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In this TESL article, the advantages and disadvantages of L1 use in the English-language classroom will be explored. Suggestions on how to capitalize mother tongue use in an effective and judicious manner will be offered in Part II.
On the topic of language learning, there are many stories of students going abroad for a period of time and returning home fluent in the foreign language. The reason for this dramatic change is often attributed to the fact that the student was completely immersed in the culture and the language, and “nobody spoke my language so I had to learn theirs.” Because of the seemingly huge success, many language schools and teachers all over the world (in English-speaking countries such as Canada, United States, and England, and non-English-speaking countries such as Costa Rica, Thailand, and France) choose to adopt and enforce an English-only policy to recreate that full immersion experience for their students. But does it really make a difference? And what are the benefits and repercussions?
When ESL learners are asked to discuss their weaknesses in English, many will mention “lack of vocabulary” as an important concern. Contrary to what most students believe, a teacher cannot actually “teach” them new vocabulary. A teacher can present and explain words from classroom activities, but the responsibility of actually learning new words lies mainly with the students. Vocabulary journals are one popular approach that teachers use to help students with this challenging aspect of language learning.
There are many excellent icebreaker activities and game ideas for those first class meetings. Sometimes, though, a simple handshake can be a very good way to quickly build rapport and capture the interest of your students from the very first class.
Having students work in groups offers many advantages. Group work can increase the amount of practice available to each student and help to individualize instruction. Furthermore, group work can create a more relaxed learning environment and motivate learners by involving them personally. Perhaps most importantly in terms of SLA, group work can facilitate learner interaction, providing learners with access to the linguistic input they need in order to advance their language skills.