Thursday, March 17, 2016

L1 is IN!


Throughout the decades of formal EFL teaching, approaches have changed to try to best suit student’s needs. Many schools, have adopted Communicative approaches as their method and have, therefore, relied on L2 exclusive environments. Casa Thomas Jefferson has fit this profile for a long time and it has been working quite well. Nevertheless, approaches are always being adapted, and our Communicative approach is no exception. The change I will address relates specifically to the use of L1 in the classroom. Since it has been accepted that teachers resort to L1 in Communicative teaching, many people have dedicated time to think about the pros and cons of this change. This essay aims at that exactly: what teachers should be aware of when using L1 in Communicative EFL classrooms.

The first fear many teachers may have is of weakening their Communicative approach and maybe even transforming their classes into translation-based ones. The use of L1 in the classroom does not mean that the approach to teaching is changing completely, it means that it is adapting. However, their fear is not completely wrong, it is a good sign that they must be aware of how and when to use translation in class. Its use must be effective, for example, in a speaking class, if a student says something another student does not understand, it is fine to translate, for the purpose is to communicate, and you do not want to break the conversation with long explanations over one word. Also, if a student is asking about vocabulary that is not in his or her level, it is easier to translate than to explain something so out of reach. Besides situations in which we must judge if translating is suitable (which are countless), we can always teach them how to use translation effectively.

Teaching students how to use certain tools, such as translation, is very effective, for it is empowering. Students should be encouraged to take responsibility for their learning process, as well as teachers should take responsibility in leading the way and teaching students how to use their strategies to enhance learning. I personally always like to teach students how to use dictionaries (L1/L2 as well as L2/L2) and mobile apps in class, so that they can continue using them as they step out of my classroom. Moreover, not only external tools can be taught to them students have a lot of prior knowledge that we should always try to access. Such prior knowledge relates not only to L2, but to L1 as well. We can teach them strategies on how to identify cognates and false cognates, for example. Involving students in the learning process that will benefit them is not just fair and good, it is necessary.

In the path of involving and empowering students, we should never underestimate them. Talking to students about when it is appropriate to use L1 or not is how we can set the tone of our classes. Also, explaining to students why we used L1 to explain a word, a structure or a concept to them is important, for it makes them aware of how and when they can use L1 themselves, or even ask you to use it. This culture of appropriateness when it comes to L1 will not be established in one class, but when it does, it will certainly be effective.

In summary, it is pretty clear that I advocate for the use of L1 in EFL classrooms, even so, I understand that it is not a simple and easy task. Teachers must be aware of how and when to use L1, making decisions that make sense having in mind the students’ learning process success. With time, I believe we will develop automaticity when making decisions about the use of L1 in EFL classrooms.