To speak or not to speak… English, Kazakh or Russian…

The role of using mother tongue in the educational process is significantly high as it is the language which teachers and students use for thinking and communication in teaching and learning. However, debate and polemic increase when researchers and educators discuss the importance of using mother tongue in English classroom whether it is beneficial for foreign language acquisition or should be totally minimized or excluded in the class. Inspired by personal teaching experience and various outcomes in this field of study I have decided to conduct a research on the impact of using mother tongue in EFL classrooms in secondary schools in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The English language is essential to succeed in life (Sharma, 2006) and it has become the most widely learnt foreign language in Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Education and Science of the RK places special emphasis on extension and implementation of EFL development programs and reforms in Kazakhstan. Although the attempted measures are supposed to make a great contribution to current level of English among the population there are only 15,4 % of citizens who are able to understand conversational English, 2,6 % of people can read, 7,7 % of Kazakhstanis can read and write (Yerkembay, 2014). The question then becomes what does not work in the EFL teaching process when learners realize the importance of knowing English well.

Describing myself as a teacher with wide experience in teaching English to different ages and different level learners, I have noticed in my lessons that when I was teaching in groups with a little reference to L1 the learners of those groups demonstrated more constant progress and deeper knowledge of English. And groups where I allowed myself and learners as well to switch to mother tongue as soon as there was an obstacle or chance for this, they demonstrated less precise understanding of what was happening in the classroom in the near future. In contrast with the “no mother tongue” groups, they simply used to forget common instructions; they easily put a Russian or Kazakh word in their English speech; every time those students met an unknown word they needed its urgent translation otherwise the whole learning activity would stop.

Some researchers believe that one of the reasons which hinders the progress of learners in EFL classes is the overuse of mother tongue. For example, Swan (1985) as cited by Cole (1998) takes up the position that the use of L1 hinders target language acquisition (Cole, 1998). Cole himself suggests that “during speaking activities there is little justification for using L1” (Cole, 1998, p. 2). So, this issue requires proper attention and investigation within the Kazakhstani context. This research is oriented to study the degree to which mother tongue is used in the EFL classroom and how it influences on the progress of secondary level students in Kazakhstan.


Cole, S. (1998). The use of L1 in communicative English classrooms. The Language Teacher. Retrieved from

Sharma, B.K. (2006). Mother tongue use in English classroom. Journal of Nelta, 11, 80-87.

Yerkimbay, A. (2014, April 1). Сколько казахов знают английский? Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “To speak or not to speak… English, Kazakh or Russian…

  1. Dear Kairat,

    The research you are going to conduct is important for KZ since knowledge of English is set as one of the priorities for Education system. Thus, the issues you identify deserve appreciation.
    However, we should admit, that there are a number of reasons for using L1 in the classroom. Thus, among the other, there is a lack of language knowledge and teaching skills among teachers of English. Besides, the use of L1 may be justified when doing comparative analysis in Literature. Moreover, I guess, there will be students who will state that they feel more comfortable with L1 used in the classroom (then, again , there will raise a question Why?).
    I believe, that consideration of the issue from various perspectives, will help to make the research less subjective.

    Gulnaz Zhukenova


  2. Dear Kairat,
    I would like to express my interest to the topic you choose. The advantages of using L1 in the classrooom are obviuos: you can save your time explaining something, you will be understood clearly and nobody will be confused and everyone feels comfortable and not stressed. On the other hand, if you are not stressed, if you do not leave the comfort zone, your brains will never strech to be able to speak another language. That’s why you have to spend more time explaining in 2nd language, forcing ss’ brains to stretch!


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