Posted by: sekolahbahasainggris | May 12, 2008

The Use of Mother Tongue (L1) in the Classroom.

Many English teachers of the Indonesian Defense Language Training Center (DLTC) assume that it is a sin for the students using mother tongue in the classroom and it will affect the English learning process. As a consequence, we apply a strict rule to minimize the use of mother tongue in the classroom, especially for the upper intermediate and advanced levels. Usually, before the course is started, the teachers set an agreement with the students to fine every student being caught using Indonesian language. The objectives of this rule besides to motivate students using English all the time is also to create a conducive teaching and learning situation in order to be as likely English environment as possible.

Surprisingly, according to Rinvolucri (2001:44), students’ mother tongue is a very useful media to develop students’ language intelligence, as long as it is planned and managed properly. He also states that it would be better for the English teachers to know their students’ mother tongue. Besides to build students respect and trust, knowing students’ mother tongue will help teacher to understand the linguistic context either in L1 or in L2. Some activities utilizing students’ mother tongue in the classroom are also suggested by Rinvolucri (2001:42) that can be applied either by the teachers who do not speak their students’ mother tongue or for those who speak the same language with their students. Some of the activities proposed are; sandwich stories, translating letters, excuses, bi-lingual vocabulary tennis, and semantic flip-flops. A very interesting example the use of students’ L1 activity in the classroom is “translating letter”. In this activity the teacher does not need to be able to speak students’ L1, and it can be applied into a multilingual class. Asks students to select a postcard, letter, or email that they have just received or want to be sent and asks them to translate the letters into English. After that, asks them to exchange with their friends and read and discuss them.

In line with Rinvolucri, Dajani (2002:65) has the same idea dealing with the role of mother tongue in the classroom. She considers that students’ native language is very significant in developing and improving their learning strategy. Teacher can use students’ L1 to help them in increasing the awareness of their learning style, strategy they apply, and also assisting them in assessing their own weaknesses and strengths in the process of learning L2. She gives some ideas for the teachers in helping their students control their learning process and evaluate their learning.

1. teaching and modeling learning strategies;
2. planning;
3. self evaluation;
4. journal keeping;
5. sensitizing students to their own learning styles; and
6. teaching thinking dispositions



  1. Very good information, to be discussed among instructors!

  2. It’s interesting,
    I wanna share suggested uses for the L1 in the EFL Classroom based on Atkinson (1987)

    1. Eliciting language “How do you say ‘X’ in English?”
    2. Checking comprehension “How do you say ‘I’ve been waiting for ten
    minutes’ in Spanish?” (Also used for comprehension of a reading or
    listening text.)
    3. Giving complex instructions to basic levels
    4. Co-operating in groups Learners compare and correct answers to
    exercises or tasks in the L1. Students at times can explain new points
    better than the teacher.
    5. Explaining classroom methodology at basic levels
    6. Using translation to highlight a recently taught language item
    7. Checking for sense If students write or say something in the L2 that
    does not make sense, have them try to translate it into the L1 to realize
    their error.
    8. Testing Translation items can be useful in testing mastery of forms and
    9. Developing circumlocution strategies When students do not know how
    to say something in the L2, have them think of different ways to say the
    same thing in the L1, which may be easier to translate.
    Strategy Spanish English
    negative antonym vivo not dead
    approximate synonym fue vergonzoso it was terrible
    circumlocution se mostró reacio he didn’t want to do it
    simplification el precio del viaje the ticket’s expensive
    se compensa por lo but life’s cheap there
    lo barata que es la
    explanation pulpo it lives in the sea,
    it’s got eight legs

    Atkinson, D. 1987. The mother tongue in the classroom: A neglected resource? ETL Journal, 41, 4, pp. 241–247.

    I’ll try to find other point of views.



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