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Native Language in Foreign Language Learning

Info: 5488 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Dec 2019

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Tagged: EducationEnglish as a Foreign Language

1.1 Introduction

The debate over whether English language classrooms should include or exclude students’ native language has been a controversial issue for a long time (Brown, 2000). Although the use of mother tongue was banned by the supporters of the Direct Method at the end of the nineteenth century, the positive role of the mother tongue has recurrently been acknowledged as a rich resource which, if used judiciously, can assist second language learning and teaching (Cook, 2001). Therefore, this research study tries to open up a new horizon for English instructors to find a thoughtful way to use learners’ mother tongue in second language teaching.

The technique in which L1 was used in this study was translation from L1 to L2, a technique which was rarely used by EFL teachers. Atkinson (1987) was one of the first and chief advocates of mother tongue use in the communicative classroom. He points out the methodological gap in the literature concerning the use of the mother tongue and argues a case in favour of its restricted and principled use, mainly in accuracy-oriented tasks. In his article, Atkinson (1987) clearly stated that translation to the target language which emphasizes a recently taught language item is a means to reinforce structural, conceptual and sociolinguistic differences between the native and target languages. In his view, even though this activity is not communicative, it aims at improving accuracy of the newly learned structures. Similarly, this research aimed at investigating the effect of translation from L1 to L2 on the accurate use of the structures.

The arguments in supports of using the learners’ mother tongue in L2 instruction clearly reveal that not only doesn’t the use of first language have a negative impact on L2 learning, but it can be factor to help students improve the way they learn a second language. Although the ‘English Only’ paradigm continues to be dominant in communicative language teaching , research into teacher practice reveals that the L1 is used as a learning resource in many ESL classes (Auerbach, 1993). Auerbach added that when the native language was used, practitioners, researchers, and learners consistently report positive results. Furthermore, he identifies the following uses of mother tongue in the classroom: classroom management, language analysis and presenting rules that govern grammar, discussing cross-cultural issues, giving instructions or prompts, explaining errors, and checking comprehension. Although the provision of maximum L2 exposure to the learners seems essential, L1 can be used alongside L2 as a complement. In this regard, Turnbull (2001) stated that maximizing the target language use does not and should not mean that it is harmful for the teacher to use the L1. “a principle that promotes maximal teacher use of the target language acknowledges that the L1 and target language can exist simultaneously” (p. 153).

Similarly, Stern (1992) stated that “the use of L1 and target language should be seen as complementary, depending on the characteristics and stages of the language learning process” (p. 285). On the other hand, overuse of L1 will naturally reduce the amount of exposure to L2. Therefore, attempt should be made to keep a balance between L1 and L2 use. In this regard, Turnbull (2001) acknowledges that although it is efficient to make a quick switch to the L1 to ensure, for instance, whether students understand a difficult grammar concept or an unknown word, it is crucial for teachers to use the target language as much as possible in contexts in which students spend only short periods of time in class, and when they have little contact with the target language outside the classroom.

1.2 Background to the problem

The Integrated Secondary School Curriculum or Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah (KBSM) was planned in accordance with the National Education Philosophy. The main goal of KBSM was based on the integrated self-development with orientation towards society or nation (Mak Soon Sang, 2003). Four language skills namely listening, speaking, reading and writing are incorporated in the English syllabus proficiency in order to meet their needs to use English in everyday life, for knowledge acquisition, and for future workplace needs (Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, 2000).

My personal experience as a learner has shown me that moderate and judicious use of the mother tongue can aid and facilitate the learning and teaching of the target language, a view shared by many colleagues of mine. However the value of using the mother tongue is a neglected topic in the TESL methodology literature. This omission, together with the widely advocated principle that the native language should not be used in the second language classroom, makes most teachers, experienced or not, feels uneasy about using L1 or permitting its use in the classroom, even when there is a need to do so. How do students and teachers look at this issue? Schweers (1999) conducted a study with EFL students and their teachers in a Spanish context to investigate their attitudes toward using L1 and in the L2 classroom. His result indicates that the majority of students and teachers agreed that Spanish should be used in the EFL classroom (Schweers 1999). Inspired by his research and driven by my own interest, the researcher decided to carry out a similar study on the use of the native language (Malay) in the Malaysian context. However, differences exist between Schweer’s study and mine.

