This month we published Ross Forman’s new book First and Second Language Use in Asian EFL which explores the issue of using students’ first language in the English language classroom.
Anyone who has taught English in Asia will know that classroom practices and teacher/student roles are often quite different from what we might expect in Western contexts. In other words, I refer of course to the fundamental differences of pedagogy which exist between ESL and EFL.
When I first made the move from teaching ESL in Sydney, Australia to teaching EFL at a Thai university back in the 1980s, I found that so many of my assumptions had to be questioned. One above all struck me: the role of L1 in teaching. Then, as now, L1 use in L2 classes was generally curtailed or even forbidden by a number of Ministries of Education in Asia.
When back in Sydney, I kept in touch with Thai colleagues. And then, twenty years later in the early 2000s I took the opportunity to return to my former workplace, but this time as a researcher, to explore with bilingual local teachers how and why they made use of L1 in L2 teaching. Perhaps due to my existing relationships, and perhaps also due to my declared intent to ‘find out why’ rather than to problematise the use of L1, I was able to get fascinating data from nine local teachers through lesson observation and interview.
Teachers were able to speak of the pedagogic value of L1 – speed, accuracy, ensuring that all students could follow the lesson; as well as its affective value – how speakers of L2 ‘feel different’ in the foreign tongue, and how this affords feelings of anxiety, apprehension and joy. Every teacher felt that without some judicious recourse to L1, their teaching of English would be greatly diminished.
Looking at the bigger picture, time and again I was led to see how a newly developing L2 becomes embedded into the existing L1. There are flows of meaning which are multiplicative across two languages; their impact has been under-explored and under-valued to date. Looking specifically at Asian contexts, my book aims to give local EFL teachers a voice in explaining why and how they do what they do.
For more information about this book, please see our website.