for some
levels, it may result useful translating from L1 to L2, nevertheless, when a
student learns a new word, in a context or inside of a scenario, it is much
easier to retain the word in your head.
I totally agree, with the students surveys
results that we have mentioned before, due to when a student is beginning to
learn a new language, he/she has not enough resources to understand the meaning
of many words, so the easiest way to do it, is by helping him/her, translating
from L1 to L2. In spite of this, I think, that this strategy should not be used
as a rule, but as a helper. As Atkinson suggested to use L1 for translation
only as a teaching technique, but without abusing.
- British Council BBC, 2009 www.teachingenglish.org.uk
- Atkinson, D. 1987. 'The mother-tongue in the
classroom : a neglected resource? (ELT Journal, 44/1 : 3-10)
Atkinson, D. 1993. Teaching Monolingual Classes (Longman)
- Richards, J.C. and T. S. Rogers.
1986. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. (Cambridge
- Ontestol, 2003 using the
mother tongue in the English language classroom
- 2012 TJ Taylor English
Language Teaching Methods and Techniques
- Richards, Jack C
et al. 1992. Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics. Second Edition. Essex: Longman Group UK