1.3. Statement of the problem

Many rural school students have difficulty in understanding English, and they have often found it difficult to read English books on their own (Ratnawati and Ismail, 2003). Students’ lack of proficiency in English deprives them of the opportunities open to those who are able to use the language well. Recently, the teaching and learning of English has been discussed widely in Malaysia. This is because the low level of English proficiency among students hinders them from acquiring knowledge globally. Student’s L1 are being use in the ESL classroom especially in the rural area to help them understand English better and find out if it is an effective teaching and learning tool.

Because of the students’ difficulty in understanding the language, teachers need to assist them thoroughly in the learning process. With the using of the L1, this will gain their interest to stay focus in the class and not being de-motivated in learning the target language. The prohibition of the native language would maximize the effectiveness of learning the target language will be a question that we need to find out.

1.4. Purposes of the study

  1. The purpose of the study is to determine whether the L1 (Malay language) are use frequently in the rural ESL classroom.
  2. The important of this study is to find out whether L1 works as an effective teaching and learning instrument.

1.5. Research questions

Research questions for this study are;

  1. How frequent the Malay language was used in the Malaysian English classroom and for what purposes?
  2. Can prohibition of L1 (Malay language) maximize the interest of using English in the classroom?
  3. What are the perception of the students and the teachers towards using Malay in the English classroom?

1.6. Theoretical

For this study, the researcher referred to the theory of SLA that interrelated set of hypothesis or claims about how people become proficient in a second language. In a summary of research findings on SLA, Lightbown (1985: 176-180) made the following claims:

  1. Adults and adolescents can “acquire” a second language.
  2. The learner creates a systematic inter-language that is often characterized by the same language as the first language, as well as others that appear to be based on the learner’s own native language.
  3. There are predictable sequences in acquisition so that certain structures have to be acquired before others can be integrated.
  4. Practice does not make perfect.
  5. Knowing language rule does not mean one will be able to use it in communicative interaction.
  6. Isolated explicit error correction is usually effective in changing language behavior.
  7. For most adult learners, acquisition stop-“fossilizes”-before the learner has achieved native-like mastery of the target language.
  8. One cannot achieve native-like or non native-like command of a second language in one hour a day.
  9. The learner’s task is enormous because language is enormously complex.
  10. A learner’s ability to understand language in a meaningful context exceeds his or her ability to comprehend de-contextualized language and to produce language of comparable complexity and accuracy.

The hypothesis will be the first tool for the measurement of how the students in the rural ESL classroom comprehend with target language. Learning is a long life process so the students need a proper guide to lead them in gaining the language proficiency. There are some modifications that need to be made in using these hypotheses so it will be suit to the learners need in the rural area. There are some mistakes that made by the learners that due to interference from their first language and the learner’s errors should be corrected as soon as they are made in order to prevent the formation of bad habits.

The acquisition-learning hypothesis

Stephen Krashen (1977) claimed that adult second language learners have two means for internalizing the target language. The first is “acquisition”, a subconscious and intuitive process of constructing the system of a language. The second means is a conscious “learning” process in which learners attend to form, figure out rules, and are generally aware of their own process. According to Krashen, “fluency in second language performance is due to what we have acquired, not what we have learned” (1981a:99). Adults should, therefore, do as much acquiring as possible in order to achieve communicative fluency; otherwise, they will get bogged of language and to watching their own progress. For Krashen (1982), our conscious learning processes and our subconscious process mutually exclusive: learning cannot become acquisition. This claim of no interface between acquisition and learning is used to strengthen the argument for recommending large doses of acquisition activity in the classroom, with only a very minor role assigned to learning.

