Ever since God punished the people who wanted to build the Tower of Babel with the “confusion of tongues” in the time of old testament, people around the world have faced the problem of communication. When giving out a historical overview of second-language teaching in “Second-Language Acquisition in Childhood,” McLaughlin stated: As early as the third millennium B. C. , in what was probably the world’s first great civilization, the Sumerians had scribed devoted exclusively to education.
When the country was conquered by the Akkadians in the last quarter of the third millennium, these scribes complied the oldest known bilingual dictionaries. Long continuous passages were translated from Sumerian into Akkadian, line by line. McLaughlin 2 It was since then that people started exploring the arts of language. For years, people have been arguing about the most appropriate methods to teach a second language L2. One question that teachers encounter in the classroom is the use of the learners’ native language L1.Order now
While a group of people think that teaching of the target language should involve no L1, another group of people consider L1 as a help to L2 teaching. Throughout the years, L2 teachers around the world have been analyzing the data they gathered for years along with their personal experiences to find out which approach of L2 teaching works best for teachers themselves. Those who are in favor of the Grammar-Translation method believe that L1 holds great significance in L2 teaching and learning.
They teach grammar rules in the mother tongue of the learners as a basis of instruction. Methods such as the Natural Approach , the Silent Way , Total Physical Response , Audio-Lingual Method , and the Direct Method emphasize different concepts of language teaching and learning but followers of these methods all avoid L1 in the classroom. As the debate goes on, it is crucial for all the L2 teachers to first ponder on the goal of language teaching and then to decide what role they want L1 to play in their L2 classroom.
For a L2 learner who lives in an environment where the target language is not used on a daily basis, such as English taught in Taiwan, exposure to L2 helps accomplish the goal of language learning, which is to communicate. The use of L1 in L2 classrooms is primarily based on the Grammar-Translation method which emerged in the nineteenth century. It stresses on the ability to read literature in L2, but to learn grammar rules and vocabulary in L1. In the classroom, teachers have authority while students follow instructions to learn what teachers know.
Students learn by translating from one language to the other. Grammar is usually learned deductively on the basis of grammar rules and examples. Students memorize the rules, and then apply them to other examples. L1 provides keys to meanings in L2 and it is also used freely in class. Because of the nature of the grammar-translation method, reading and writing are primary skills but pronunciation and other speaking or listening skills are not emphasized or in many cases disregarded.
In Taiwan, English is taught in junior high and senior high schools though some children start taking English classes when they are still in elementary school. In junior high and senior high schools, English is taught in Chinese mainly due to the problems of class management and class time. Teachers seem to always find it more efficient to go through the teaching materials in Chinese. They apply literally the grammar-translation method in class with the hope that the students will get good grades to enter a high school or a university.
Students learn to read and write through the translation between Chinese and English. However, most of the parents and students often complain that such a teaching method leads them to become test machines who know only how to answer grammar questions or translation exercises on the test sheet but not to use English as a language. Another potential crisis facing these students is that too much stress on vocabulary, translation and the whole grammar structure blurs the most important part of language which is the idea it carries.
Students depend so much on the translation of each single word, the structure of each sentence, and the formation of the language that they neglect the communicative message brought by the language. Language grows into a subject to learn, to be analyzed. It loses its function to be the bridge for people to convey their thoughts and feelings. Some of the L2 teachers who are not native speakers of the target language might find it easier to deal with the use of L1 than that of L2. That is, they are more comfortable with L1 than L2 so they choose to use L1 in their L2 classroom. It was an easy method for the teacher to use.
Classes could be taught in the students’ native language with little teaching skill or foreign-language speaking skill needed by the instructor. Objectives were limited and attainable. Vocabulary lists, printed grammar rules, and sample sentences to translate, followed by reading selections, provided maximum control for teachers and students. Bowen 20 The teachers might even project the idea of being comfortable with L1 to their students. Because they feel that it is more comfortable using L1 in the L2 classroom, they think that it is also more comfortable for the students to learn L2 in L1.
Anthea Tillyer, a teacher at City University of New York stated that the notion of making students comfortable by using L1 may be a case of “comfort now, pay later. ” She pointed out that to learn a new language, one has to face “a few moments of discomfort” but “the skilled teacher will use L2 to make students feel comfortable and not simply assume that the only way to reduce stress is to use L1. ” Tillyer Another English teacher at the University of Macau, Dick Tibbetts, also mentioned that: EFL students often have no exposure to English outside the classroom.
No street conversation, no TV, no newspapers or magazines. This makes the exposure to English time in class that much more important. You just cannot spend too much of this valuable teaching time using L1. You also need to show that English is a real language, not a textbook subject, by giving classroom instructions in English. Tibbetts Marianna Scheffer, a teacher in Hawaii learned from her experience that: “Ã¢â‚¬Â¦only the most minimal use of L1 can be justified in teaching L2.
