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The Utilisation of L1 in L2 Language Classroom

Recently, teachers of second language (L2) have been reluctant to use other languages, especially the ‘mother tongue’, ‘native language’, or first language (L1), other than the target language in their classroom. The concept of monolingual instructions and practice may dominate modern-day classrooms where the teachers want to maximise their students’ exposure to the target language. As a result, students have been pushed with incomprehensible instructions that sometimes have detrimental outcomes on their learning and relationships with the teachers and others, as well as the learner’s morale in school. According to Allard, Apt, and Sacks (2019), the utilisation of the monologue principle results promotes the concept of linguistic imperialism, where learners using a foreign language (L1) are restricted from using the target language (L2). Such negative assumptions favour utilisation of L1 in L2 classes’ practice and the use of L1 by teachers in correcting oral errors among their students.

Nonetheless, the belief that the best way to teach learners the target language is by using L1 is now debatable, which means the role of L1 in L2 classes has been constantly evaluated to determine the best pedagogical approach. For instance, Morahan (2010) states that following the TESOL standards, the appropriateness of ESL or EFL learners utilising their L1 in the classroom has been questioned, and a new assumption has been brought forth that overusing the first language in L1 classes minimises the intended language input and output, while sensible use results in improved learning. Using L1 in L2 classes is an essential theoretical question for educational practitioners and pedagogical research. This assignment evaluates the utilisation of the first language in L2 classroom practice and the correction of language errors. Specifically, the essay reviews the literature on the role of the first language in L2 classrooms, its functions in guiding teachers in correcting oral errors in the target language, and the arguments based on the variables affecting competency in the acquisition and use of the target language.

Much evidence is available on the appropriateness of using L1 in L2 classes. Scholars have tried proving the relationship between first language utilisation in L2 classes and improved learning or the contrary while applying second language acquisition theories (Allard, Apt, and Sacks, 2019). Cook (2001) states that towards the end of the 19th century, many theoretical works regarding language instruction are open to the using novel language or first language in an L2 classroom setting. The L1 should promote intellectual development where learners can use it in making interpretations and comparisons and increase participation in the classroom. However, according to Tang (2002), the best approach to second language learning is immense exposure to the language where L1 utilisation is restricted to increase the opportunity for linguistic practice.

On the other hand, Ellis and Shintani (2014) state that instructors utilise the first language in L2 classes to lessen learner anxiety. There are varying arguments for using L1 in L2 classrooms, indicating the need for compounded analysis of its appropriateness in modern classrooms where language diversity characterises the learner population. However, the available literature does not offer a simplified version of understanding the concerns about why teachers should utilise L1 in L2 classrooms, its impact on teachers and learners, and how L1 should be used in L2 classes and correction of oral errors in L2 classes in an attempt to foster the learning of the target language.

Theoretical perspectives: L1 in L2 application

This section explores what SLA research indicates on using L1 in L2 classes and its use by teachers in correcting oral errors.

Why instructors utilise L1 in L2 classroom teaching practice

L2 helps push learners to understand instruction in second language classes. In most cases, instructors utilise the first language in starting and immediate classes to explain compound grammar points, compound concepts, and word meanings, remembering to give instructions in L2 classes (Carson and Kashihara, 2012). Predominantly, educators find that utilising a first language provides more time for practising a second language since comprehension is attained more promptly. The crucial aspect of first-language utilisation is that teachers use it to explain things after learners fail to understand concepts in second-language or to stress important points in practice. Tang (2002) states that the significant concept is that the first language has an enabling and supportive responsibility in the classroom, but it is not the primary communication language. Hence, the L2 language still dominates the L1 since it is not the target language but L1 supplements inadequacies faced by L2 language learners in the classroom.

Moreover, L1 could enhance linguistic translation accurateness since the learners know the variations and resemblances between linguistic structures and culture language. Furthermore, Cook (2003) describes that getting correspondences and cognates between L1 and L2 dialects adds to the learners’ thoughts’ interlinked first and second-language knowledge. Hence, teachers can use L1 in L2 classes to assist learners in comprehending classroom teaching, allow them to make accurate interpretations, and increase their knowledge in both languages.

