ESL/EFL/TEFL Teaching Information

The Problem of Using the Mother Tongue as a Medium of Instruction when Teaching

The Problem of Using the Mother Tongue as a Medium of Instruction when Teaching -by: Khalid Al-Seghayer, Ph.D.

Summary :



            Teaching of English in EFL context faces numerous problems, among which is the matter of  language instruction; more precisely, the use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction in English classroom. The question is whether or not teachers should use the mother tongue as a medium of instruction in the English classroom. If we consider the classroom as a microcosm of a larger society reflecting the larger forces of society, then the use of the native language should be avoided. The English classroom should be designed to be a natural or an authentic environment for learning a language. In addition, students need to be trained to understand the learned language without outside aid and need to be encouraged and forced to use and think in the target language. A number of related issues will be discussed including theneed to place learners in a real life environment, the consequences of using native language as the medium of instruction, the need to place learners in a real life environment, the importance of only using English as the medium of instruction, and the perspectives of students, teachers, and language educators of using native language as a medium of instruction in English classroom.   

            At advanced levels, where students have mastery over the language, nothing other than the learned language should be allowed. Students need a natural setting to help them acquire the language more effectively. They need the kind of environment where they hear, are exposed to, and interact with the target language properly. As a result, when students are out of class, they will encounter the same or similar experiences as they had in the classroom. In contrast, if a teacher tends to teach by relying on the native language, this means students are learning in a less effective environment because most students view classrooms as a very real and authentic place. They expect to go to class to hear and use the language in a meaningful way.

The Consequences of Using Native Language as the Medium of Instruction 

            By using the native language as the medium of instruction in the foreign/second language classroom, we are not encouraging students to use and think in the target language. In other words, permitting the use of a language other than the target language during instruction will encourage less motivated students to rely on their first language to convey the messages they want to deliver because their teachers do not build up their confidence in using the target language. Also, by doing so we are getting the students in the habit of translating from the first language into the second language. By introducing the target language through the native language, we are not giving full attention to training students to understand the target language without seeking outside aid. We are not creating opportunities for them to learn. Furthermore, students who experience such instruction are not trained to thinking in the learned language. Thinking in the target language is a substantial point in the process of learning a language. Helping students to reach that stage, means removing the need for translation and assisting them in becoming better students.


The Importance of Only Using English as The Medium of Instruction

            The importance of this issue is emphasized by the fact that many teachers throughout the world teach English through using their mother tongues. They may be the only source of English as the learned language. Thus, to achieve a better result, they must provide sound and structure patterns from the target language, i.e., English. The more the target language is used as the medium of instruction the more such opportunities will arise. Common sense tells us that to learn a foreign/second language one must be exposed to it. Although it is possible to learn a foreign/second language through the medium of the mother tongue, such teaching does not generally prepare students to face-to-face communication. The ultimate goal is to make the classroom a more feasible place for students to acquire the language more effectively. The teachers’ concern should be creating an environment that enables students to be exposed to the language in question and gives them more opportunities to use the target language. No one can learn a language without using it. In working with students who are acquiring English, it is important to encourage their participation and to provide a stress-free, trusting environment for learning. Reducing anxiety is critical since a low anxiety level is conductive to second language acquisition, the more students are encouraged to use their second language in a positive environment, the more conformable they will feel doing so. It is very crucial to make the language classroom as natural as possible with no connection to translation or use of the mother tongue. Motivation is much higher when the students see the need of the target language in reaching a goal which is meaningful to them. The target language is the medium which helps them achieve and experience enjoyment and fulfillment.


The perspectives of students, teachers, and language educators Toward Using Native Language as a Medium of Instruction   


Teachers tend to take the easiest way and use the mother tongue as medium of instruction. They apparently have what they feel are valid reasons for doing this, such as the students’ level of proficiency is not sufficient enough, it is easy to get the message across in the mother tongue, and the like. Students, on the other hand, especially those who have spent three to six years as students in foreign language classes, frequently complain that, during these classes, they neither spoke nor heard the language in question.

Most teachers, in most circumstances, believe that teaching in the target language is simply too tall an order; they do not consider it feasible and are not agreeable to persuasion. Among the most common reason for this position is that the ability of each student in the class differs. There is also the constant need to be efficient, to save time, and to be understood by all students, etc. Consequently, the majority of teachers view some mix of the mother tongue and the foreign language as more appropriate.

            Language educators hold strong beliefs that suggest it is extremely important that the medium of instruction in the language classroom be the target language and that teachers and students alike should always use the target language while their. After consulting several sources, I found that language educators discussed this issue from several points of view, including theoretically rationale, feasibility, and desirability. There appears to be widespread assumption among teachers that, theoretically, the case for 100% target language use is quite simply proven. This is generally agreed upon by theoreticians. Researchers such argue that if the classroom focuses entirely on acquisition, then the 100% direct method would be appropriate. In addition, if the teacher uses the communicative approach, 100% use of the target language should be insisted upon. Students should engage in activities which mirror the things which people do with language outside the classroom in real situations. Nevertheless, if theory cannot provide use with all the answers on this issue, then probably we must arrive at a position on the basis of the teacher’s experience in order to decide whether a particular approach should be used in the classroom. As advocated by the teacher, we need to see whether such use in practicable and desirable.

            Two points raised disfavoring the desirability of 100% method using the target language as medium of instruction are sociocultural and methodological. The sociocultural, comes into play when the mother tongue is banned from the classroom. Such teaching leads to the alienation of the students, depriving theme of their cultural identity, and leading to acculturation rather than increased intercultural communicative competence. The methodological point comes form the argument that teachers raise, i.e., it is hard to guarantee a 100% method because some types of activates are relatively easy to conduct in the target language, others are impossible.


            What has been proposed above is notwithstanding. However, we must note that lack of use of the target language in the classroom is one of the major methodological reasons for poor achievement levels in language learning. Regardless of the points made earlier, the use of the target language, as the normal means of communication is possible. This requires a planned approach not only in terms of the choice of language, but also in terms of teaching activities themselves. Taking into account what is said by the teacher, if instructions are systematically given in English, the texts and the recorded materials used, the exploitation of these materials and what students say to each other in various speaking activities, the use of English can only became dominated and normal and the use for the mother tongue accidental in comparison. When this is achieved, the teacher can feel confident that students are receiving a proper chance to acquire the target language under classroom conditions.

About Author
About Author:
Khalid Al-Seghayer has earned his Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. His research interests include Computer-Assisted Language Learning and second language reading. He has taught English in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. He has published in TESOL Quarterly, Language Learning and Technology, CALL Journal, Internet TESL Journal, CALICO Journal, CALL-EJ Online, and the APA News. He has served as the chair-elect (2002-2003) of the EFL Interest Section in TESOL and the editor of the Newsletter in TESOL (2002-2004). He also served as the Chair-Elect of the Non-Native English Speakers (NNEST) in TESOL (2003-2004) and the editor of the CALL Media Software of Reading Matrix Journal (2003-2007). He has serviced as the Chair of the English Department at Imam University. Currently, he is serving as a reviewer for a number of journals, including Reading Matrix, TESOL Journal, CALLICO Journal, and Foreign Language Annuals Journal .

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Abbreviations & Acronyms
ESL - English as a Second Language | TESL - Teaching English as a Second Language | EFL - English as a Foreign Language | TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language | ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages | TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages | ELT - English Language Teaching | ELL - English Language Learning | CALL - Computer Assisted Language Learning | TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language | TOEIC - Test of English for International Communication

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