Thursday, September 18, 2008

Using L1 in the EFL/ESLClassroom

Classroom, originally uploaded by SM Photo.

As part of the SEETA (South East European Teacher's Association) moodle discussion on the uses of L1 in the EFL/ESL classroom, Penny Ur made a call for teaching ideas that allowed students to use their own language in the classroom but allowed them to learn English more effectively. At first this may seem like a contradiction in terms as the more students use English the better they become. However, to ask learners to totally abandon something as important as their mother tongue is neither practical nor desirable when teaching.

So here are some ideas to integrate both L1 and L2 in ways that encourage learning.

1 - Play Telephone. Give a short passage in English, either spoken or written to a student.They then translate it into their own language and then pass it on to the next student. This student then translates it into English and then passes onto the next person in line who translate it into their own language and so own and so forth until the message ends up back at the beginning with the teacher.

You could then discuss what happened to the message and why perhaps it changed in meaning.

2 Use comic strips (I talked about this exercise on my blog previously, click here to see). The basic idea is to get students to attempt to translate the humour in comic strips such as Doonesbury. Can it be done? Are the obstacles cultural, linguistic or is there something else?

Then ask them to translate a cartoon or comic from their own language into English. Check out Arkas as an example in Greek. If possible compare their examples with other official translations. Is it faithful to the original? Is it still funny? Can it be improved?

3 Watch a short part of a film on DVD without sound but with the subtitles in the students own language. The students then translate into English the dialogue, utterence by utterence. This could be down by students working on their own at first. Then they get into groups and compare their versions and agree on a common translation.

4 The students then watch the film (with or without English subtitles, depending on the level) and discuss why their versions are different. Is it a matter of right and wrong? Or are there other matters at issue such as the inability to translate between languages without losing some of the original meaning?

In this particular activity a badly translated movie is just as useful as a well translated one.

1 comment:

Costas said...


I haven't attended the discussion, but from your short report and example activities I gather that the thrust of the event was quite unreservedly pro-L1 (which would be in line with the current pro-L1 pendulum swing in ELT). Of course, I'd be more than happy to be corrected on this. Anyway, for a more cautious (measured?) pro-L1 approach you might want to look at these two articles of mine (trumpet fanfare):