Encourage L2 > Reduce L1

by Zhenya

I ran this session in Ukraine quite a long time ago, but I also repeated it a couple more times on training courses in Korea and once in Lebanon. The format of this session was really simple: so-called ‘think-pair-share’, when the participants are working with one handout (a list of ideas which I am pasting below) and are asked to mark them individually first, then share in pairs (or groups of four, and we can then call it ‘think-square-share’), and finally as a large group, with facilitator asking questions and re-directing the discussion into the parts that seemed more interesting for everyone. Nothing special, really.

What I do find interesting is how much discussion we have among teachers and trainers on the issue of using L1, or not using it in class. A lot of my colleagues believe that L1 is helpful sometimes, that it reduces stress level and helps speed up the process of learning. There are also a lot of online discussions on this topic.

Just wanted to share my strong belief here: I am really for using L2 only in the classroom, and by ‘using L2’ I mean both teacher and students trying to ‘play this game’. What I also believe is that by encouraging the use of L2 (as opposed to punishing the use of L1) the results can be outstanding: the students are learning much more than the intended ‘target language’ (grammatical structures or a vocabulary set, for example) but learn to communicate in context, and are actually getting ready to overcome a real stress of coming to a new country and being able to survive without L1. I also think that this idea is especially true for EFL contexts, where the classroom is the only place where L2 can be heard and used.

So, this is the task, and the list of ideas!


Check the ways of encouraging English in class you have personally tried, put a smile 🙂 if you think it is a successful idea, and put a question mark ? if you are not sure what the idea is, or how to use it.

**alternative tasks:

Which of the ideas are more suitable for Young Learners classes? And for adult learners?

For students with lower/higher language proficiency levels?

Which ideas are (not) based on the idea of communicating positive regard to students?

1. ____ ignoring the S who is speaking L1 and only responding to those who speak L2

2. ____ providing functional (classroom) language – example:  What do you have in ‘1’? – I have… What did you hear? – I heard… I think ‘b’ is false because… I agree. I don’t agree because… What do you think?

3. ____ preparing an English Hat (or Crown) – when teacher is wearing that s/he can’t speak or understand L1 at all;

4. ____ making a gesture of ‘throwing L1 away from the classroom’;

5. ____ encouraging students to describe the word they need instead of asking ‘what’s this in English?’

6. ____ responding in English to a student who speaks L1 to the teacher;

7. ____ helping a student who addressed in L1 to teacher to re-formulate that in English (or asking his/her peers’ help);

8. ____ pretending that the teacher doesn’t understand L1 ‘today / tonight’ and smile;

9. ____ spending [10 min] of a lesson in English only

10. ____ choosing words that are similar to L1 (or International words) when giving instructions or explanations;

11. ____ using dolls and puppets who ‘only understand English’;

12. ____ praising a student for using English (or for the attempt!), or praising the whole group for staying in English for a certain period of time in class;

13. ____ having 2 areas in the room: one is called ‘English Only’, the other ‘L1 possible’;

14. ____ having ‘L1 5 minutes’ at the break time where students can clarify a challenging aspect of the lesson 15. ____ ‘penalizing’ students for using L1 (e.g., charging for every L1 word or sentence) and collecting money for the end-of-year group party

16. ____ encouraging to use bi-lingual dictionaries in class (including their cell phones);

17. ____ teaching students to give self-explanatory examples (maybe using the local reality, local places, etc); 18. ____ teacher writing in L1 on the board, but not saying that out loud;

19. ____ ‘penalizing’ students: for speaking L1 in class they have to spend 1-2 minutes and give a monologue on a topic (given by T or other students);

20. ____ setting the ‘exact translation’ type of tasks for homework; 21. ____ informing students about the importance of thinking in L2

22. ____ making a long / detailed classroom language poster on the wall;

23. ____ teacher responding by saying ‘Sorry? Could you say the same in English please?’;

24. ____ writing their L1 words in Latin letters and translating together/in pairs in the error correcting slot

25. ____ interrupting their L1 utterance with a comprehension question in English

26. ____ giving a list of L1 words students used in an activity and asking to translate them (and help them)

27. ____ pronouncing the words the students used in L1 with some ‘accent’

28. ____ responding in L3 to the students who use L1 (ideally, the L3 they don’t know!)

29. ____ organizing a competition between groups at the school of the same level

30. ____ asking ‘Is it an Intermediate level group?’ and looking surprised/disappointed

31. ___ …?

What else do you do with your students to help speak more L2? The list can be endless!

A final note: I personally believe that not speaking L1 to students does not mean completely ignoring occasional L1 use, and responding to it; it also means that at times when teaching a beginner class I can give a brief nod when a student translates what I say to check his/her comprehension, or even ask for one word in L1 from my students to save time. To me this whole idea of trying to speak more L2 means a big game which engages students, helps them become creative and actually motivates them to stay in L2. I once had a brief administrative announcement to make in my group of A1 CEFR level (elementary), and wanted to do that in Russian, and then heard them all saying ‘Zhenya, we speak English here!’