In addition, available classroom management policies allow teachers to use L1 in L2 classes to maximise learning benefits. While national Policies pertaining to the first and second language application in the classroom started with the direct approach, they have progressed together with social-political advancements where all students, irrespective of their language, have access to education in L2 class (Carson and Kashihara, 2012). The initial language policy in education was monolingual, but today schools must develop and implement strategies to support minority languages for equal access to educational opportunities. For instance, in the U.K. classes where students learn English is the preferred second, minorities are valued as translators are often used in classes and examinations. However, in countries like Japan, monolingual teaching policies have been applied to maximising learner introduction to second language learning and its significance, remembering to push learners with an unconceivable contribution (Stephens, 2006). Contrary, Yonesaka (2005) states that, regrettably, L1 supports an asymmetrical educator-learner relation and linguistic imperialism blows. Even though there are powerful arguments regarding why the first language should not be utilised in second-language classrooms, many studies have favored it. An example of how failing to incorporate the first language in L2 classes could affect the learners is when most Japanese learners take obligatory English units.

Regarding such learners, utilising the second language wholly in classes might reduce morale and impetus and open the door for condemnation, alienation, and rejection of emotions. Usually, such mindsets are evident in ESL immigrants in a second-language culture. Nonetheless, policies supporting L1 use in L2 classes are appropriate and necessary to maximise learner outcomes and promote an inclusive learning environment for all students.

As a necessity, using L1 promotes student participation in the classroom but could, at the same time, cause teacher-student conflict. According to Norman (2008), the first language could be utilised in the second language classroom to lessen affective filters. In most cases, the learners tend to be reluctant, inattentive, and unresponsive toward communicating in monolingual classrooms. As Meyer (2008) states, the reason for failing to speak is that the learners are terrified of embarrassment when they are required to speak a second language in which they are less proficient. Moreover, in case the learners want their instructors to utilise the first language, but the instructor is not responsive to the requirement or does not understand it, this could result in a sad classroom encounter for all the learners (Carson and Kashihara, 2012). Perhaps, L1 is effectively used in L2 classes if the teacher or educators are multilingual, and this aspect could cause conflicts with the practitioners since it could alter the requirements for the profession. However, utilizing L1 in L2 classes could help the learners improve cognitive modifications in the learning process. Therefore, national and institutional policies should consider applying L1 through different approaches, including hiring translators. When tutors are conversant with the first and the second language, they can realise, forestall and correct the first language assumptions by comparing both dialects. Nonetheless, Yonesaka and Metoki (2007) state that the success of using L1 in L2 classes can be determined by aspects like the teaching processes utilised in class, materials, language type, and objectives. Therefore, teachers should understand how to incorporate L1 in L2 classes to ensure improved learning outcomes.

Arguments for the use of L1 in L2 classrooms

The application of L1 in L2 classrooms indicates that the L1 language is a great intellectual instrument for assisting learners in discovering knowledge (Wang, 2022). In simple terms, the first language is the most effective in-between tool that learners hold to assist them in discovering L2 knowledge. Cook (2001) posits that learners could use their first language to communicate in the classroom to express information and convey their identities, feelings, and thoughts. Following Vygoski’s cognitive and sociocultural model, learners could study the language using their first language to create dialectical connections with instructors and peers (Vygotsky, 1980). The model substantially affects cognitive advancement when learners study a novel language. According to Vygotsky (1980), students could learn something on two levels; the initial one lies in classroom collaboration, whereby learners assimilate the information they have acquired into their individual psychological systems, and the other level pertains to the proximal development zone. The zone of proximal development is a space that gives people the capacity to conduct cognitive preparation and examination with the assistance of other persons. Indeed, learners could utilise their first language as a scaffold in the Zone of Proximal Development to aid them in comprehending and discovering the L2 meaning, which facilitates second language learning to some degree.

Contrary to the conventional adverse transmission that limits the use of L1 in L2 classes, several studies have shown that the learners’ first language is essentially a resource for studying the second language (Wang, 2022). Lightbown and Spada (1999) conducted an investigation in which they revealed that several educationists are convinced that learners will utilise their first language awareness in decrypting the intended dialect. This means learners often use their first language to translate L2 into a form they can easily comprehend. Cook (2003) suggested that language tends to have an exceptional type of aptitude, and it is the student’s right to decide if they want to utilise their first language. Because the first language and second language comprehension are based on the student’s mind, they can manipulate each other; the students are at will to decide which language to use in their frame of mind irrespective of the restrictions on L1 use. Accordingly, because multilingual and bilinguals have the aptitude to switch codes between dialects, they can apply diverse languages to improve their learning. As stated by Moreover, Cenoz and Gorter (2008) state that the collaboration between L1 and L2 competency heir competencies in diverse languages could constitute linguistic repertoire.

