The usage of l1 in teaching foreign language and translation
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009
Автор: Хакак А.Б.
If you don’t like people,
don’t become a teacher. You have to cherish your students and think well of them
as well as their own cultures.
James E. Alatis
Most members of the language teaching
profession realize that their students' learning potential increases when
attitudes are positive and motivation runs high. The research into the
connection between positive attitudes and successfully learning a second
language supports this simple observation, although it is important to
understand that many variables are involved because we are dealing with complex
social and psychological aspects of human behavior. For example, students'
ability to learn a second language can be influenced by their attitudes towards
the target language, the target language speakers and their culture, the social
value of learning the second language, and also the students' attitudes towards
themselves as members of their own culture. In addition, English as a Foreign
Language (EFL) teachers should recognize that all students possess positive and
negative attitudes in varying degrees, and that the negative ones can be
changed by thoughtful instructional methods, such as using materials and
activities that help students achieve an understanding and appreciation of the
This article will describe some of the
points about attitudes, motivation, and language learning; it will look at the
historical background of the topic about the significance of using and
influence of L1. The project utilized classroom action research, which is a useful
method with clearly defined stages to allow teachers to identify, investigate,
apply solutions to, and report on results and make recommendations about how to
improve teaching strategies and educational policy.
Attitudes and language learning
It is widely known that attitudes are
cognitive and affective; that is, they are related to thoughts as well as to
feelings and emotions. Attitudes govern how one approaches learning, which in
the case of language requires exposure to a different culture and also to the
difficult task of mastering a second language. Attitudes begin developing early
and are influenced by many things, including parents, peers, and interactions
with people who have social and cultural differences. Therefore, attitudes
"form a part of one's perception of self, of others, and of the culture in
which one is living".
It is well known that negative attitudes
towards the foreign language and group, which often comes from stereotypes and
superficial contact with the target culture, can obstruct the learning of that
language. Conversely, positive attitudes towards the foreign language and group
increase language learning success. When students with positive attitudes
experience success, the attitudes are reinforced, whereas students with
negative attitudes may fail to progress and become even more negative in their
language learning attitudes. Because attitudes can be modified by experience,
effective language teaching strategies can encourage students to be more positive
towards the language they are learning.
Attitudes and motivation
According to Gardner attitudes are a
component of motivation, which "refers to the combination of effort plus
desire to achieve the goal of learning plus favorable attitudes towards
learning the language." Deci and Ryan identify motivation as intrinsic or
extrinsic. Students are intrinsically motivated when they are interested in
learning tasks and outcomes for their own sake, and that results in internal
feelings of self-determination and competence. On the other hand, students are
extrinsically motivated if they carry out some actions to achieve some
instrumental end, such as earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. Whatever
motivates students, it seems clear that a positive attitude towards the target
language and group is important.
Two related types of motivation are
identified, which are called instrumental and integrative. Students with
instrumental motivation acquire a language for such reasons as to get a better
job, to read technical material, or to study in the country where the
language is spoken. Integrative motivation is held by students who want to join
with the culture of the second language group and become involved in social
interchange in that group.
Motivation is regarded "as a key component
of a model of language learning". Because of its importance to language
learning, there is growing interest in the creation of a motivation model that
can help develop methodological applications to improve the teaching and
learning of a second language. Spolsky presents several second language learner
case histories that illustrate the "complex motivational and identity,
patterns" among different individuals. Because language knowledge is so
dynamic and contextualized, Spolsky is distrustful of using questionnaires as
the sole method to collect data on motivation, and he stresses how important it
is to supplement them with observation, interviews, and focused conversations
to obtain "hard sociolinguistic data and personal statements of second
language learners". As with the research that finds a correlation between
positive attitudes and successful language learning it’s found that motivated
students have greater self-confidence in their second language, resulting in a
greater willingness to communicate. Although there is contrasting evidence as
to whether instrumental or integrative orientation is better, both types have
been shown to lead to successful language learning. What is clear is that
second language learners benefit from positive attitudes and that negative
attitudes may lead to decreased motivation and, in all likelihood because of
decreased input and interaction, to unsuccessful attainment of proficiency.
A classroom action research project
Classroom action research occurs when
teachers reflect critically about the teaching situation, identify learning or
instructional problems, and institute methods to solve them. The basic steps
include exploring and identifying a problem in the classroom, collecting data
and reflecting on the problem, thinking about something that will possibly fix
the problem, developing and instituting a plan of intervention, and reporting
on the final results. Classroom action research is productive because teachers
are so close to students on a daily basis, their own inquiry from their unique
perspectives can make an important contribution to knowledge about teaching and
learning. In addition to improving the current teaching situation, action
research can boost teachers' professional development, can be used for teacher
training, and can present to an institution evidence of the need for change.
