Avoiding”Mother Tongue”In Classroom

Learners of a foreign language may face lot of challenges as a result of the differences that usually exist between two languages. The other day, I was having a discussion with some of my colleagues when the topic of using mother tongue in classroom cropped up. We discussed about when and how to use mother tongue when teaching English. In this article, I will discuss the result of that discussion and make some recommendations.

 In order to treat this topic with the justice it deserves, the following questions will be asked:

1. In which level should we avoid using mother tongue?

2. What are the tools that can be used to help teachers and students avoid mother tongue classroom?


 1. When to avoid using mother tongue

For the purpose of simplicity, mother tongue may be used in a limited way for beginners. This is because a new learner may need to make connection between his or her native and the foreign language. Some language experts have even suggested that a sound grammatical understanding of one’s native language will assist greatly in learning a foreign language by way of correlation. However, after the basics of the new language have been grasped at the beginners’ level; it is better to gradually avoid the use mother tongue at the intermediate level. For a complete avoidance this can be done at the advanced level.

 2. Tools that aid the avoidance the use of mother tongue

  The following tools may be employed to help avoid the use mother tongue:

1. Course book: a course book with diagrams and illustrations will make understanding easier for students and thus there will be no need for the use of mother tongue.

2. Flash card: makes learning easier without the need for another language so also is slide show.

3. Photo-Dictionary: some students usual use dictionary with words translated to their native language. A dictionary with pictures will make the need for another language unnecessary.

 In addition to the above, some foreign language intuitions have introduced rules that aid the avoidance of mother tongue such as separation and prohibition.

 Separation is the situation where in students with the same native language are given placed in different accommodations; thus, those with different languages stay in the same room. In this way, they will be obliged to communicate in the new language.

Prohibition is when it rules are passed that make it prohibited to speak mother tongue in classroom or the entire school campus. Usually, a sort of penalty is be levied to those who break the rules. Any suggestions concerning ways to avoid mother in learning a new language will be greatly appreciated.


33 comments on “Avoiding”Mother Tongue”In Classroom

  1. I think L1 can be seen as another resource for the learner. I think it depends on the classroom activity. If it is an activity aimed at improving fluency or communicative skill, then clearly L2 should be used. But there can be other situations where L1 could be useful e.g. comparing the L2 to the L1 and sometimes thinking things through in L1.

  2. This is a problem ! I try not to use my mother tongue for beginners. However, when I’m explaining grammar I have to use it. The worse is to make them speak in English daily…I ‘ve taught them the language classroom, I’ve told them they would be compensated in their final mark, but they always forget….

    • Welcome,Maria
      This is not problem for beginners it is o.k to some extent to use mother toungue especially in Grammar .Great point you mention .
      Thanks alot

  3. Sure! i prefer simplifying the strange word than using mother tongue.With beginners i may use signs and signals to explain.

  4. While I personally don’t believe that the mother-tongue should be avoided entirely, I work in a homogeneous country and environment that is in a transitional state of EFL to ESL, and therefore is striving to conduct all aspects of English language education in, or through, English. With that being said, some of the ways in which I have tried to meet the needs of both the students and the system are as follows.
    1. I start every class with a 5-minute language lesson for me, the teacher. That is, I am trying to learn the students’ “mother tongue”, and so I write on the board an English word or phrase that is a bit of language that would be helpful for me to know in order to function in this society. I then ask the students to “teach” me this piece of language. When I have mastered the pronunciation to the satisfaction and delight of the students, I give myself an imaginary or honorary gold star and tell them, “Ok, great lesson! I will practice this for my homework, but for now, that is all the native language we will speak in today’s class”.
    2. Even though the students understand and promise not to use their mother-tongue, slip-ups are to be expected. Therefore I have instituted a monitoring system that requires students to listen to each other and notice any use of the native language. I give everyone 3 tokens of some kind when the enter the classroom. These can be beads, play coins, strips of ribbons, whatever you like. These represent the 3 slip-ups every student is alllowed. If a student notices that a classmate has used their mother-tongue, that student takes one of the classmates tokens and keeps it for him/herself. I remind the students that they are monitors, NOT police officers. Therefore, they should simply take the token as soon as the utterance was made. There is very rarely any argument, as in this society they are quick to admit that they “did it”, and feel embarassed to be singled out. At the end of class, I take a count of tokens. Whoever has lost all three tokens must come to the front of the room and dance free-style to Britney Spears’ song, “Oops, I did it again”.
    I am happy to report that I have never had to see any student dance!

