Situational Responses

By Mr Mustapha Louznadji
Inspector of National Education

The Monolingual and the Bilingual Approach

       The use of the mother tongue in EFL classes is debatable in the foreign language classroom. Advocates of the monolingual approach suggest that the target language should be the only medium of communication, believing that the prohibition of the native language would maximize the effectiveness of learning the target language. However, some teachers believe that the use of the mother tongue can be helpful in learning new vocabulary items and explaining complex idea and grammar rules. They contend that teachers who master the students native language have far more advantages over the ones who don’t.

      The Monolingual Approach teachers believe that L1 use in EFL classes must be discouraged because of many reasons.

  • Use of L1 may become a habit that both learners and teachers may resort to whenever a difficulty is encountered.
  • L1 may be sometimes misleading when learning the target language. In spite of the existence of universals governing language systems, languages differ more or less.
  • When using L1 to teach EFL students, errors may emerge due to the L1 transfer. For examples, The Arab learners may also encounter difficulties related to the syntactic structures of sentences. In Arabic, the sentence structure is V-S-O while English sentences are built following the S-V-O structure. Arabic and English also differ morphologically. The morphology in Arabic is non-linear while in English it is linear.

          Another group of teachers who are more concerned with the Bilingual Approach who believe that the mother tongue in EFL class is as “ a door that has been firmly shut in language teaching for over a hundred years.”

      When students come to the classroom they don’t come out of the blue; they come “loaded” with their native language and a cultural heritage that nobody must deny or underestimate. EFL teachers working with monolingual students at lower levels of English proficiency find prohibition of the mother tongue to be practically impossible. So instead of looking at the student’s native language and cultural background as inferior or a source of errors, they must be used as a tool to maximize foreign language learning.  It’s worth noting that the use of L1 in EFL classes is just a “rehabilitation” of those “students who were forced to smuggle their bilingual dictionaries into classrooms and hide them under the table.”  The mother tongue represents a powerful resource that can be used in a number of ways to enhance learning but it must always be used in a principled way...

Extracts from the ‘Using of the Mother Tongue’ book of

       Sheelagh Deller and Mario Rinvolucri