There seems to be political and ideological reasons rather than pedagogical reasons behind the challenging debate on L1 use. These ideological / political reasons date back to the Americanization movement in the 19th century. While this movement gave rise the spread of ESL instruction, ELT methodology advocated the use of English-only instruction, for example as in direct method, in contrast to the earlier ones in which the use of learners’ L1 had been allowed, as in Grammar-Translation (Celce-Murcia,1991; Auerbach,1993; and Richard & Rodgers, 1986).
With the World War I, the number of immigrants increased in America. This immigration movement made ESL instruction more important than ever because those immigrants were working at different jobs and expected to speak good English.This Americanization movement influenced ELT methods. For example; Direct Method, which put an emphasis on using English only with no L1 was allowed (Auerbach,1993).
L1 use in ELT methodology was not only affected by the Americanization movement but it was also affected by British policies. In the late 1950s and early1960s, English was regarded as a tool which helps the spreading colonies of Britain. Therefore, L1 use had no place in ELT. In a conference at Makare University, Uganda in 1961, an ELT expert mentioned that ;
“English is best taught monolingually. The ideal teacher of English is a native speaker. The earlier English is taught, the better are the results. The more English is taught, the better are the results. If other languages are used too much, standards of English will drop” (Phillipson, 1992.p.185).
So we conclude that spreading English was such a strong purpose in America and Britain that using L1 was excluded in ESL during Americanization movement.
However, researches in ELT showed that L1 can be a very important source. The belief that L1 use might play an important to improve the foreign language has received great attention in bilingual education (Collingham, 1988; and Piasecka,1988 ) lists the advantages of using learners’ L1 in ESL classrooms like:
- Valuing and building on the knowledge that learners already have and bring to the classroom.
- Raising the position of languages used by ethnic minorities in Britain, which in turn raises the self esteem of the speakers of those languages, making them more confident and effective learners.
- Raising language awareness.
- Learners already have some linguistic skills and knowledge; by thinking about their own and other languages, a class will learn more about language and languages in general.
This can speed up aspects of learning and increase learners’ tolerance of one another’s difficulties. Using learners’ first language improves English learning. Using L1 Reduces learner anxiety and increases confidence and motivation in the classroom. Gaining every learner, no matter how limited their knowledge of English.