Call for Opinions and Experiences

I have finally decided to take the plunge and in February I will be presenting for the first time ever.  As I am nervous about how my first session will go, I am overpreparing everything and basically making myself even more nervous in the process!

Joking aside, I’ve chosen a rather divisive topic for my first presentation, calling it ‘Exploiting L1 in the Young Learner Classroom’.  Most of the training we receive in preparing to become English language teachers considers the use of the students’ native language in the classroom rather taboo.  For various reasons we are obliged encouraged to use only the target language.

As I am researching this topic and getting my session ready, I wanted to hear from other teachers and trainers what their opinion and their experiences were regarding using L1 when teaching Young Learners.

  1. Do you occasionally use the students’ native language in the classroom?
  2. Under which circumstances and why?
  3. Do you feel guilty about using L1? Why or why not?

Please share with me your thoughts and help me expand the way I approach this session.  Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.

About careymicaela

I've been teaching Young Learners and Very Young Learners for over ten years now. My degrees are in Psychology and Spanish. I also completed my TEFL certification in Madrid and the Ih Young Learners Course in Seville. I enjoy working with children and sharing those experiences with other teachers. In my free time (when that exists!) I like to read, listen to music, practice yoga and go on long cycling routes.
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7 Responses to Call for Opinions and Experiences

  1. Hi Micaela,
    Happy New Year!
    I’m really grateful for your post and the beginning of a conversation about L1 in the YL classroom. I teach in an eikaiwa in Japan. It’s a small, privately owned English conversation school for young learners (ages 2 to 12). I mention my context because I think it is important in explaining my perspective here.

    Before I started working at my school, for many years it had an English-only policy. The rationale for this was that students only come for a single 45 minutes to 1-hour lesson a week. So for that time it was seen as very important to pack in as much English input as possible.

    For our youngest learners, we still use only English in class. As the kids get older, though, we relax it quite a bit. We use Japanese (rarely) for quick translations to make sure everyone is keeping up. As our students learn to write, my coworker tells them stories in Japanese about the letters of the alphabet to help them remember how they’re formed. It would be counter-productive to do this in English because the point is to help students remember stroke order, and the extra linguistic burden wouldn’t achieve the same results. For oldest kids, my coworker uses Japanese for grammar explanations when necessary.

    My Japanese isn’t very good yet, so I mostly use it to explain why some one-to-one translations don’t work or how word order works in English. The other situation where I use Japanese is with 5th and 6th graders (the 11 and 12 year olds). They have story-telling time once every two months or so (a different kid every week) and they practice reading their self-selected stories in class. I practice reading a Japanese storybook at home, and when there is a week when no one is scheduled to tell a story, I read them a Japanese story. I do this to show them that their teacher is also a learner and that I struggle and make a lot of mistakes, too, but I try anyway just like I ask them to do. Our school’s policy has changed so much in the past couple years that now my boss is looking to hire a new teacher and is asking for applicants who are able to speak fluent English and at least conversational Japanese.

    I don’t feel any guilt about using Japanese in class. I don’t think my coworker does either. Our assistants do, though, and always ask and check to make sure they don’t use too much. I think this relates to their confidence in the classroom and also to their confidence as English speakers.

    I’m sorry for such a long reply. I hope it is useful to you and answered your questions.

    Happy New Year from Japan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • M. Makino says:

      I owned an eikaiwa for 11 years and have studied the industry quite a bit. English-only policies are standard at most chains (all except Yamaha afaik) and many privately-owned places as well. At my place I had the freedom to set my own rules, but I still felt like I was betraying expectations if I used L1 in class. Most students and their parents say they come explicitly to be exposed to native English, and it’s a risk defying this demand. In some settings L1 use would be quite important, considerations of input aside (many schools, although no chains from what I can tell, use ER libraries to take care of input to free up time with the teacher for other needs).
      To answer the original questions:
      1) Very rarely with YLs
      2) To explain homework, mostly, or occasionally if I hear them talk amongst themselves and I know they’ve misunderstood something
      3) Not guilty, but I did feel like I was somehow hurting the reputation of my school.

      I did a bit of research on eikaiwa which included the existence of English-only policies:

      Liked by 2 people

      • careymicaela says:

        Hi Mark,
        Thanks for commenting here on your experience with using L1 with YLs. It’s fascinating hearing from teachers in such a wide variety of places and situations.

        You said you didn’t feel guilty about using L1 but it does seem like there was a small twinge there about hurting your school’s reputation. The expectation to use only L2 in the classroom has been the status quo for such a long time that I think most parents and school administrators as well as some teachers are reluctant to challenge it. Do you think there are benefits to using students’ own language with young learners? What age groups were you teaching?

        Thanks again for your input!

        Liked by 1 person

      • M. Makino says:

        I taught ages 4 and up. A lot of schools in the eikaiwa industry in Japan start with infants, and with them the discussion would be a bit different, but we wanted our kids to have input at home and use class time partly for sharing and partly for a bit more formal treatment (“formal” not meaning metalinguistic, but some form focus). A few schools in an organization I was part of take this approach, but entirely implicit curricula of 30 min-1 hour a week are much more common. In Japan the approach taken by the teacher is expected to correlate with his/her NS status. Because I was categorized as NS it was especially difficult to have my use of the students’ L1 seen as legitimate. NNS teachers usually have the opposite experience; they are expected to use more L1 and rely less on implicit methods.

        Liked by 1 person

      • careymicaela says:

        There’s so much variety in EFL world. It’s been really interesting hearing about so many teaching situations that are different from my own.
        I would love for my students to have contact with English at home and I even attempt to do some workshops with parents to help them with basic vocabulary and phrases they can use with the kids. Results are varied and typically depend on how motivated the parents are and whether they’ve ever studied English before or not.
        It sounds like your teaching situation was almost half immersion with kids using English at home and at the eikaiwa. Rather ideal for that age!


      • M. Makino says:

        Well, when that actually happened it was ideal. As you said many factors determine how much exposure the kids get at home, and that is true even if the teacher makes ER libraries available and even assigns them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. careymicaela says:

    Hi Anne,

    Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad that you think using L1 with YLs is an important topic. So far I’ve seen quite a bit of interest from other teachers and it’s great to hear what their teaching situations are like and what they think about using L1.

    When I chose this topic I thought it was going to be rather divisive but almost all of the teachers I’ve heard from recognize the advantages of occasional L1 use. It feels like using students’ own language is a teaching tool that most of us are taking on board but it’s almost as if it’s a badly kept secret because we’re not discussing with other teachers how to best implement this tool. Maybe it’s time to start doing that and to start training new teachers how to exploit L1 instead of telling them to avoid it.

    By the way, I really like that activity you mentioned with having kids choose and tell a story. Such a great idea! It’s motivating for them and they get to practice so many skills all at one time. Thanks for sharing it here. I will be incorporating that somehow into my classes.

    Happy New Year to you too!


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