L1 in L2 classrooms allows learners to express themselves and effectively critique information. Cook (2001) states that instructors should utilise the first language to help the students convey their thoughts more efficiently and clearly. Additionally, Moore (2013) states that the utilisation of the first language could surge the learners’ association in the L2 classroom, and this is linked to the social cognitive intercession of the instructing inter-subjectivity, responsibility, and interactive construction of private and internal dialogue. The systems have a significant function in the utilisation of the first language in L2 classes. Following Moore’s (2013) declarations, the first language has to be present second language learning course. Essentially, learners will always unconsciously apply their first language in the internal and private dialectal. For instance, when the students are working on a collaborative assignment, and the team members have identical first languages, and as such, they involuntarily utilise the language in communicating. Consequently, the learners’ inspiration will increase more eagerness to associate with other learners. To a given extent, this will also save class time and facilitate efficient learning in the L2 classes.

Moreover, other studies show that applying the learners’ first language could encourage learning motivation and lessen language anxiety. The second language learning difficulties impact the foreign language (L1) learners’ emotions and reduce their learning aspirations. When the learners’ second language acquisition becomes extremely challenging, they become confused, and the confusion increases the learners’ resistance, indignant, and frustration towards studying the target language (Wang, 2022). According to Meyer (2008), learners ought to comprehend the target language learning objectives and goals, and using the first language facilitates comprehension. Additionally, applying the student’s first language minimizes the emotional filters and enhances the learners’ understanding of the classroom setting. Brown (2000) states that adverse societal assessment and language anxiety could impact students’ affective filtering in the second learning classes. However, applying the learners’ first language could lessen the language anxiety features. Encouraging the use of the first language in second language learning classes enables opinion expression, lessens the communication barriers and anxiety, and stimulates more direct communication, which minimises the students’ fear of negative social assessments and produces a positive social imprint.

Arguments against the use of L1 in L2 classrooms use

Essentially, while the advocates for using L1 in L2 classrooms claim that first-language utilisation could encourage second-language learning, this approach is inherent risks that could limit the educational outcomes. Though it is generally accepted that there is a need for judicious use of L1 in L2 classes, Turnbull (2001) asserts that there exists a risk of educators overusing the first language and, therefore, placing the learners at a disadvantage through the provision of fewer second language-in-put and scarcer learning chances. Previous research discovered a negative correlation between regular first-language application and second-language learning expertise (Butzkamm and Caldwell, 2009; Wang, 2022). Consequently, second language instructors ought to make cognisant choices regarding the circumstances in which they apply the first language in L2 classrooms and the reasons for turning to the first language (Wang, 2022). McMillan and Rivers (2011) state that the utilisation of the first language in the L2 classroom is dependent on aspects such as the convictions and expertise of the educators.

Additionally, the instructor’s insights regarding the students’ necessities and counting the learners’ second language skills affect the application of first or second languages. Moreover, educators whose major is not L2 may utilise the second language less often and have insecure emotions in utilising the L2, and their L2 expertise is lower (Wang, 2022). Therefore, if the educator needs to gain competency in L1 or value L1, language cannot be used in the classes, thus disadvantaging learners, especially in their introduction to L2.

Other studies also show that L1 may limit the participation and practice of L2. Lightbown and Spada (2013) state that second language acquisition is supposed to maximise input in class, so the first language should not be permitted in second language classes. Hence, if allowed, L1 could reduce practice for L2 deliberately since learners would have the option to use L1, which they are competent. Accordingly, disregarding the utilisation of the first language in second-language learning classrooms shows the need for learners to be maximally exposed to L2 (Wang, 2022). Thus, utilisation of L1 in second language learning is not fully endorsed since it minimises the L2 exposure leading to unintended learning outcomes. The conviction behind the assertion is that the educator-learner interrelation, like dialogue, tends to be the key to acquiring a second language.