The input hypothesis

Krashen’s claims that an important “condition for language acquisition to occur is that the acquirer understand (via hearing or reading input language that contains structure a bit beyond his or her current level of competence…..if an acquirer is at stage or level i , the input he or she understands should contain i +1” (Krashen1981:100).

In other words, the language that learners are exposed to should be just far enough beyond their current competence that they can understand most of it but still challenged to make progress. The corollary to this is that input should neither be so far beyond their reach that they are overwhelmed (this might be, say, i + 2) nor so close to their current stage that they are not challenged at all (i + 0).

Important parts of the Input Hypothesis are recommendation that speaking not be though directly or very early in the language classroom. Speech will be emerging once the acquirer has built up enough comprehensible input ( i + 1). Success in a foreign language can be attributed to input alone. Such a theory ascribes little credit to learners and their own active engagement in the process. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between input and intake. Intake is what you take with you over a period of time and can later remember. Krashen (1983) did suggest that input gets converted to knowledge through a learner’s current internalized rule system and the new input.

The application of these theories will help the study in measuring how effective the use of L1 in the ESL classroom based on the prior knowledge of the participants and in what way the theories will help the researches defines the result of the studies.

Motivation Theory

Various definitions of motivation have been proposed over decades of research and three different perspectives emerge:

  1. From a behaviourist perspective, motivation was seen in matter of fact terms. It is quite simply the anticipation or reward. Driven to acquire positive reinforcement, and driven by previous reinforcement, and driven by previous experiences of reward for behaviour, we act accordingly to achieve further reinforcement. In this view, our acts are likely to be at the mercy of external forces.
  2. In cognitive terms, motivation places much more emphasis on the individual’s decisions. Ausubel (1968:368-379), for example, identified six needs undergirding the construct of motivation:

a. The need for exploration, for seeing the other side of the mountain, for probing the unknown;

b. The need for manipulation, for operating- to use Skinner’s term- on the environment and causing change;

c. The need for activity, for movement and exercise, both physical and mental;

d. The need for stimulation, the need to be stimulated by the environment, by the other people, or by ideas, thoughts, and feelings;

e. The need for knowledge, the need to process and internalize the result of exploration, manipulation, activity, and stimulation, to resolve contradictions, to quest for solutions to problems and for self consistent systems of knowledge;

f. Finally, the need for ego enhancement, for the self to be known and to be accepted and approved by others.

3) A constructivist view of motivation places even further emphasis on social context as well as individual person choices (Williams& Burden 1997:120). Each person is motivated differently, and will therefore act on his or her environment in ways that are unique.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Edward Deci (1975:23) defined intrinsic motivation:

“Intrinsically motivated activities are ones for which there is no apparent reward except the activity itself. People seem to engage in the activities for their own sake and not because they lead to an extrinsic reward…….intrinsically motivated behaviours are aimed at bringing about certain internally rewarding consequences, namely, feelings of competence and self determination”.

Extrinsically motivated behaviours, on the other hand, are carried out in anticipation of a reward from outside and beyond the self. Behaviours initiated solely to avoid punishment are also extrinsically motivated, even though numerous intrinsic benefits can ultimately accrue to those who instead, view punishment avoidance as a challenge that can build their sense of competence and self determination. The intrinsic and extrinsic continuum in motivation is applicable to foreign language classrooms and around the world. Regardless of the cultural beliefs and attitudes of learners and teachers, intrinsic and extrinsic factors can be easily identified (Dornyei and Csizer 1998).

During the classroom observations, the researcher will identify whether the teacher use this kind of method. If the students communicate with their L1, should the teacher give a punishment or give them the motivation to communicate with L1 as long it will help the students to understand the whole lesson.

1.7. Significance of the study

It is hope that the study will:

  1. Help all the teachers in selecting the best method in teaching the ESL classroom especially in the rural area.
  2. Determine the appropriateness of using the Malay in the ESL classroom.
  3. Enable the teacher to realize the important of using the L1 in the ESL classroom at the rural area.
  4. Help the students to gain their interest in learning the target language by giving them the opportunity to use their L1 while learning ESL.

