Does the L1 have a role in the foreign language classroom? A review of the literature

Abigail Bruhlmann

Abstract


Recently, the powers that be at the English language school where I work posted signs in
every classroom, advising that only English is to be spoken there. The signs feature a menacing-looking Uncle Sam, wearing a patriotic top hat and a scowl. His outstretched index finger points accusingly at the viewer and his catch phrase is altered to read, "I want YOU to speak English at (name of school)" The background of these signs is an ominous black, and above the image of Uncle Sam is a warning: "Caution: English Only Zone."
      Is imposing an institutional ban on the native language in the classroom the best way to foster L2 acquisition? This question is one that has been debated in the ESL/EFL world for some time, and there is a wealth of literature on the subject. Much of the research on this topic suggests that using the native language as a tool to foster target language acquisition is beneficial, rather than detrimental, for the students. These signs, therefore, seem misguided. Missing from the debate in the literature, however, is a clarification of exactly what it means to use the native language in the classroom. Do these signs try to prohibit students from chatting in their L1 in between tasks, forbid students from using the L1 as an L2 acquisition tool, or warn the teachers not to use the students' L1(s) as a teaching aid?

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