Now, we’re going to talk about the main issue
of our article: the usage of L1 in the classroom activities. Throughout decades
of foreign language (L2) teaching, a recurring issue has been the role of the
first language (LI) in the classroom. A long-term and wide-ranging debate
persists regarding practical and theoretical questions about the significance
of the LI's obvious influence on the L2 being learned. Although many feel that
the LI should not be used in the classroom, other researchers, teachers, and
learners do see a role for the LI and support its use as a communication
strategy and instructional tool. A specific explanation will be given about the
benefits of using translation for assessing reading comprehension, one of which
is the collection of language items for test development.
Historical use of the LI in L2 instruction
For more than a century, most approaches to
L2 instruction recognized the Ll's role in L2 language pedagogy, but most methods
dictated that it should be prohibited in the classroom. Only the Grammar
Translation Method of the early 20th century fully embraced the use of the LI
in the L2 classroom; in addition to the intense study of vocabulary and
grammatical rules, this method required the laborious translation of L2 texts
into the LI. Eventually, this method was challenged for doing “virtually
nothing to enhance a student's communicative ability in the language” (Brown).
Subsequent methods that appeared around the mid-20th century obligated the near
total use of the L2 to teach the L2, including the influential Audiolingual
Method, which took its cue from behaviorism and treated LI interference errors
(also called negative language transfer) as bad habits that were to be
eradicated though drills, memorization, and a strict limitation on the use of
the L1. The procedure of contrastive analysis was employed to identify the Ll
structures that interfered with L2 production so that errors could be
eliminated through practice.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, new
approaches to language learning also considered the use of the Ll as
undesirable. When cognitive psychology theorized that people acquire their L2
in a manner similar to the way they acquired their LI as a child, new approaches
were developed that proposed a L2 learning environment complete with social and
communicative aspects of language use. The Ll was rarely used in these methods.
Language learners and interlanguage
As research continued, the contrastive
analysis position offered more sophisticated descriptions of the connections
between the Ll and the L2 and what it meant for language learners developing
their communication skills. Studies indicated that in addition to negative
language transfer, positive transfer between the Ll and L2 was also important,
suggesting that L2 learners could benefit from being exposed to the structural
similarities of both languages. Research also showed that aspects of the L2
itself could explain many errors, such as when a learner over generalizes L2
forms, a regular process that happens with most developing English speakers
when they apply a regular conjugation to an irregular verb (e.g., "He
These research results softened the absolute
contrastive analysis position and led to a broader study of error analysis. At
this point even avoidance errors were described; these are errors a learner
makes when avoiding a difficult L2 sound, word, or grammatical feature, thereby
masking a lack of proficiency. A new term—interlanguage—was coined to define
the complex developing system of the learners' L2 that was influenced by
positive and negative transfer from the L1, in conjunction with their
developing knowledge of the L2 itself.
An eclectic approach
By the end of the 1980s, teachers began to
borrow elements from various methods to develop an eclectic approach to
language learning. Many of these elements come together in Communicative
Language Teaching, an approach that incorporates effective L2 communication,
meaningful activities, and high motivation achieved through attention to
learners' needs and preferences.
Many teachers recognize that the Ll in the
classroom is a positive representation of interlingua; additionally, they know
it is often a student preference because the natural desire to communicate
impels learners to use their Ll to fill in gaps in communication, a strategy
that successfully moves their acquisition of the L2 forward. Nevertheless, many
in the language teaching community still have reservations about using the Ll
in the L2 classroom, objecting to it on the grounds that it limits exposure to
the target language, and keeps students thinking in their LI. However, as the
data on interlanguage and language transfer show, it is highly probable that L2
learners will always think most often in their L1, even at the advanced level.
Today the taboo against using the Ll in the
classroom is breaking down, as it is recognized that some learners use the L1,
as a communication strategy to successfully learn and use the L2.
Current use of the Ll in the L2 classroom
L2 pedagogy has advanced beyond the days
when students were passive participants and teachers the sole directors of the
language learning process. Teaching methods today consider materials and
activities that are relevant to students and take their needs and learning
styles into account in order to achieve higher motivation. Therefore, regarding
the use of the Ll in the L2 classroom, it is important to find out how students
themselves feel about it. Our teachers conducted research into this question
and found that most students from two English classes felt that the Ll should
be used in the classroom, while all 4 of the teachers reported using the Ll in
class on limited occasions. Both students and teachers chose "Explaining
difficult concepts" as the main reason to use the Ll. Other instances
when the use of the Ll may be useful include:
1) explaining the meanings of unfamiliar
words and expressions,
2) clearing up difficult grammatical issues,
3) teaching pronunciation,
4) explaining reading strategies,
5) giving instructions for tasks.
These examples reveal the L1's potential to
strengthen L2 acquisition by making it more meaningful and communicative. For example,
definition of a word or an explanation of task that is given in the LI might be
more effective than a L2 definition or explanation, reducing the waste of
precious class time and ensuring that everyone understands, especially
Periodically, a problem arises when a
student is not able to formulate an answer in the L2. To solve this problem
it’s suggested that teachers should accept answers in the LI. In my own
classes, I have observed many cases of code-switching when I asked students to
give short answers orally, and I have also observed that students performed
better when they were asked to use their L1 to summarize a L2 text. Because so
many learners successfully use the Ll to avoid communication breakdowns, we
would do well to remember that the first language can be a facilitating factor
and not just an interfering factor.