1.8. Limitation of the study

This study was undertaken with the following limitations;

  1. The small sample clearly does not represent the whole population of students in SMK in Felda Gedangsa. The sample taken is 40 students from one class in Felda Gedangsa.
  2. The reliability and validity of the survey instruments may be questioned. The questionnaire is not based on any existing survey instrument, which had been tested and/ or certified in terms of reliability and validity. The questionnaire is developed specifically for this study.
  3. The time constrain will limit the quality of the study. SMK Felda Gedangsa is situated in Ulu Selangor district and about 30KM from UPSI. It will take a long time in doing this study.
  4. The student’s level of proficiency is at the lower level and they will need help in understanding the questionnaires.

1.9. Summary

Understanding of English is crucial for every student in the ESL classroom. Without a proper guide from the teacher, they will lose their motivation in learning. Teacher need to be ready with a proper methods and teaching skills and should not ignore the use of L1 in the classroom. With the lacking of vocabulary and understanding towards certain aspects in the learning process, surely the use of L1 in the classroom should be considered to guide the students.


2.1. Introduction

This paper provides a review of the literature on students L1 are being used in the ESL classroom especially in the rural area and find out if it is an effective teaching and learning tool. There are several studies which are significance to the focus of this study. The summaries of previous work related to the hypothesis of the study are listed below.

Long (1985, 1996), adapted the input Hypothesis to include interaction. His modified Input Hypothesis (1996) focuses on negotiation of meaning that occurs when communication breaks down. It proposes that oral input that is simplified through interactional modification is more successful than non-interactionally modified input in promoting learner comprehension, which in turn facilitates language acquisition. This hypothesis claims that the modified output produced by learners who are interacting in order to negotiate meaning can also aid acquisition. In this view, which gives importance to input that has been simplified through interaction, there is a possible role for the use of the learner’s L1 in the interactive input. Modified must give the learner information related to the linguistic form that were problematic and the use of the L1 is a potential source of this critical information (Gillis, 2007).

2.2. Close studies on the Using of L1 in the ESL Classroom

Research on the usage of the L1 in the ESL classroom is a vital has demonstrated that L1 are not only effective but necessary for adult ESL students with limited L1 literacy or schooling and that use of students’ linguistic resources can be beneficial at all levels of ESL (Auerbach 1993).

Auerbach (1993), performed a research on the topic of “Do you believe that ESL students should be allowed to use their L1 in the ESL classroom”? Only 20% of the respondents gave an unqualified yes to the question; 30% gave an unqualified no, (with comments such as, “It’s a school policy” and “No… but it’s hard”); the remaining 50% said sometimes (with comments such as “Usually not, but if I have tried several times to explain something in English and a student still doesn’t understand, then I allow another student who speaks the same language to explain in that language”; “They’re going to do it anyway”; “As a last resort”). The essence of these comments is captured by the following response “In general ESL students should be encouraged to use English as much as possible, but in reality this doesn’t always work.” Thus, despite the fact that 80% of the teachers allowed the use of the L1 at times, the English only axiom is so strong that they didn’t trust their own practice.

On the flip side, when the native language is used, practitioners, researchers, and learners consistently report positive results. Rivera (1990) outlines various models for incorporating the L1 into instruction, including initial literacy in the L1 (with or without simultaneous but separate ESL classes) and bilingual instruction (where both languages are utilized within one class). The first benefit of such programs at the beginning levels is that they attract previously un-served students–students who had been unable to participate in ESL classes because of limited L1 literacy and schooling.

Further, contrary to the claim that use of the L1 will slow the transition to and impede the development of thinking in English, numerous accounts suggest that it may actually facilitate this process. Shamash (1990), for example, describes an approach to teaching ESL used at the Invergarry Learning Center near Vancouver which might be considered heretical by some: Students start by writing about their lives in their L1 or a mixture of their L1 and English; this text is then translated into English with the help of bilingual tutors or learners and, as such, provides “a natural bridge for overcoming problems of vocabulary, sentence structure and language confidence”.