Guiding teachers on correction of oral errors

Common errors are associated with using a first language when studying a second language. Naturally, the first language adverse transfer might occur in two similar structurally varying dialects, thus bringing up mistakes and challenges for second language scholars (Richards and Rodgers, 2001). This means oral interpretations of L2 using L1 are prone to errors due to differences in language structures and meaning, which could hinder the effective learning of L2. Therefore, language transfer and translations may affect the intended meaning in L2. Hence, there is a need for guidance for teachers when using LI to correct oral mistakes in L2.

In numerous variables, several investigations have realised errors in the transmission of L2 using L1. An example of the adverse transfer of L2 using L1 is evident in the translation of the English language into the Chinese language. According to Rintell (1984), Chinese English students encounter adverse transfer regarding phonetic facets. Indeed, Chinese and English are two varying language categories as far as phonetics is concerned. Principally, Chinese tends to be a tone dialect, and the Pinyin of every Chinese character carries its own personal tone, and in recognising the meaning, the individual tone is necessary.

On the other hand, English tends to be an intonation language constituting varying intonation and syllables. Nevertheless, some Chinese learners will utilise their Chinese Pinyin in deciding the phonetic pronunciation or transcription of terms. However, some English morphemes need to be present in Chinese, which causes Chinese students to utter several sub-standard or inappropriate words. Moreover, the negative transfer is reproduced in the syntactic elements. According to a study conducted by Li (2002), the findings show that syntactic variation in the first language and second language, for instance, expression, sentence construction, and word sequence, results in negative transmission. For instance, the locations of some sentience elements in the Chinese and English sentence structure tend to vary, and there is a high probability of learners making errors during code-switching between their first and second languages. If the instructor cannot concentrate on the adverse transfer of the first language to learners in L2 classes, and oral mistakes made are not realised on time, it could be challenging for learners to correct the erroneous cognition or pronunciation in the future, thus obstructing the learning of novel information.

Accordingly, learners might excessively depend on the instructor’s interpretation when an instructor utilizes less first language. Following Rolin-Ianziti and Varshney (2008), first-language utilisation is not endorsed in second-language learning classrooms since extreme application could result in learners’ focus on L1, causing cognitive reliance on the first language. Additionally, some instructors and learners are convinced that applying the first dialect in correcting oral errors made in L2 will result in overdoing problems, counting, and reducing the learners’ acquaintance with the intended language, not forgetting that dependency on the first language will be evident. As such, Rolin-Ianziti and Varshney (2008) concluded that the utilisation of the first language in L2 lessons should be forbidden or rather abridged, and the learners’ interaction with the second language should be augmented. Consequently, the learners’ attention will be on the second language, thus enhancing their learning competence and less reliance on L1.

Educator and learner implications on the use of L1 in L2 classes

Several studies have presented some propositions for TESOL instructors and learners regarding how to apply their initial dialect cleverly to enhance second language acquisition and instruction (Wang, 2022). The instructors should always contemplate the teaching background when considering the application of the first language in second language instruction. Several issues impact the tutor’s attitude towards first language application and the quantity of the language used. Such aspects comprise course objectives, student aptitude, the teaching setting, and learner attitude towards first language utilisation. According to Wang (2002), the classroom is a multilingual social setting where learners and educators can successfully utilise the student’s first language and target language with training and creativity.

Additionally, Kim et al. (2016) state that the course design is crucial since it is the requirement for a great reading class since learners’ engagement tends to be the key to learning inspiration. The instructor is responsible for designing the curriculum and introducing the text context. Learners not engrossed in class texts will find engaging in the class challenging, not forgetting that their studying competence will become very small. In sustaining the learners’ inspiration to learn a second language, instructors must commence with the content of reading materials and apply suitable strategies when designing the courses. An example is where the instructor utilises a textbook comprising a given amount of first language durmast language learning. In addition, for successful methods, the instructors must reflect on applying the first language during instruction. Typically, the instructors must assess learners’ exercises and successful techniques to guarantee that the first language is appropriately applied in second language learning. Examples include peer observations, classroom recordings, assessment of learning upshots, learner performance, and learner feedback. If a strategy seemingly works, but a given learner needs to demonstrate advancement and growth through the method, the educator is accountable for finding the most suitable approach to correct oral mistakes made in L2.