Translation in the L2 classroom
A special classroom use of the Ll is the
translation of L2 texts into the LI, a procedure that has been neglected,
possibly because of its association with the old Grammar Translation Method.
However, current research reveals that today's translation activities have
little to do with the previous method, which occurred in a non-interactive
teacher-centered classroom with few activities aside from the translation of
difficult, non-relevant, and often boring texts.
Indicating the lack of correspondence
between LI and L2 forms can enhance understanding of the language being
learned. It is a natural linguistic phenomenon for a learner to display
positive and negative language transfer of the LI through interlanguage, and
translation offers one way to highlight these similarities and differences.
Translation can also be used as a productive
means to learn new L2 vocabulary. And translation can draw the teacher's attention
to the words and structures that need to be practiced. For something different,
translation from L1 TO L2 is used as a guided writing exercise for beginners,
using process approach activities such as writing practice, dictionary work,
and peer-correction opportunities. There are many other activities to use with
translation that successfully raise consciousness about the L2. As with other
theoretically sound methods, the following principles support the use of
translation for L2 acquisition:
Translation uses authentic materials.
Students respond to relevant materials from the real world, and with
translation teachers have an opportunity to select the most appropriate types
Translation is interactive. Translation
does not have to be a solitary activity. It can promote communication through
classroom discussions with the teacher and among students through group work
and peer correction.
Translation is learner-centered. The
learner-centered classroom is essential to effective teaching. Motivated
students have input into the selection of materials and the design of
activities. The teacher allows for questions and feedback as students negotiate
the meaning of language.
Translation promotes learner autonomy.
Translation can motivate students as they gain an understanding of the
particulars of the L2, including different communication and learning
strategies. They also discover their own learning styles and become adept at
using dictionaries and electronic resources. All of this instills confidence in
their own abilities and, most importantly, provides them with skills they can
use outside of the classroom. For these reasons and more, translation is now
considered an acceptable procedure for the Communicative Approach to language
Important guidelines for using translation
The following guidelines are important for
teachers who plan to use translation in the classroom:
Understand that multilingual classrooms are
not ideal. Translation is most sufficient when the whole class speaks the same
language. In a multilingual classroom with many different native languages, the
teacher may have a case for not using translation.
Plan for revision. Students will often make
mistakes when writing in their LI, and to be sure it is an LI mistake, it is
imperative that they revise their translations carefully to give them the
chance to correct any mistakes that are not actually attributable to
Learn error analysis. As is clear from the
study of interlanguage, errors can derive from negative language transfer, the
L2, avoidance, and other sources. Since there is a risk of misidentifying
errors, teachers should become familiar with the field.
Limit error correction. Too much concentration
on errors may have a negative effect on learners' motivation. Teachers must remember
to acknowledge what students get correct.
Use translation judiciously. Translation
should be just one part of a teacher's methodological list. For reading
comprehension assessment, translation should be combined with multiple-choice,
true/false, short answer, and other test techniques. Other reading strategies
should also be included, especially scanning a text for specific details and
skimming for main ideas, which are essential skills for students who will study
overseas, where they will be expected to read extensively in very limited
periods of time.
Give positive backwash. It is essential to
strive for positive backwash in all testing, which occurs when students are
given appropriate and well-explained tasks for their age, level, and interests,
and when they are able to use the testing results to increase their understanding
of the target language. Reading comprehension questions, regardless of their type,
should be carefully developed and used for teaching as well as testing.
L2 learners customarily rely on their Ll,
especially in acquisition-poor environments where exposure to the L2 is
confined to a few hours per week of formal classroom instruction. For many
teachers and students, the use of L1 is a learning and communication strategy
that can be used in the classroom for various purposes, such as to explain
difficult concepts. I support L2 to Ll written translation in particular not
only because of its benefits as a post-reading task, but also because the incorrect
translations can be back-translated into the L2 and used as a source of
information to be fed into other testing techniques. Translation is also useful
because it draws the students' attention to the entire reading passage at the
word, sentence, and text level. Because translation does not require students
to respond in the L2, it focuses on comprehension, the skill it purports to
Although correcting students' translations
is time-consuming, the task is worth doing because translation gives a
representation of the students' comprehension ability and inter-language
development. If texts are selected carefully so that the difficulty levels are
appropriate for the target age and language level, if the procedure is used in
moderation and with other techniques, and if attention is given to positive
backwash and the development of autonomy, translation takes its place alongside
other theoretically sound methods of language teaching.
In conclusion I want to tell that it’s simply
a historical fact that English now is lingua franca and widely used for
communication. It belongs to all of us who use it to communicate with one
another, whether we teach it, learn it, or just use it for practical reasons.
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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009