Use of L1 in the CI Classroom

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14 thoughts on “Use of L1 in the CI Classroom”

  1. I believe this is one of the areas in which we must be highly adaptive to our group of learners. An older group (adults) might be able to deal with allowing L1 from the students, but most high school students do not have the discipline to limit their use of L1 to what is necessary.

    The differences between my morning first-year class and my afternoon first-year class are tremendous. In the morning I have few problems with blurting, excessive English, etc. It is late enough in the morning that they are not still asleep, but they are still fresh enough to be able to focus. My afternoon class continues to be a struggle. It is the last period of the day and has several ADHD-diagnosed students in it as well as a couple of students who love to hear themselves talk. Even now after a lot of work “norming’ the class and giving out some low Interpersonal Communication grades (1 on a 5-point scale = far below basic), there are several students who simply cannot focus for even 10 minutes at a time. As a result I am much more stringent in the afternoon than I am in the morning about any student speaking English.

    One of the methods in the 1970s was “Community Language Learning”. This put a great emphasis on establishing relationships among the participants, both learners and teacher. Once the relationships had been established (in L1), learners sat in a circle with the teacher standing outside the circle. When someone wanted to say something, the learner said it in L1, and the teacher translated it into L2. The idea was that eventually the student would begin adding in L2 on his own. This worked with small groups of learners who were motivated to learn the L2. In our setting (large classes – I have a class of 45 and a class of 44 – and unmotivated learners), not so much. However, I occasionally do something similar in that we may be talking about something and reach the point of linguistic breakdown, but the student has just one more thing to say. Then I will let him or her finish that one more thing and translate it for the class into German. This seems to me a way to balance the need for L2 and respecting my students. How much of that takes place is entirely dependent upon the setting, including how well the class is able to deal with a language change. My morning class can handle it far better than my afternoon class, so guess who keeps hearing, “Wir sprechen Deutsch in der Deutschstunde”?

    BTW, with that afternoon class, I don’t get angry because I know it is not deliberate; they genuinely cannot help themselves. I have talked with one student and her parents about the issue of impulse control, but she has basically none, and she needs to mature more before she will acquire any. The difference in dynamics between these two classes is fascinating.

    So, I maintain an official posture of “No English” but allow varying amounts to creep in based on a number of considerations. It isn’t that I believe hearing English is harmful per se, but like Ben I see a significant classroom management issue in the high school setting.

  2. I don’t allow L1 cos it’s not necessary if one stays inbounds. There is also IMHO no need for it. My “rules” for responses:

    A) sí/no
    B) if I ask a question during story, answer will be 1 word they know
    C) longer answers– e.g. “the boy runs”– only during retells/reviews and during reading.
    D)English for grammar and meaning clarification, names and management only.


  3. Jeffery Brickler

    Thank you for this discussion. I often wonder if I am not speaking enough Latin in class. I admit that when I have to explain something that I want them to do for an activity, I explain it in English. I often wonder if this is a mistake. the more I use English, the more they think it is okay. I am confused by what this 90% use statement means? Does it mean that if I have 50 minutes, 45 minutes should be in Latin? What about establishing meaning, making word associations, gestures etc?

    I now I want to maximize my amount of Latin use in the classroom. Would someone give me a typical day in their classroom when/where he/she might use English.

    1. 90% is arbitrary. The statement says to use target language “as exclusively as possible.”
      But I can’t help think that ACTFL has immersion in mind. Incomprehensible L2 is the same thing as speaking L1 – leads to the same gains in acquisition: 0. In fact, it may be worse. Incomprehensible L2 will mentally and emotionally drain a student who is trying to comprehend. Then, they won’t have the attentional resources for those moments of comprehensible L2 (which in immersion are scattered and not concentrated blocks of CI) and the effects on confidence will probably lead some students to not try to comprehend anymore, i.e. comprehensible input won’t be comprehended.

      In a 50 minute period with my hyperactive/space cadet 5th graders I can pull off 2-3 ten minute blocks of pure CI in the L2. With my 7th and 8th graders, we don’t have to do any “10-minute deals” – L2 use is the norm, except for directions given in L1.

