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The Effect of Using Translation from L1 to L2 as a Teaching Technique

Posted by vukhoaanh on May 05, 2012 - 12:00 AM  (6581 Reads)

The present study was conducted to examine the effect of using translation from L1 to L2 as a teaching technique on the improvement of EFL learners' linguistic accuracy—focus on form. To fulfill the purpose of the study, 72 pre-intermediate learners were chosen by means of administering an achievement test.


This test, which also functioned as the pre-test, was designed in a way that the participants who did not have familiarity with the four aimed structures of this study, i.e. Passive voice, Indirect reported speech, Conditional type 2, and Wish+ simple past, were identified. Based on the pretest, the experimental and comparison groups were formed. The experimental group underwent the treatment, i.e. translating Persian sentences into English using the newly learned structures. Nonetheless, the comparison group received the placebo—grammar exercises in the course book. Both groups were posttested through another achievement test. The results of the post-test—through t-test analysis—demonstrated that the experimental group outperformed the comparison group in terms of accuracy. It is concluded that this technique can be used by teachers to reinforce new structures. #

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 teaching and learning (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 is rarely used systematically by EFL teachers. Atkinson (1987) is 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 favor of its restricted and principled use, mainly in accuracy-oriented tasks. In his article, Atkinson (1987) clearly sates 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 adds that when the native language is 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.

Professionals in second language acquisition have become increasingly aware of the role the mother tongue plays in the EFL classroom. Nunan and Lamb (1996), for example, contend that EFL teachers working with monolingual students at lower levels of English proficiency find prohibition of the mother tongue to be practically impossible. Cook (2001) in support of the role of L1 states that "bringing the L1 back from exile may lead not only to the improvement of existing teaching methods but also to innovations in methodology" (p. 189). Furthermore, Brooks and Donato (1994, cited in Cook, 2001) argue that the use of mother tongue is a normal psycholinguistic process that facilitates L2 production and allows the learners both to initiate and sustain verbal interaction with one other.##

Prodromou (2001) in an online article draws an analogy between the mother tongue in EFL classroom and a skeleton in the cupboard— "something most people have, in one form or another". This metaphor makes sense since "we have for a long time treated the mother tongue as a 'taboo' subject, a source of embarrassment and on the part of teachers, a recognition of their failure to teach properly, i.e. using 'only English'". In spite of this negative view toward using the first language of learners in the classroom, most nonnative speaker teachers of English have quietly been using the L1, to a lesser or greater extent; "the skeleton has been there all the time, we just haven't wanted to talk about it". He believes that the reason for such treatment of the first language lies in the fact that the psycholinguistic or pedagogic framework which justifies the place of mother tongue in L2 instruction does not exist yet. Smith (1994) in support for bilingual education states that providing children quality education in their first language gives them two things: knowledge and literacy. The knowledge that children get through their first language helps make the English they hear and read more comprehensible. "Literacy developed in the primary language transfers to the second language. The reason is simple: Because we learn to read by reading—that is, by making sense of what is on the page" (p. 55).#

L1 can have various uses in L2 classroom; Auerbuch (1993) suggests the following uses for the first language of learners: language analysis and presenting rules that govern grammar, classroom management, giving instructions or prompts, explaining errors, discussing cross-cultural issues, and checking comprehension. Moreover, Cook (1999) asserts that treating the L1 as a classroom resource opens up a number of ways to use it, such as for teachers to convey meaning, explain grammar, and organize the class, and for students to use as part of their collaborative learning and individual strategy use. "The first language can be a useful element in creating authentic L2 uses rather than something to be shunned at all costs" (p. 185).

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) states 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) states 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.

Surely there is a difference between judicious and principled use of L1 and an absolute leeway in using the mother tongue of the learners. For example, Duff and Polio (1990) examined the quantity of input to which students were exposed in foreign language classes at an English-speaking university. They reported that the 13 teachers' L2 use ranged from 10% to 100% of the time observed. The authors noted that "there seems to be a lack of awareness on the part of the teachers as to how, when, and the extent to which they actually use English in the classroom" (p. 320).

Bawcom (2002, cited in Krajka, 2004), in her study on using L1 in the classroom, found out that in the group of learners under investigation, 36% used the mother tongue for affective factors (e.g. sense of identity, security, social interaction); 41% as a way of implementing learning strategies (e.g. checking comprehension, going over homework); for 18% of learners it was an example of expediency (e.g. translation of directions for activities and passive vocabulary), while the remaining 5% was unintelligible. Cook (1992) argues that all second language learners access their L1 while processing the L2. She suggests that "the L2 user does not effectively switch off the L1 while processing the L2, but has it constantly available" (p. 571). She also maintains that when working with ESL learners, teachers must not treat the L2 in isolation from the L1. In fact, according to Cook, one cannot do so because "the L1 is present in the L2 learners' minds, whether the teacher wants it to be there or not. The L2 knowledge that is being created in them is connected in all sorts of ways with their L1 knowledge" (p. 584). One might suppose that using L1 in L2 instruction will lead to negative interference. However, Beardsmore (1993) believes that although it may appear contrary to common 6sense, maintaining and developing one's native language does not interfere with the developing of the second language proficiency. To him experience shows that many people around the world become fully bi- and multilingual without suffering interference from one language in the learning of the other.##

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