How much English should my elementary level students and I use?

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  • Nastia
    17 September, 2018 at 8:08
    • Total posts: 1

    Hi dear colleagues!

    I’ve been teaching ESL to mostly middle schoolers in my home country for about 7 years on and off. And I’ve always struggled making them speak English especially if their level is A1-A2. I wonder if I should just pretend that I don’t understand the language and respond only to things said in English? Should I just speak English and reply in English even if the kids use our mother tongue? I have usually been quite inconsistent with this, sometimes I would reply in our language. Which I believe is not so good.
    How do I get feedback from them in English? What if they don’t get my instructions?

    Thank you for any ideas!

    19 September, 2018 at 9:24
    • Total posts: 279

    Using L1 is okay

    Hi Nastia

    Using the students’ L1 sometimes is okay. I don’t really agree with those who say it should [u]never[/u] be used in the classroom.

    For example, as a teacher, there are times when a quick translation is the best way to check understanding of a vocabulary item (if it is a direct one on one translation with no ambiguity).

    Another example would be when students are preparing for a task you have set them. Let’s imagine you have put them into groups and they have to prepare roles, what they’re going to say, etc, for a roleplay situation with the other group. Ideally of course, they’d do all this preparation in English (and with higher level groups you can certainly expect this). But you have to keep in mind the objective of your task, which is for them to perform the roleplay well, hopefully using some of whatever language you’ve been focusing on. With a group of [u]elementary[/u] students, if they were to prepare for this roleplay using only English, that preparation might not be very effective, and the outcome might be an unsuccessful roleplay. Allow them to prepare for it in their L1 though, and that preparation will most likely lead to more effective language production when they come to do the task (which is, after all, the objective).

    Having said all that, I think the use of L1 should be minimised, or they will come to rely on it and stop making any effort. So if the majority of your interaction with your students can be in English, so much the better. With instructions, for example, there are some good tips for doing this, and ensuring your students have understood, in these two articles: (scroll down to the part about instructions)

    Hope that helps.


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