      1. For me the 10 minute deals are life itself. Even if my students could handle more L2, I couldn’t. True confessions: I’m not very good at my language (Latin). So I agree, Eric, that the 90% thing from ACTFL needs to mean just “as much CI as possible.” More in some cases, less in others.

  4. It’s sort of a contradiction in my class not allowing any L1. The rule is that we all stay in L2 for the entire period. I make a big deal about breaking the rule. Yet I do extensive comprehension checks from L2 to L1 and bluntly break the rule. No kid has yet caught on to that.

    As long as I can rely on comprehension (translation) checks, I have no problems staying in the L2.
    It compensates for the lack of point+pause on the board with prelit kids. To give directions in L2 I demo a lot, gesture, show the different stages of a game/mini project.. and circle each statement.
    I treat it like a target structure. Same with management. It’s all done in L2.

  5. Jeff your question is excellent. Let’s look at Catharina’s response:

    …the rule is that we all stay in L2 for the entire period. I make a big deal about breaking the rule. Yet I do extensive comprehension checks from L2 to L1 and bluntly break the rule. No kid has yet caught on to that….

    I think this is the real answer to your question. ACTFL is nuts if they think we can do immersion, as Eric explained, and I agree with his point there. Yes, immerse them when they are living in the culture. No, don’t try it in class. It’s just the way classes are. There is CI, and then there is CI in a School Setting. We are stuck with the latter, so we HAVE TO use English in small doses during a class period. Not during a ten minute deal, of course.

    So that is when, and this is only a suggestion based on my opinion, Jeff, you could get the most Latin in, during those timed periods when you know that the entire class is trying to stay in the language, with a timer kid and maybe even a sergeant at arms trying to help you do it. When James says that those little ten minute deals are life itself, I know exactly what he means. It is very subtle. It takes huge pressure off of us. And when someone of James’ caliber and insight into this work says that, I pay attention.

    Now re: all those other times when using L1 saves you time, that’s when I let myself off the hook on using the L1. I WISH I could stay purely in the TL, but I can’t. And of course that leads to those little bullshit sessions that are so fun and build relationship with my kids, which is more important than anything, Hey, I don’t care. I have a fraction of the time I need anyway to give them the amount of input they need for really good output, so why I should I get nervous about not speaking the language all the time?

    It’s a SCHOOL. It’s like if something in the slow cooker needs seven hours to cook, and I have ten minutes, am I going to expect it to be cooked in those ten minutes? All I have is ten minutes! So what if I cook it for nine minutes and not ten? I need seven hours!

    We all need to relax and realize that we can’t teach a language in a four year high school program. We can only make our students want to go online and get more input there with songs, etc. – things that are fun for them – and maybe go to the country and find other ways to get input beyond ours. We’re all such perfectionists and we put so much on ourselves, totally unnecessarily. When are we going to get over that one?

    For more on the Ten Minute Deals:

    1. “And that leads to little bullshit sessions that are so fun, when I am not in the language at all for five or ten minutes. Hey, I don’t care.”

      Yes, and my kids would basically refuse to work in L2 if I didn’t give in to those moments. And I would personally go crazy.

    2. Hi Ben,

      After an ACTFL presentation that I had a small role in, my former colleague from Youngstown State approached me and asked what happened to our profession since he was in college. Back then, he explained, language learning was fun, and easy. Another friend from Cornell then opined that we’ve become “rigor conscious” as a reaction to our own declining enrollments and declining prestige in academia. Language learning should not be confused with physics or computer science or art or English literature or history. Those are very different disciplines and even if we were to compare ourselves to them, I suspect many of them are over-reliant on the banking model of education (well, maybe not art). Your point about “relaxing” and pointing out that we cannot teach the language in a four-year high school program (or three semester college program) is spot on. Because of this very point, I’m becoming more and more enamored with the translanguaging paradigm that many bilingual ed folks are moving towards. And even though I’m not a neurolinguist, I understand that there is also a lot of evidence that Spanish does not live in one part of our brain and English in another and French in another. Imposing cut-and-dry distinctions between “codes” may be a very artificial, 19th-century perspective on reality, and may come to be viewed to something akin to the Cartesian mind/body distinction. I see a lot of power that can be had from validating the bilingual mind and not pretending that monolingualism, including in our own classroom, is a healthy ideological position to pal around with. I used to have fleeting fantasies about forgetting English entirely and becoming monolingual French. How certifiably insane is that? Our kids know this, recognize this, and some actually secretly suspect that any teacher who takes the maniacally monolingual route in their class may be edgy but maybe, too, not paying close enough attention to the ledge.

