Using only L2 with beginners: possible or impossible?

Using only L2 with beginners: possible or impossible?

Do you use L1 with your beginner students? Is it possible to conduct a lesson using only L2?

Imagine tomorrow you’re having a lesson with a beginner student. Which way will you choose: only L2 / L2 and a bit of L1 / L1 and a bit of L2?
Please answer my short poll

Honestly speaking, my choice is Answer #1. Why? I support the idea of creating a language atmosphere for any student no matter which level they have. Thus, the immersion will happen faster even though this path is challenging and demands a lot of efforts both from a teacher and a student.

Some teachers might disagree and choose Answer #3. Of course, the easiest way is to use L1 in/out of class. In this video, you can listen to the talk about the importance of L1 in the lesson.

But how does it influence your students?

  1. L1 doesn’t tune and doesn’t lead to immersion
  2. L1 pauses L2 acquisition postponing success
  3. Students start translating all the time and that slows down their speaking fluency.

Here is a PROBLEM-SOLUTION list:

1) My student can’t speak English in their first lesson.

Create a mind-map, infographic, image, scaffolding to tune the conversation and acquaintance.

For example, I usually take a 5-word game with my personal data, ask students to guess my activities, it helps me to understand their level, and then they’re asked to talk about themselves the way they can do it. If they’re absolute false beginners, they can just name words.

2) My student can’t understand a word.

How can we help a student? Use the scheme: Use a picture. Doesn’t help? -> Use gestures and miming. Can’t help? -> Draw. No? -> Use realia – objects, real things to illustrate the thing. Nope? -> Use sounds to demonstrate the word. Still problems? -> Use the definition and an example. Do anything to avoid L1 use, it’ll grow into an engaging game and help the student build associations.

3) My student translates and comments everything s/he does in their native language.

Launch your classroom rules and instructions at once: NO L1! 🙂 Provide students with ideas on how to avoid using their mother tongue during the lesson, support them psychologically to break the barrier. Please remember: this is a long-term process and miracles won’t happen over the night. Be patient and assist your student on their way.

4) My student can’t write anything and wants to do it in their mother tongue first and then translate.

Inspire in-class writing. Roleplay the questions together, ask your student to write with you, discuss orally ideas for home task writing. This is how we use patterns and write together:

5) My student can’t speak, doesn’t know how to start.

Scaffold any activity, no matter if it’s speaking/writing/listening. Give some patterns and templates of sentences/phrases/structures.

While talking about films, you don’t have a possibility to explain the film title, there’s no choice but use L1, so I do it in written form:

It’s clear that one condition is crucial here:
Your student should trust you and your strategy, visualize the result, follow your instructions and become autonomous day in and day out.


Анастасия Губаренко

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