After so many years of experience in English teaching, I’m still not utterly convinced that sharing the same L1 with my students is an advantage. My doubts have been around for a long time and they probably stem from my conviction that if English is the only means of communication, students will learn best. In other words, only-English-no-Czech has mostly been my default mode of teaching. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to test my hypothesis about the effectiveness of this approach to the fullest because, with a few exceptions, I’ve always had monolingual classes and I simply had to use Czech in some situations. The thing is that if you don’t share the same L1 with your students, it’s quite natural to speak English all the time, no matter what, but I’m not that type of teacher who will only reply in English when a student stops me in the corridor and asks where the toilet is, for example.
Anyway, I imagine there are situations when the teacher can take advantage of the fact that they speak the same language as their students. I mentioned one example in my previous post; you can tell an interesting story in L1 to motivate your students to share their stories (in L1 or L2) and this way you can get a richer content to build on in L2.
Also, take listening, for example. I don’t know about your classes but normally, we watch a video clip in English and we discuss it in English. This seems to be the only logical procedure; it’s an English class after all. But if you think about it, it’s probably the least authentic option; a group of Czech students watch a clip in English (so far so good) and then they discuss it in English while their Czech teacher of English is listening and responding in English (weird). Putting aside the fact that this approach has some pedagogic values, such as that the L2 input from the listening is likely to be used as an L2 output, where on earth (other than the classroom) will such a situation occur? I mean, how often do your students go to an English speaking country to discuss English stuff with their English-speaking buddies?
I believe that in my students’ context, there are much more authentic possibilities than this:
You watch a Czech clip and then discuss it in English. I remember many occasions when I wanted or needed to tell my English speaking friend about something that had happened to me in a Czech context. It’s always a bit more challenging that retelling a story which you have come across in an English newspaper, for example, because in a way, you have to translate from L1 into L2. Since there is no L2 input to rely on, you need to search for it in your ‘language inventory’ or sometimes even coin new language. Thus, due to cultural and linguistic barriers, the output is not always as accurate as you wish it to be so lots of negotiating for meaning is likely to occur in such a situation.
You watch an English clip and then discuss it in Czech. Discussing something in Czech seems to be a waste of time at first sight but sometimes it can be very useful. If the L2 content is too complex and challenging, you may need to allow your students to switch to L1. From the pedagogical point of view, it’s quite valuable because the scope of a student’s L1 output may tell you how well they understood the L2 input. Based on my experience, some students have a lot to say but since they are not too confident when using English, they prefer to remain quiet during discussions. If you ask them to use Czech to tell you what they think, you may be surprised how much English vocabulary from the listening they know in comparison with the most enthusiastic speakers who always volunteer to respond in English.
Finally, what about watching a Czech clip and discussing it in Czech first? Well, I’ve never tried this option in class but I guess there are some benefits too, especially if it’s the first step towards something more complex. Plus it’s not really inauthentic either. I mean, I watch a Czech movie at home, discuss it with my son, sort out my ideas and then I may want to share this experience with an English speaking friend or on social media. So, why not?
Well, after so many years of experience in English teaching, I’m still not utterly convinced that sharing the same L1 with my students is an advantage, but I’m slowly getting there. 🙂