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year student of MA(TEOSL)
and Foreign Languages University
MOTHER TONGUE IN The CLASSROOM of English as a Foreign Language
The role of the mother tongue in
instructed foreign language learning has been the subject of much debate and
controversy. This article reports on a piece of research carried out in my own
teaching/learning environment (government schools, Syria) and presents a
comparative study of students’, teachers’ and teacher educators’ perceptions
regarding the adequacy of cross-linguistic grammatical comparisons in the
monolingual classroom. This in turn may help students to notice the gap between
the state of their inner grammars and the target language and ultimately aid
Throughout much of the history of research into foreign
language acquisition, the
role of learners’ first language (L1) has been a
hotly debated issue. This is especially because students and teachers usually
share the same mother tongue, Prodromou (2000) refers to the mother tongue as a
‘skeleton in the closet’, while Gabrielatos (2001) calls it a ‘bone of
Intuitively, a good number of teachers feel, partly
based on their own experiences as learners of a foreign language, that the
mother tongue has an active and beneficial role to play in instructed foreign
language acquisition/learning. In the literature, an increasing number of
teacher-researchers stress the growing methodological need in TEFL/TESOL for a
principled, systematic and judicious way of using the mother tongue in the
classroom. This methodological need has mere reflection in the field of
teaching the language. And yet, for some
of us, there seems to be a generalized feeling of guilt that we are acting
counter to the principles of good teaching when we use the learners’ mother
tongue as a tool to facilitate learning.
In my opinion using mother tongue is desirable when
it’s inevitable, helpful and quicker. Therefore avoiding using mother tongue is
not recommended because a student sometimes thinks in his/her mother tongue.
That is naturally we can’t avoid it.
One of the first and main advocates of mother tongue
use in the communicative
classroom has been David Atkinson (1987 and 1993).
Atkinson points out the
methodological gap in the literature concerning the
use of the mother tongue and argues a case in favor of its restricted and
principled use mainly in accuracy-oriented tasks. His views, however, are
reflections of his own personal experience as a teacher and not the result of
measures of comparative achievements of students taught in different ways or of
There has been very little research done on what use
of L1 is actually made in practice in the classroom and what the perceptions
are of students, teachers and teacher educators on this subject. We will now
turn briefly to two pieces of research in these under-researched areas.
My project will focus on Arabic language and how it
used in teaching English as a foreign language in my country Syria which is
considered as a monolingual country.
Statement of problems:
Arabic language is still used randomly
in the foreign language classroom in explanation of instructions and communications.
This using of the mother tongue brings
The research aim:
As part of my MA project (2012) I carried out: 1)
teacher’s beliefs about using mother tongue in the classroom and 2) the time
taken by an English teacher using it during the class in Syria.
Significance of the research:
I’m doing this project to look for the problems
which might encounter teachers when they teach, and I expect that it benefit
them to promote learning process in the government schools in Syria.