At a certain point in the learning process, according to Shamash, the learner is willing to experiment and take risks with English. Thus, starting with the L1 provides a sense of security and validates the learners’ lived experiences, allowing them to express themselves “while at the same time providing meaningful written material to work with”. This research had shows us that the usage of L1 in the ESL classroom is sometimes considered as vital because of the students level of proficiency.

Tang (2002), based on her studies, “Using the mother tongue in the Chinese EFL classroom” bear many similarities to Schweer’s (1999) study in a Spanish context. Both studies indicate that the mother tongue was used by the majority of teachers investigated, and both students and teachers responded positively toward its use. Minor discrepancies exist concerning the occasions when the L1 should be used. Some of these differences can be accounted for by the participants’ different levels of L2 language proficiency. The teachers participating in this study indicated that the translation of some words, complex ideas, or even whole passages is a good way to learn a foreign language. Her observation of the three classes suggests that without translation, learners would be likely to make unguided and often incorrect translations.

This study also reveals that in the EFL classes observed Chinese plays only a supportive and facilitating role. The chief medium of communication in the class is still English. As with any other classroom technique, the use of the mother tongue is only a means to the end of improving foreign language proficiency. She agreed with the majority of student participants (about 63 percent combined) that no more than 10 percent of class time should be spent using Chinese. In her experience, this percentage decreases as the students’ English proficiency increases. Of course, a translation course would be an exception.

Unlike Schweer’s student participants, the students in the present study are highly motivated to learn English. As English majors in the university, their English language proficiency is regarded as a symbol of their identity and a route to future academic and employment opportunities. Few of them feel that English is imposed on them or regard the use of English as a threat to their identity. Instead, they generally prefer greater or exclusive use of English in the classroom. In their view, Chinese should be used only when necessary to help them learn English better. The research seems to show that limited and judicious use of the mother tongue in the English classroom does not reduce students’ exposure to English, but rather can assist in the teaching and learning processes (Tang, 2002).

Strohmeyer and McGrail (1988) found that allowing for the exploration of ideas in the L1 served to enhance students’ ESL writing. When students were given the choice of writing first in Spanish, they went on to write pieces in English that were considerably more developed than their usual ESL writing. These findings from practice are supported by Garcia’s (1991) more formal research on effective instructional practices which found that (a) academically successful students made the transition from Spanish to English without any pressure from teachers; and (b) they were able to progress systematically from writing in the native language in initial literacy to writing in English later.

A recent study by Osburne and Harss-Covaleski (1991) suggested that the widely frowned upon practice of writing first in the L1 and then translating into the L2 is not harmful to the quality of the written product. They cite the conventional wisdom that students should be discouraged from translating as this will “cause them to make more errors, result in rhetorically inappropriate texts, and distract them from thinking in English–and that all these factors would negatively affect the quality of their writing”. To investigate the validity of this claim, they compared ESL compositions written directly in English with others written first in the L1 and then translated into English; their results indicated no significant difference in the quality or quantity of the written products. They conclude, “It seems then that there is no need for teachers to become overly anxious if students choose to employ translation as a composing strategy at times”. Friedlander (1990) cited numerous other studies reporting the beneficial effects of using the L1 for L2 composing; his own study provides further support for L1 use in planning ESL writing when knowledge of the topic has been acquired in the L1.

Mirzaei & Vaezi (2007), had been conducted the study of the effect of using translation from L1 to L2 as a teaching technique on the improvement of EFL Learners’ Linguistic Accuracy- Focus on form. Based on the results obtained from the statistical analyses in the study, it was discovered that the idea of the effectiveness of using translation from L1 to L2 as a teaching technique to improve a group of Iranian EFL learners’ linguistic accuracy was supported. Therefore, it can be concluded that translating form L1 to L2, using specific structures, can enhance learners’ linguistic accuracy within the scope of those structures. It also manifests that learners’ mother tongue is not a useless element in second or foreign language learning. In other words, mother tongue, if used purposefully and systematically, can have a constructive role in teaching other languages. In effect, the purpose of the present study was to join the three vertices of the triangle i.e., first language, translation, and focus on form.

