First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Teaching
The Swedish curriculum for the subject English in upper secondary school clearly states the English should be used“as far as possible” in the classroom. However, the possible amount of first language usage is never mentioned. Thisfact piqued our interest for investigating how much, if any, first language use is beneficial for learning a newlanguage. For this reason, we decided to pose our research questions as follows: What are the different views on theusage of the L1 in an L2 and foreign-language classroom according to the teachers and learners? What has been saidabout only target language usage from a historical and a contemporary perspective? Does the use of the L1 in asecond-language/foreign-language classroom have a positive or negative effect on the learners’ language learning?To answer these questions, we have read and analysed sixteen empirical studies. Firstly, the research shows that bothlearners and teachers prefer to use the second language/target language as much as possible. However, they alsorecognise the benefits that the first language can have. The second question we have answered using both empiricalstudies as well as theorists from second language acquisition research and sociocultural theory. Our literaturedescribes a shift in language learning and teaching, from the bilingual grammar-translation method towards a moremonolingual classroom where the first language has no place. However, the empirical studies signal a new shift insecond-language/foreign-language education, reverting back to a more bilingual approach. Finally, all studies agreethat the first language has a complementary role in the language classroom, and if used properly, it can have apositive effect on language acquisition. Through our results we argue that the first language can increase the learners’motivation, move the tasks along and create a non-threatening environment where learners can feel safe to use thetarget language. Although the first language can benefit second language learning, learners and teachers must beaware of the danger of extensive usage, as it should remain a supplement to the target language.
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