Learners are responsible for broad comprehension of their second language at a high level. Understanding L2 will help them recognise how to utilise their L1 by comprehending their English erudition, but using L1 in correcting oral errors in L2 can negatively affect language proficiency. Several approaches can be used to comprehend the English level, constituting TOEFL, IELTS, and others (Wang, 2022). Additionally, according to Wang (2022), by comparing their second language proficiency level with oral errors made, the learners will be able to consider L2 proficiency acquirement appropriate and necessary for practice. Moreover, learners can choose valuable tactics and tools to help with second language acquisition, such as bilingual subtitles in tapes and dictionaries.

The first language could also be utilised in class undertakings like collaborative writing and deliberations. Suppose the learners in a group have the same first language. In that case, they can utilise the language during discussions since this can assist them in assessing and reflecting on subjects more effortlessly and using the second language to convey concepts more assertively. Also, several strategies for learning L2 exist. An example is CALL (computer-assisted language learning) which can enhance the learners’ writing, reading, talking, and listening capacities (Yen et al. 2015). Therefore, learners can select suitable first language-linked approaches or tools to assist them in learning a second language after comprehending their second language adeptness.

Furthermore, all learners should have a positive attitude towards the second language learning case; the learners’ English level does not matter since every learner has to sustain a serious positive learning outlook regarding the first language role in L2 classes. Even though the first language is not a requisite in the second language classroom, learners with comparatively low second language levels can benefit from a suitable first language since it can give them a decent learning setting and enhance their learning inspiration and interest. Utilising the learners’ first language as per their English expertise is a successful scaffolding. As Cook (2001) positions, first-language scaffolding can support second-language learning and minimise the students’ fears and anxiety, particularly the novices. Even more important is that it makes the learners consistently have a positive outlook toward second language acquisition.

Personal Viewpoint

From personal experience and interaction with instructors who have taught EAL classes, I have discovered that developing learner motivation is a significant element for successful instruction. One of the instructors I interacted with had experience in teaching English classes in countries where the learner’s native language is predominant. In such classes, students are restricted from using the first language in school, but the teacher practices minimal use of L1 in English classes, especially when introducing concepts. In the U.K., most tutors demonstrate multi-linguistic competency in their instruction, using selective foreign words in English classes depending on the learners. Such instructional approaches in L2 classes can motivate learners to engage in classroom activities actively. Learners will likely develop a deeper understanding of the instructions when teachers authorise code-switching in classes using the usual second language.

Consequently, based on my experiences in the classroom where English is my second language, I prefer instructors who utilise multilingual approaches in delivering instructions. However, when the instructor lets the first language use take all the attention in the class, I feel like I need help connecting points using English. Frequent use of the first language in classroom activities makes one feel motivated to express their viewpoint easier and interconnect with the other learners. Therefore, while L1 in L2 classes can improve pedagogical understanding, there is a need for the instructors to be objective in focusing on the learning outcomes in the intended language. Hence, I advocate for every teacher to be conscious of the use of L1, especially in classes characterised by linguistic diversity among the learners.

In conclusion, even with the many controversies behind using the first language in L2 classrooms and its use in correction or oral errors, the significance of L1 in second language classes cannot be ignored. Educators should utilise the first language in starting and immediate classes to explain compound grammar points, compound concepts, and word meanings, not forgetting to give instructions. Differing from the almost universal accomplishment people have in learning their first language, efforts in learning the second language are successful for various explanations, for instance, the incapacity of instructors to make significant links between the second language and the first language. The first language is learners’ most effective in-between tool to assess L2 knowledge. Tutors should utilise their first language to help the students convey their thoughts more efficiently and clearly. However, opponents state that there is a risk of educators overusing the first language, therefore placing the learners at a disadvantage through the provision of less.

Moreover, owing to the first language can cause interference and lead to errors when studying the second language. Naturally, the first language adverse transfer might occur in two similar structurally varying dialects, thus bringing up mistakes and challenges for second language scholars. However, based on the experiences I have had, and the experiences of other instructors, I advocate for the utilisation of first language in L2 classrooms since it can be very advantageous to the instructor and the learners if utilised effectively. Instructors should always contemplate the teaching background when considering the application of the first language in second-language teaching.


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