  6. Those little moments are often when I try to teach culture, by talking about some of the crazy shit I did in France. In English. Shoot me. I’ll bet that that culture lady – remember her? – on the ACTFL list would be shocked if she read that. But trying to use L2 to teach the culture of the language being studied is in my view is like trying to make oatmeal cry. All it does is make the kids cry because they can’t understand what is being said!

    1. Ben wrote, But trying to use L2 to teach the culture of the language being studied is in my view is like trying to make oatmeal cry.

      I agree and disagree. There are many aspects of the culture that we will never be able to teach our students for a variety of reasons, but that does not mean we are relegated to teaching them nothing about the culture. For me, the thing that must be guarded against is the desire for students to hear everything about a cultural product or practice the very first time they are introduced to it. Yes, it would be great for my students to know all about the cultural practices, and I have a lot that I can teach – but how long and through what experiences did I gain that knowledge? When I give them all of that knowledge, I am taking students who are still sucking milk from a bottle and dumping a ton of meat on them. Talk about indigestion!

      On the other hand, there are things that students can learn about the culture through L2 – as long as it is limited. For example, at the beginning of November I introduce my first-year students to Saint Martin. By this point they have enough language for me to tell them that children go from house to house and sing. People give them money for poor children. Then we learn the song “Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne.” In second year I tell them the legend of St Martin sharing his cloak with a poor man: Martin cut it in half and gave one half to the poor man, but when Martin got home, the cloak was whole again. That’s why children go through the streets and sing. They want to help poor children like St Martin. Then we sing the song again. In third year we learn a little bit more about St Martin of Tours and sing the song.

      I try to do the same thing for other special days throughout the year: St Nicholas Day, Christmas, New Year, Epiphany, Carnival, German Unity Day (This one is tough for first year because it comes in October), Oktoberfest. Even though I can’t tell them everything, I can tell them some things.

      I need to make certain that students know the vocabulary I will use in the explanation because, as Jason Fritze reminds us from time to time, learners cannot learn language and culture at the same time. But once they have the language, they can learn the culture. He teaches Día de los Muertos, Navidad, Los Reyes Magos, and other cultural elements to his elementary students – he just makes certain that the students learn the language they need before they learn the culture.

      Another aspect of culture that I teach in 3/4/AP is the symbolism of color. For example, in German to say that someone is “blue” is to say that he is drunk; envy is yellow; to “ride black” is to ride without a ticket; a “blue wonder” is a surprise that you didn’t want.

      So, we do not teach our language in a vacuum or bind our language inside American culture. At the same time, the culture that most textbooks teach and that most people mean when they talk about teaching culture is usually too complex for students to comprehend in the target language.

  7. Check out IJFLT Winter 2006. Krashen has a 1 page article titled “Is First Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom Good or Bad? It Depends.”

    If it helps make input more comprehensible, then that’s a good thing. If too many brief L1 explanations and translations are necessary, then the message can be lost and the discussion may not be on the students’ level.

    “When translations are excessive, the spell is broken.” (Krashen, p. 9)
    (the spell is that flow moment of getting lost in the message – the “din in the head”)

    Also, Krashen’s theory applies to vocabulary as it does grammar. Giving a translation is not giving CI and is not hypothesized to substitute for acquiring the meaning of a word in a comprehensible message. As he writes “Providing the translation may or may not contribute very much to the acquisition of the meaning of the translated word” (p. 9). A translation is explicit knowledge. It’s focus on form. It’s learning, not acquisition. It’s a subtle difference between that and “making input more comprehensible.” In the latter, according to theory, the student may be given the translation, understand the message, but not “acquire” the word meaning.

    I wonder to what extent content words (not function words) follow the i+1 hypothesis.

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