Moreover, it can be claimed that translating sentences form L1 to L2, if selected purposefully, can push learners to use specific structures accurately when producing utterances in the second language. This mental practice in transforming an idea from mother language to the second language helps the learner tackle the psycho-linguistic challenge they have to face in producing second language in real life situations. Nevertheless, when utilizing this teaching technique, the learners should be bewared about the structural differences existing between languages which may cause negative interference from their L1. In other words, learners should be warned that there is not always a structural correspondence between their first language and the language they are learning. To make it short, translation from L1 to L2 is a kind of practice which makes the learners use specific L2 structures accurately in order to express L1 ideas. This transformation—mental translation from L1 to L2—is a natural and sometimes inevitable process which is mostly experienced by the learners of lower levels. Consequently, as discussed above, the technique used in this study is a means through which learners can practice producing L2 grammatically correct sentences which enables them to perform accurately in communicative situations (Mirzaei & Vaezi, 2007).

Translation from L1 to L2 was not a strange process; nonetheless, it might not have been dealt with through systematic and research-based studies yet. Although the word ‘translation’ and even ‘mother tongue’ has been abominated by many so-called innovatory-oriented teachers, this study demonstrated that there are judicious ways in which language teachers can use mother tongue, in general, and translation from L1 to L2, in particular, in their instruction with the purpose of improving learners’ proficiency. In addition, mother tongue is truly a very rich source of linguistic knowledge with which any L2 learner is already equipped, and it does not seem reasonable to deprive our learners from using this recourse at the expense of exercising an English-only atmosphere in our classrooms.

Therefore, it can be suggested that teachers be familiarized with advantages of using learners’ mother tongue in EFL/ESL classrooms and they should be reasonably given enough leeway to use this resource constructively. In particular, language teachers can use the technique presented in this study, i.e. using translation from L1 to L2, as a communicative task to promote their learners’ linguistic accuracy. Therefore, it seems reasonable to allocate some time to the training of teachers in this regard (Mirzaei & Vaezi, 2007).

Schweers (1999) had done a research on the attitudes toward the use of Spanish in the English classroom among the students and the teachers in Puerto Rican. A high percentage (88.7%) of the student participants in this study felt that Spanish should be used in their English classes. All of the teachers reported using Spanish to some degree. Approximately 99 percent of the students responded that they like their teachers to use only English in the classroom. Very noticeable is the 86 percent of students who would like Spanish used to explain difficult concepts. Only 22 percent of teachers saw this as an appropriate use. Students also responded notably higher than teachers on the following uses for Spanish: to help students feel more comfortable and confident, to check comprehension, and to define new vocabulary items. Neither students nor teachers saw a use for the L1 in testing. A notable percentage of students would like Spanish to be used in English class either between 10 and 39 percent of the time. A sizeable number of students like the use of Spanish because it helps them when they feel lost. About 87 percent of students feel Spanish facilitates their learning of English between “a little” and “a lot,” and about 57 percent think it helps from “fairly much” to “a lot.”

These results showed that in English classes in a Puerto Rican university, Spanish should be used to some degree. Students feel there are clear cases where Spanish will facilitate their comprehension of what is happening in class. A majority also agree that the use of Spanish helps them to learn English. Studying students’ reactions to the use of the L1 in English classes, Terence Doyle (1997), in his presentation at TESOL ’97, reported that students in a study he conducted claimed that the L1 was used approximately 90 percent of the time in their classes. Some 65 percent of these students preferred the use of the L1 in their classes sometimes or often. While the first figure is comparable to the one he found in his study, the second is higher than the percentage in his study.

Romstedt (2000) had conducted a research of the effects of L1 Pre-writing discussion on ESL writing. The subjects of the study were thirty five graduate and undergraduate students, both male and female representing six native languages at two different levels of intensive English instruction. The general conclusi

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English as a Foreign Language refers to learning and using English as an additional language in a country where English is not the dominant language. Teaching English as a foreign language is known as TEFL.

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