Use mother tongue or not…

In recent times, as standards of living continue to rise, learning foreign languages became one of the basic requirements of the 21st century. As Smith says One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.Therefore, the issue of using effective teaching methods of foreign languages is one which needs to be looked at carefully.

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In this case, usage of mother tongue in L2 learning is still hot debatable issue. It is often argued that mother-tongue based foreign language learning is productive method, whilst others disagree and think L1 usage brought its negative inputs into learning process. This blog will discuss both points of view before coming to a reasoned conclusion.

In fact, several research studies (Turnbull, 2011; Caroll, 1967 etc.) have shown the unfavorable results regarding L1 using in EFL classrooms. For instance, Turnbull (2011) conducted the research with four French teachers, where two of them used more mother tongues during the lesson than other two teachers. Thus, students of teachers who spoke mostly the target language had the positive results in comparison with students having mother-tongue based lessons. In Caroll’s (1967) study, he revealed that foreign language proficiency of students directly depends on teachers’ language of instruction. Thus, senior students in the USA showed the positive results with teachers’ instructions only in target language.

Contrary to the patterns described previously, there can be a positive role of mother tongue during acquiring the foreign language. According to Blackledge and Creese’s (2010) research, using mother tongue during learning L2 takes considerable place in learning process. Due to their research results, on mother tongue based language lessons UK school students performed not only good language knowledge, but also this teaching approach influenced positively on their lesson accomplishment and participant confidence during the lesson. Similar findings are reported by Kim (2011). His research with 20 native Korean students in English composition class indicates that mother tongue effect particularly on students’ writing skills.  Following the same line, Auerbach (1993) states that “Starting with the L1 provides a sense of security and validates the learners’ lived experiences, allowing them to express themselves. The learner is then willing to experiment and take risks with English” (p.59).

To sum up, this blog is only small part of huge issue regarding mother tongue in language learning. Scholars still do not have definite answer to use or not to use L1 during learning L2. We face real schools and language centers which follow different teaching methods and approaches.  Even by being somehow an expert in learning and teaching languages, you feel uncertainty about choosing the school for young generation, isn’t it?


Turnbull, M. (2001). There is a role for the L1 in second and foreign language teaching, but. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57 (4), 531-540

Auerbach, E. R. (1993). Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. Tesol Quarterly27(1), 9-32.

Carroll., J. (1967). The foreign language attainments of language majors in the senior year: A survey conducted in U.S. colleges and universities. Retrieved from

Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching?. The Modern Language Journal94(1), 103-115.

Kim, E. (2011). Using translation exercises in the communicative EFL writing classroom. ELT Journal: English Language Teachers Journal, 65(2), 154-160

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5 thoughts on “Use mother tongue or not…

  1. Dear arai4ona, I agree that there is a certain ambiguity for choosing a school for younger generation. Having read your blog I found the findings of Blackledge and Creese’s, Kim’s and Auerbach’s more convincing. We know Kazakhstan as a multilingual country,so what would be the most effective teaching method of foreign languages in Kazakhstani schools? From your point of view is there any role of MOI of a school in choosing which method to use?


    1. Dear arai4ona, thank you for this post! I completely agree that the issue of whether or not to use L1 in foreign language teaching still seems to be difficult to be settled. My own position on this particular topic is that the teacher should try to use the target language as much as possible. However, I do not reject the use of L1 and even consider it being a great learning resourse.The problem is not the use of L1, the problem lies in the overuse of L1 by some teachers. If you use the mother tongue judiciously, it can be very beneficial,especially at beginner/elementary levels. But do you think are there any specific domains of teaching foreign language where the use L1 will be advantageous? For instance, when giving instructions, teaching grammar or while exploring the students’ cultural backgrounds?


  2. It is a very interesting and though-provoking topic. I would agree that the language and method of instruction we choose should depend on the age of the students as well as the targets of the class. If it is speaking or listening lessons, it is better to teach in the target language as students will immerse into the language; if it is writing or reading lessons, teachers need more time to explain the grammar use and compare some differences of construction of sentence with students’ native language, so it would be better to use native language as a tool for learning foreign language. Thanks again for sharing very useful research findings with us and it is very helpful for me to organize language class for my children.


  3. Great academic post, Arai. (4.5/5) As an English language teacher in a foreign country, this question is extremely important, and somewhat sensitive. Although this question applies to all language teachers whether or not they share a common language with their students, I find the NU learning environment particularly challenging. On the one hand, the university should recreate the language environment that you would get if you were in a European or American university, and therefore you should be using English only in the classrooms. On the other hand, this can turn your instructors into language imperialists, colonizing the world and imposing their language on their students. Do you find it uncomfortable to be told “English, please!” in the classroom?

    Now that I have asked for your feelings, let me go back to my task of colonization 😉
    Make sure to include a link or citation for your Smith quote, and remember to alphabetize your reference list.
    There are also a few proofreading issues to address:
    L1 usage brought its negative inputs into ___ learning process.
    His research…indicates that mother tongue (effect) particularly (on) students’ writing skills.
    Even by being somehow an expert in learning and teaching languages, you feel uncertainty about choosing the school for young generation, ___ ___?


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