During the recent years the attitude towards foreign languages acquisition has changed: children start learning it from the very moment they enter school. It has happened not without purpose: the earlier a person begins to learn the language, the better result will be in the future. Due to this, such theoretical guide as Teaching Languages to Young Learners by Lynne Cameron should become an integral part of teachers’ library because it provides them with valid information on the methodology of young learners teaching. Chapter 9 “Language Choice and Language Learning” considers the reasonability of native language (L1) implementation during the English language lessons. The author provides the readers with a close look on the dynamics and possible tensions which may occur between L1 and the target foreign language (L2) usage for the teachers and their students. What is more, while discussing the issue, the writer refers it to classroom data and gives the information with useful examples.
As for me, the usage of L1 in teaching English has always been a confusing issue which impelled me to choose this particular chapter for the paper. My experience in teaching English as a foreign language to primary and secondary grades includes more than eight years during which certain questions often arise in my mind. Should I stick only to L2 while teaching of switch to L2 from time to time? In what occasions will the L1 usage be justified? I think this chapter is very helpful for teachers who find the given questions important and worth considering.
The purpose of the English lessons is to teach students the target language. Therefore, as Cameron states, many researchers demand the entire usage of L2 during the teaching process. As an ELT I support the statement eagerly because, to my mind, if the whole teaching context is based on L2, it will help to create favorable learning environment for students and become particularly advantageous for their language acquisition. What is more, often, learners do not have any opportunity to encounter with L2 beyond the language lessons. As cited in Jones (2010), “logically, students require much exposure to the language they are straining to acquire, and since this exposure cannot often be acquired outside the L2 classroom, instructors offer the only L2 input students can freely access”. Krachen and Terrell (1983) support the opinion suggesting that the learners need to immerse in L2 in order to be able to use it freely. Many specialists approve omitting of L1 in L2 classes. For instance, Richards and Rodgers discuss the natural approach in their book. This approach implies L2 usage only, and with its help “students will understand the speaker of the target language and will be able to convey their requests and ideas” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 128). Freeman-Larsen’s method of learning is based on the same principles. The author states that the method helps learners to use L2 for communicative purpose (Freeman-Larsen, 2000). Though Cameron mentions the matter in the chapter, I think that it would be useful for the readers if she included some essential studies and researches on the issue. What is more, it would also be relevant to mention different concerns related to ignoring the usage of L1.
Another important question the writer turns the reader’s attention to is the presence of a gap between the theory and practice. First of all, a teacher can become one of the reasons for such state of things. There are cases when the low level of teachers’ English is a serious obstacle for the teaching process and limits the L2 implementation in class. Another reason which prevents L2 from widespread use during the lessons is the lack of students’ ability and willingness to communicate in the target language. I agree with Cameron who mentions that the age of learners impacts hugely the usage of L1 in class. My own experience can serve as evidence to the statement. While teaching, I noticed that the students of the secondary grades were not as flexible and willing to follow the instructions in English as the students of the primary grades. Of the two groups, the former often demanded the translation, and the task of limiting L1 usage became harder for me. From my point of view, the state of things like this is the result of an improper teaching approach in the earlier stages. That is why I consider that L2 learners should be immersed in the target language as soon as possible, and after that, teachers will witness their students’ improvement.
In the next section of the chapter, Cameron, on the strength of certain studies, aimed at examining the role of L1 in L2 classes, justifies the L1 implementation. According to the author, there are several reasons that stimulate teachers to use L1 when teaching L2. Firstly, teachers use L1 in order to compensate for difficulties they encounter with their students like the low level and lack of abilities. The other reason is a strategic choice which implies the usage of L1 as a strategy while teaching. This is how some studies justify the L1 presence in L2 classes. However, an interesting question appears in my mind: do teachers really use L1 to compensate the low level of their students or they rather compensate their own laziness and lack of experience? I think very often L1 serves as “life preserver” for the teachers’ incompetence.
Cameron in the chapter continues to justify the L1 usage by giving three interpersonal factors. The first is alignment when the teachers are trying to express themselves as carrying and understanding ones. I, personally, do not agree with the point. For instance, if L2 is a native language for a teacher, and he/she does not know L1, will it be impossible for him/her to show the careful and understanding attitude? I do not think it will. Nevertheless, I agree with the second factor which is emphasis. In order to maintain the discipline in the class, sometimes it is necessary to refer to L1 so students could understand their mistakes. The last factor is evaluation. I believe that if the teacher uses L1 to praise, express dissatisfaction, or explain the reasonableness of the marks given, that will affect the students’ perception of L2 negatively. In this case, they consider L2 only as a subject of studying at school while the main task of a teacher, to my mind, is to explain the importance of L2 for their future with the all possible means.
Dynamics of language choice is the topic of the third chapter’s section. The author gives three examples of switching languages in Malaysian classrooms. The teachers’ usage of L1 for the purpose of translation was too often and, to my mind, in most cases not justified. Moreover, the process of translation, and by association, the use of the L1 is considered counter-productive to L2 acquisition.
The final section of the book left me with positive impressions. It is due to the fact that Cameron offers two significant principles concerning language choice. The first one relates to the frequency of implementation L2 during the lesson. The author suggests that teachers should use L2 in all possible cases, and if L1 is used, it should only serve for supporting L2 learning. The author states the following cases of switch supporting when L1 usage if justified. One of them is the explanation of the target language. In my opinion, there is an alternative solution. Teachers, for instance, can use synonyms which the learners already know in order to explain new words. Another case presented by Cameron is giving the instructions. For instance, the tasks’ instructions can be challenging for the students to understand. Despite of the fact, the alternative choice can also be offered. Teachers can use manageable tasks within the learners’ proficiency. They also may pre-teach the needed language and skills. I support the author with the idea that L1 can be very useful when checking the students’ understanding. One more case Cameron offers is talking about language. I support the idea that L1 is effective when explaining some complicated grammar structures, especially because we cannot support the explanation with videos, for instance. However, teachers often exploit L1 when the chance is available for L2. While Cameron suggests that using L2 in giving feedback is the useful thing to do, she, on the other hand, justifies L1 implementation in informal talks with students or with the aim to discipline them. As for me, I only partly agree with the authors’ opinion; and, as I have mentioned before, frequent communication in L2 is helpful in development of students’ abilities. However, I approve L1 usage when breaking the ice between the instructor and the learner.
The chapter “Language Choice and Language Learning” gives a close look at an important aspect of foreign language teaching which is especially essential in the case of young learners. To my mind, teachers often wonder in what situations L1 usage is appropriate in L2 class. Personally, I approve the idea of maximizing the usage of the target language during the teaching process. That is what I try to do at my lessons. Judging from this chapter, sometimes it is justified for teachers to use L1. I can add to this some situations from my personal experience. In the school where I work, I think, teachers are forced to use L1. Limited number of lessons, overcrowded groups of learners, their low level of the language knowledge, and lack of motivation are the reasons why teachers should switch to their mother tongue. I believe that there is a solution to the problem. We can decrease the negative effect of the factors by using L2 entirely from the earliest stages of learning. To support students’ understanding, the teacher can refer to pictures or acting as tools. The consequences of the often usage of L1 can result in the learners laziness and unwillingness.