It would be easy to cater to students by providing them with the pleasing and understandable input of their own language, but it does not do them a favorÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Students will not learn L2 until they actually commit to using it as a living language. ” Scheffer Teachers simply cannot use what they consider the effortless way in an L2 classroom. They are responsible for giving L2 students opportunities to understand that like learning any other thing, learning a language entails hard work and pain. However, they learn it faster and more efficiently only when they become comfortable with the target language.
A lot of L2 teaching methods have their different foci but all of them ask for the use of L2 in the classroom. Take the Direct Method for example, all four skills, reading, writing, speaking, listening, are worked on from the beginning but pronunciation is stressed especially. Followers of the Direct Method believe that sounds are basic and carry the melody of the language and that speech, not writing, is the basis of language. Translation is not used at all. L1 is considered a resource because of the overlap that is bound to exist between the two languages.
Teachers might have some knowledge of the students’ L1 as an aid to the instructions but L1 is not used in class. With the Audio-Lingual Method, students learn through imitation and repetition and teachers provide good models. It emphasizes everyday speech. Such methods exercised with the use of L2 take care of the concept of communication we are looking for. David Nunan who has been doing research on language teaching methodology and learning strategies draws attention to one of the types of classroom action, which is teacher talk. “In language classrooms it is particularly important because the medium is the message.
The modifications which teachers make to their language, the questions they ask, the feedback they provide and the types of instructions and explanations they provide can all have an important bearing, not only on the effective management of the classroom, but also on the acquisition by learners of the target language” Nunan 7. Students need to process the “input” they receive before they can produce “output. ” If what they hear from the teachers is L1 most of the time, they are not getting enough “input” of L2 to be processed. Thus the expectation teachers have for the students’ “output” of L2 will be hard to be fulfilled.
Though students in Taiwan are required to study English from junior high school, a lot of parents take their children to English classes when they are still in elementary school. As mentioned previously, parents are not satisfied with the English education their children are receiving at school. They find that cram schools with native speakers of English are a better environment for children to learn L2. One famous professor in the filed of TESOL field, Lily Fillmore, found that “children who are successful in acquiring English interact directly and frequently with people who know the language well. qtd. In Bredekamp Such a situation results in the prosperity of the English cram schools with native speakers of English as instructors in Taiwan. Despite the expensive tuition, the parents are still willing to send their children to these cram schools because no matter how much progress their children have made, they all seem to be able to use English as a medium of communication, rather than a tool to get good grades. During the past few years, going to a place where the target language is used for a short period of time has become popular among the English learners in Taiwan.
Students, as young as ten years old or even younger, are sent to the States by their parents to learn English during summer vacation or winter vacation. Myriam Met, a teacher at Montgomery County public school points out the function of a foreign language immersion program: “Total immersion is the most effective way of developing foreign language proficiency. The intensity of the immersion experience coupled with the amount of exposure to the foreign language assures that students have the necessary language skills to deal with the curriculum in the upper elementary grades. Met Bill Snyder, a graduate student of TEFL program at Bilkent University in Turkey also pointes out one crucial advantage of an immersion: “Ã¢â‚¬Â¦no language is a direct translation of any other, and if you really want to get the feel of the target language, you have to learn the target language in the target language. An immersion atmosphere usually shows that is possible to use the target language as a vehicle of communication with all its frustrations rather than an object of study. Snyder Looking at the learning path of English I have traveled on, I had an experience of a six-week immersion in English that totally changed my life. I started taking English lessons at the age of nine. In class, I did not speak much because I thought I spoke really terrible English. I still remember being embarrassed when being asked to read a passage or a sentence or two. I did not like English much at that time and I was always reluctant to go to the classes. At the age of about eleven, I went to a different English class.
Because of the previous classes I had, and because I knew vocabulary such as “blackboard” or “classroom,” I could probably surpass everyone in class when it comes to grammar and spelling. But still, I did not speak much English. In fact, I even had problems pronouncing my own English name, “Catherine. ” In the summer of 1992, some time before my elementary school graduation, my mother knew from one of the teachers at school that a professor from the States was visiting the Teachers’ College in my hometown. He was arranging a homestay program, hoping to bring back some students to the States to spend the summer in Kokomo, Indiana.
My mother signed me up and sent me onto the flight along with 12 kids to Indiana to spend the summer. Each of us was assigned an American family to stay with. From about 8 A. M to noon, we had classes at a church and learned vocabulary and grammar. Since the teachers were Americans and they did not speak any Chinese, the only way to communicate with them was to speak English though a lot of body language was used. In the afternoon, we were taken to the town to visit the library, the city hall, the fire department, the supermarket, and to use the vocabulary we learned in the morning.
Even though I did not speak much English during the six-week period, when I came back from the States to attend junior high school, to my surprise, I found that not only did I have more confidence in using English to convey my thoughts and feelings, but also my accent had changed. Moreover, I have ever since then realized that English is a living language. During the six-week program, I seem to have undergone a process of language acquisition. For some of the linguists, we acquire L1 but we learn L2.
