The downsides of using the native language in ESL classroom

The downsides of using the native language in ESL classroom

Blog / Tips and tricks

If you’re an ESL teacher, you’ve probably met and taught various student types. You’ve had students who only speak English in class, students who barely speak any English at all, and those who can’t help but mix their native language with English. Although it may seem like a good idea for English learners to use their native language to help them understand difficult concepts, there are actually quite a few downsides. 

Con #1: It can be a crutch.

While using the native language can help with comprehension, it can also become a crutch which will prevent them from fully immersing themselves in the English language. Students can become too reliant on their native language and not focus enough on improving their English skills. This is especially the case if their native language happens to be the native language of their teacher as well.

Con #2: It can be distracting.

Let’s take a multi-ethnic classroom as an example. If each student started using their native language in the classroom, it would be incredibly distracting and confusing for others. Imagine trying to concentrate on finding a solution to a math problem with someone constantly whispering random numbers in your ear. 

Con #3: It can create cliques.

Imagine we’re still in this same classroom from the paragraph above. Like in any other multi-ethnic environment, those communicating in the same language will naturally bond more easily and form a clique which will make other students feel excluded. 

It’s like being at a party where everyone is speaking a language you don’t understand. You feel left out and alone.

Con #4: It can create bad habits.

When students use their native language in the classroom, it can create bad habits that are hard to break. They may become totally reliant on their native language and struggle to transition to English-only situations. It’s hard to grow out of it, but it’s necessary if they want to see any improvement.

Con #5: It can lead to misunderstandings.

When students use their native language in the classroom, it can lead to misunderstandings as a result of underdeveloped listening comprehension skills. They may not fully understand the English-language instructions and miss important details. Sure, they may be able to get the gist, but they’ll miss the finer points.

If you’re one of those teachers who are strict about using only English in their classroom, look no further for ESL lesson plans.

Not everything’s black and white…

Despite everything mentioned above, there are times when using the native language in the classroom can be helpful. English students, just like their teachers, are human beings (last time I checked, at least). So, if a student is feeling particularly frustrated and needs to express themselves in their native language to feel heard, that’s okay. However, the teacher’s job is to make sure this doesn’t happen on a regular basis. 

We need to create an environment where English learners feel comfortable and supported in their language learning journey. This can be done by encouraging them to speak English as much as possible, and providing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

One way to do this is to incorporate visual aids and real-life situations into our lessons. For example, if we’re teaching vocabulary related to tools we use for DIY crafts, we can create a visual aid with pictures of different items and their names in English. This way, students can see the word and associate it with the picture, rather than trying to translate it from their native language. As a matter of fact, our ESL lesson plans include plenty of vocabulary activities with images.

Another way to encourage English-only communication is to establish a language pledge in the classroom. This is an agreement between the teacher and the students that they will only speak English during class time. This can help create a sense of accountability and encourage students to stay committed to their language learning goals.

In conclusion, the downsides of using the native language in the classroom outweigh the benefits by far. While using the native language in the classroom may seem like a good idea at first, it can actually hinder progress and create more problems than it can solve. With patience and persistence, we can create a classroom environment where all students feel equally valued, supported, and confident about their language skills.

About Tijana
About Tijana

Tijana is an ESL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, and ESL Content Creator with a decade-long working experience. She designed 600+ lesson plans. Tijana holds a B.A. in Applied Linguistics from UVic, an M.A. in Curriculum and Education from UBC, as well as a 120-hour TEFL certificate.

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