I had a big debate about the use of the mother tongue in EFL classes. It happened during the ‘Back to School’ meeting on September 19th, 2010. The participants were divided into two groups. One group played the role of students and the other, the role of teachers. The conclusion I draw from the constructive debate is that many teachers use Arabic and/or French in English classes, and this indicates that they have positive attitudes towards employing Arabic. Teachers highlighted the importance of L1 in their classes, however, their use of Arabic appeared to be limited as they were aware that the excessive use of Arabic may hinder learning English.
Similar to the teachers’ attitudes, the students’ attitudes towards using Arabic in the classroom were generally positive. According their feedback, 95% of the students were in favour of their teacher’s use of Arabic. They revealed that they can understand better and feel more self-confident. However, some of them showed that the students should avoid the over-use of Arabic, except for doing pair or group work. For instance, a very small number of students thought that using Arabic might prevent them from learning English. Moreover, they preferred to use it only when necessary. I personally think that the limited use of L1 is a sign of a positive attitude both from teachers and students. I felt even satisfaction to see no real rejection of the mother tongue (L1) use in EFL classes.
According to most teachers, they might use Arabic to clarify difficult items for weak learners, so that they do not lag behind their peers. Most of them think that L1 use reduces anxiety, increases motivation and helps low level learners feel confident when learning a foreign language.
According to students (teachers playing the role of students), L1 use is a necessity to encourage them to learn a foreign language, but its overuse should be avoided in the classroom to increase their language learning practices. I was a bit surprised to see that student’ attitudes towards L1 use is in line with the one of teachers. I was not expecting this L1 use adoption from teachers who have been using the ENGLISH-ONLY approach for years.
The constructive discussion revealed that L1 could be used in explaining key or abstract words. Translating abstract words has proved to be effective in gaining time and giving the right equivalent in L1. Some other teachers recommended using L1 to teach grammar or to show the comparison between the English and Arabic grammatical pattern. Another recommendation agreed on by most of participants is the translation of instructions to ensure understanding and avoid confusion.
I was very pleased to see the positive reaction of teachers towards L1 use, however, clear guidance on how to use L1 should be provided by planners and educators to make sure that teachers are using translation effectively.
I may add that a rational and judicious use of L1 in EFL classes can only be advantageous. L1 use must be tuned up with effective target language teaching, taking into consideration learner’s mother tongue and cultural background and using them to the best of their interest…
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