However, Stephen Krashen, who is a very famous professor at the University of Southern California believes that L2 can be acquired. According to Krashen, there are two independent systems of second language performance: “the acquired system” and “the learned system. ” The “acquired system” or “acquisition” is the product of a subconscious process very similar to the process children undergo when they acquire their first language. It requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concentrated not in the form of their utterances, but in the communicative act.
The “learned system” or “learning” is the product of formal instruction and it comprises a conscious process which results in conscious knowledge “about” the language, for example knowledge of grammar rules. According to Krashen “learning” is less important than “acquisition. ” SchÃƒÂ¼tz The concept of second language acquisition can be supported by other linguists such as Chomsky, who suggested that “children had an innate Language Acquisition Device LAD” Lyon 14.
Krashen once said: “Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding. ” qtd. In SchÃƒÂ¼tz Holzman in his The Language of Children raises a notion of “whole language for second-language acquisition. ” He noted that “it is called whole language because listening, talking, reading, and writing are undertaken as they are naturally needed to address the students’ goals. All aspects of language are viewed as acquired rather than as separate skills” Holzman 224.
Second language acquisition is possible only under the circumstances when L2 is instructed naturally like the way we acquire L1. When we acquire L1, we do not use another language as the medium. By the same token, to create a natural environment of L2 learning, we do not necessarily need L1 to be the medium. One possible perspective to approach the problem of whether to use L1 or L2 is to look at the ultimate goal of learning and teaching a second language. Are students learning a second language to pass exams, to get good grades, or to be able to communicate with people who speak the language they are learning?
Are teachers teaching a second language to accumulate fortune, to complete the work they are assigned, or to introduce a concept of communication to the students? Even though it is a fact that most of the junior high and senior high school students in Taiwan are under a great deal of pressure to earn good grades, it is still crucial for the teachers to stress a healthier attitude towards language learning. A language is not only a subject like mathematics or science, it is a form of art with which people with different tongues convey their thoughts, feelings, cultures, and their life styles.
As some scholars in the field of cultural studies might say that “word is the death of real,” sometimes a language does not seem to be so dependable as it appears. That is, the language that we receive or produce does not always promise the function we wish. This explains why people encounter misunderstandings through languages and why there are so many unexplainable aspects in each language. However, it is yet the magic that we use to break down the barriers between people of different life styles and cultures. With this purpose, the learning of languages does stand out to be distinct from all other studying we do at school.
While teachers might have to run through a certain amount of teaching materials within a short period of time, using L1 helps complete the activities at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, it does not cater to the ultimate goal of language learning; the most significant part of language learning, which is the concept of communicative competence is thus erased. Keeping the notion in mind, the teachers should be asking themselves a question: “What am I going to accomplish in the language classroom? ” To be done with the teaching materials within a period of time appointed?
Or to help students achieve the goal of language learning? Being said that it is worth trying to use L2 in a L2 classroom, however, L1 does hold its value under the following circumstances. Just like a doctor treats his or her patients, or like most of the other vocations, a teaching job requires not only technical skills and professional knowledge, it also requires that teachers be aware of the students’ emotional needs. As we go through a process of therapy conducted by an experienced doctor, he or she should be taking our feelings into consideration along with our physical condition to facilitate the treatment.
A doctor who knows only how to treat disease, to prescribe medicine is but an artisan. A doctor who knows also how to console patients with soft words counts a real doctor. This concept also applies to a teacher. As we learn something, we inevitably have to encounter some degree of emotional frustration. For example, a student might be coming to the class with a stomachache and the pain irritates him so much that he is not able to concentrate in class.
Another student might be coming to the class with a depressed mood because of some kind of family problem happened the night before. Still another student might be coming to the class with a special personality that makes him too shy to try anything in class. A language teacher will need to take heed of the feelings of his or her students throughout the learning process. In this kind of case, L1 might be needed to comfort the students since everyone seems to be more comfortable to describe their sickness or frustrations in their mother tongue.
Piaget explored the development of children’s language learning and he said: “language was a reflection of thought and not a shaper of thoughts. ” Piaget He believed that “language is a series of assimilations which accelerates the proofs of cognitive development. ” It would be unreasonable for us to treat language learning as learning of any other subjects. We are not producing translation machines of a second language. The ultimate goal for us to achieve is to use the language as a real language, to use it to exchange thoughts, feelings with others.
Taking reality and ideal both into consideration, no one should go to extremes in the debate of the use of L1 or L2. However, if we clarify the goal we want to reach in the L2 classroom, the decision should not be too hard to make. Since school-aged students usually cannot choose what to learn or how they would like to be taught at school, no matter how tough a reality they need to deal with, the teachers should always keep the ultimate goal of teaching and learning in mind so that the students will not be deprived of the opportunity to true learning.
They should always know by hearts that when they are with the students in the classroom, they are introducing a concept of communication to the students; they are focusing on the communicative competence of the students. Moreover, they also bear the responsibility to acquaint their students with a healthier learning attitude towards language learning, which is to be able to communicate with people who speak the language they are learning. If all of these notions come first in language teaching and learning, the teachers will realize that it is worth trying to use L2 in their L2 classrooms to fulfill the goal.