    • Welcome,Kristina
      Great efforts you made with your students .I hope you successfull with them .But also try to make them to love speaking English aslo.

  5. I am afraid, Saeed, I can’t agree with you. The use of the mother tongue, in fact, is very crucial in developing the cognitive abilities as well as the linguistic abilities of a learner. Research says that it’s very important to give every child an opportunity to, at least, begin its education in its mother tongue.

    You can get more information on this issue if you search on Google for the term Multilingual Education.

    • Welcome ,Biha
      I support your idea to beigin its education in its mother toungue .But to avoid it gradually in English lessons.

  6. Hi everybody,
    The topic is interesting as far as theory is concerned, but the reality is another story. For example here in Morocco , the situation is totally different. you have to resort to L1 if you want to reduce TTT and make your lesson clear.

    • Welcome ,my brother “Mohamed”
      I think you can reduce your to resort to L1 by using many tools I have mentioned in my post .
      Thanks alot

  7. i’m convinced that learners will use their L1 whether teachers like it or not..or, in the words of Edmondson (1999) “of course, you actively use L1 in learning another language, and you’d be a damn fool if you didn’t”. 🙂

    • Welcome ,Sarah
      I agree with you the imprtance role L1 play in learning Second language .But we should gradually give up of using it as I think .
      thanks alot

  8. I’ve tried prohibiting but it works better if students have a foundation in useful classroom expressions and techniques for navigating gaps in communication. I use gestures, movement, and pictures a lot to avoid translating back and forth between English and Chinese. As a high school teacher, I do use the “mother tongue” when clarifying classroom procedures, expectations, and occasionally, sentence structures. For some activities I prohibit the use of the “mother tongue” and it becomes a kind of game for them to find ways to communicate even when they don’t know all the words, which my students seem to enjoy. I do think they pick up more of a natural sense of the language when you provide lots of comprehensible input, but this takes planning and forethought.

  9. Hi Saeed
    This is a great topic .

    I think it depends on the difference of educational’s places or institutions . For the high school students , you can’t avoid to speak native language entirely . Because they can’t keep up with you even if you are well-skillful teacher . Additionally, most of students,if not all , don’t speak or read english outside classroom !. So, you can’t give them 4 hours in english, only,a week .
    Also, we can differentiate between societies which using english as ESL , and others which using it as EFL . For the ESL’s societies , it is so important to avoid native language ever . Becuase they use it a lot in other places .
    Thanks for a good idea.

  10. hi saed
    I read your article.
    Also, we can differentiate between societies which using english as ESL , and others which using it as EFL . For the ESL’s societies , it is so important to avoid native language ever . Becuase they use it a lot in other places .
    Thanks for a good idea.

  11. Dear Saeed,
    Thanks for your great article.
    Most teachers if not all of them in my country try to use Arabic in teaching English Language. Second thing is that we only focus mainly on grammar on the expenses of other skills and subskills. Also, they use Arabic Language in explaining grammar rules, examples, etc. And , if they use English, they use it for explaining the rules. This is not the way we shape teaching English Language. If as teachers want to teach English grammar, we try our best to teach it for performance and how to use in our daily life through dailogues. For me, i try to move from TTT to STT. I teach grammar through games, storytelling, drama, songs, etc. Simoply because i want to stress the interaction between students and leave Teacher-led orientation and move to learner-center orientation.
    Really, i like using prohibition way in teaching grammar. Try to use games not longer than 15 minutes and i mainly focus on ineractive grammar and not grammar per se.
    Thanks again
    Faisal shamali(Jordan)

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