I do speak L1, sometimes.
“When?” you might ask.
I rarely use L1 when giving directions for a learning activity or game.
Although L1 IS a form of input that foreign language teachers can use to help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2, I prefer to use L1 only in the following situations:
1- When students forget what we’re doing.
One time I was pretending that I couldn’t find one of the 3rd graders in my class. In the target language I would teasingly say, “Where is Monica? Where is Monica? Where is she?!” The students would get excited and want to tell me where she was. I would give them the L2 words to say, “THERE she is!!” or, “she’s RIGHT THERE!”
After repeating this interaction 2 or 3 times, I heard a student say (almost under her breath), “Okay. Let’s start learning now.” Her tone of voice implied that she thought we were merely wasting our time with silly games.
The student forgot that what we were doing was more than just games. She forgot that everything I do, in class, is full of purpose. I’m not just teasing. I’m speaking only L2…and having fun doing it! I’m using situational input* and gesticulated input*. I’m pairing* these forms of extralinguistic input with brand new L2 vocabulary. I’m helping students acquire bits of L2 without even realizing that it’s happening!
In moments like these, when a student forgets the point of what we’re doing in L2 class, I may pause instruction in the target language to say a few sentences in L1. (…especially when I get the sense that doing so will increase everyone’s motivation to stay on task.)
Generally I’ll say things like:
- “I’m making this really easy for you! Some classes are hard work. Some classes require you to memorize lots of things (vocabulary, math facts, etc.) Not here. In a way, L2 class is like T.V.: all you have to do is watch. If you are watching me you will be learning L2. The moment you stop paying attention…you won’t know what’s going on. I don’t ask much of you. But I do ask this: watch, watch, watch!”
- “Everything I do is on purpose! Even when I make you laugh. Even when I take attendance. Even when I ask someone to close the door or turn off the lights. It’s all on purpose. If you are watching, you’ll have hundreds of chances, during every L2 class, to learn L2.”
- “You have a job to do! Your job is to watch. When you’re watching me, you’ll be learning. Sometimes I do silly things. But it DOESN’T mean that L2 class is silly time. L2 class is LEARN TIME. I have a job while you’re in here and YOU have a job while you’re in here. There’s lots of other times for being too silly. There’s lots of other times for talking with friends. Right now, let’s ALL do our job.”
As soon as the students are back “on-board” with what I’m trying to accomplish, I switch back into L2.
2- On an “As-Needed” basis for new students.
Every week or two a new student will transfer into our school. Most of the time the new student is fine and doesn’t need any L1 orientation from me. However, if a student is particularly intimidated by my L2 immersion setting, I will speak a few/phrases of L1 while the rest of the class is occupied with something else.
They might be phrases of orientation like:
- “You’ll do great in this class. All you have to do is watch.”
- “If you’re not sure what to do, just watch the other students. Do what they do.”
- “We’re in the middle of this activity. You’ll do a great job. All you have to do is ____.”
At other times they might be phrases I use to endear the student to me:
- “Wow. You seem like a really great student.”
- “I can tell you’re really getting this.”
- “Hi. Welcome to L2 class. Is this your first day here? Do you have any brothers or sisters that came to this school with you?”
- “If you ever see me in the lunchroom or out on the playground, and you need something, just let me know. I can help you if you ever need any help.”
3- To teach 1st year students one or two of my routines.
My 1st year students are kindergarteners. We would have a hard time making it through 40 minutes of 100% L2 instruction (on the first day of class) without a little bit of orientation in L1. So I typically take the first half of the first class to:
- introduce myself,
- go over a few rules,
- teach them our first two routines,
- and introduce my system for increasing student motivation to stay in the target language.
After that, we are able to spend the rest of the school year staying in the target language. It’s a lot easier to stay in the target language than I thought it would be before I first started.
*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice. The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.
The conversation is just beginning.
Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:
- …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
- …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
- …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
- …making input comprehensible.
- …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
- …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
- …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
- …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.
Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!